SAN ANGELO, Texas — Robert Langham is not your average “storm chaser”. The tornados he “catches” are full of orbiting moons, tumbling dice, misfit jigsaw pieces, barbed wire, swirling feathers.
He doesn’t have to travel much further than his East Texas darkroom to get them on film, but most of the twisters he’s caught so far are currently hanging in Gallery 193 in the Carr Fine Arts Building at ASU as a new exhibit called “10 Texas Tornados”.
Langham said the images, which are all film, and not Photoshopped (beyond resizing purposes), come from a time-consuming process of sketches, patience, mistakes, layers, more mistakes, more layers, more patience, but most importantly... ideas.
“All my work is kind of done in my imagination,” Langham said while arranging his unusual cyclones in the gallery. “One reason I think the arts are so important is, human beings have ideas... new ideas. Ideas that have never been seen in nature or culture. That ‘new idea thing’ is something humans do. I mean, I’ve got an iPhone 14... but I had an iPhone 1. The ideas get better over time, we hope, if we don’t destroy ourselves in the process, but one way the arts are important is that you’re encouraged to have new ideas, which is what humans really do more than anything else, they have new ideas, and then those ideas come into physicality.”
The idea of a tornado as a still life, of all things, came to Langham sometime around 2016.
“Still lifes have been taught forever. That’s how you actually learn to draw... But when photographers photograph a still life, they build a little sculpture, basically of a little scene, and photograph it. The sculpture is really the piece of art and the photography is just the recording of it. So I wanted still lifes that required a camera for you to see them: Until I process the negative and pull it up and turn on the light in the darkroom to look at it — it’s the first time I’ve seen it, except in my imagination.”
Langham is a native of Tyler, Texas, where he still resides, and although his photography has taken him on treks across the country, life has taught him that what deserves the camera’s eye most, is often what we take for granted day after day in our daily lives. A chronicle of our front yards can be more than enough for an art show, given the right perspective.
“I take a lot of pride in being a Texan, I take a lot of pride in being from Tyler. I just work out of the yard. So when the mushrooms are blooming, I’m photographing mushrooms; when the magnolias are blooming, I’m photographing magnolias; when the acorns fall, I’m photographing acorns; when the light changes a certain way in the winter or the summer, I’m photographing that.”
Last year Langham was selected as one of only 13 photographers to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, as an artist who has ‘demonstrated exceptional capacity for exceptional creative ability.’
“They’ve funded a year of work, so this year I’m not doing anything but concentrating on photography and new ideas. So this show is out of that," Langham said of the honor. "I'm humbled. It's very exciting to be a Guggenheim Fellow. It's also exciting to have somebody pay for a year's work. It's kind of like it's your birthday every day. You get to get up and do what you really want to do."
You can catch Robert Langham’s exhibit in the Carr Building now until March 10, when Langham will give a presentation on his work at 3:30 p.m. in Room 101.