Capturing the Eccentric Moments of Everyday Life

The Photo Blog
April 13 2014 11:07 AM

Capturing the Eccentric Moments of Everyday Life


Thomas Alleman

Thomas Alleman began writing for a political tabloid in Lansing, Mich., in the early 1980s. Although he liked the writing at the weekly, he wasn’t impressed with the photography. So he began to teach himself to take photographs; he modeled his style after artists he admired, like Sylvia Plachy and James Hamilton. He turned out to be a quick learner.

“Almost immediately I discovered ‘my picture,’ ” Alleman wrote via email. “The subjects that mattered to me, my point of view, my technical response as a picture-maker, even the style of printing that best served the negatives. Out of the blue, I felt expert and decisive and very seasoned.”

Alleman began covering events at the newspaper in a locale he found to be fodder for his style of photography: “the slow chaos of milling, meandering people was a natural subject,” he said. He continued to hone his craft in Michigan before moving in the mid 1980s to San Francisco, where landed a job working for the Sentinel, an LGBT Bay Area newspaper. While there, he documented the gay community’s response to the AIDS crisis, and his career as a photojournalist began to take off. He became a successful newspaper and magazine photographer, working for many major publications and winning countless awards.


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman


Alleman began working on a personal project titled “Social Studies” in the mid-1980s that embodied his goal as a photographer: “to stand aside from the assigned narrative of whatever situation I was photographing … and deconstruct it; my favorite pictures demonstrated a multitude of ‘facts’ within a fog of obfuscations; the scene didn’t add up, the context had been hijacked and re-formatted,” he said.

He then took a break from “Social Studies” while building his career but eventually felt as if he had abandoned his original vision of image-making and craved getting back to his roots. In the mid-1990s he put some black-and-white film into his Nikon camera body with a 28-mm lens and shot the gay pride parade in Los Angeles. “And so began the second half of “Social Studies,” Alleman said. The series would eventually end in 2001, with a primary focus on Southern California. 


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman

Although many of Alleman’s images have a street photography feel to them, he said shooting street photography in Los Angeles is a complicated endeavor and one that begs a different definition. “I shot at least half my pictures at public events—at parades and happenings and conventions and such—which gave me access to great and varied activity in the public realm, on the street, without any illusion that it was actually, organic ‘streetlife,’ ” he said.

“The photographs of “Social Studies” are usually not about faces or ‘types’ or anyone’s particular human spirit,” Alleman added. “They’re most often about bodies in relation to other bodies—often encased in uniforms or costumes—in the context or architecture or some exemplary feature of the social landscape. So, I don’t need to see anyone’s soul in their eyes; to the contrary, I just need them to break contact and look away from me.”


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman


Thomas Alleman



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 10:10 AM Where Do I Start With Sleater-Kinney?
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 9:39 AM The International-Student Revolving Door Foreign students shouldn’t have to prove they’ll go home after graduating to get a visa.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.