I stumbled upon a little online exhibition of Thomas Joshua Cooper photographs at the Ingleby Gallery site: ‘rock, water, tree’. It covers ‘the places and subjects that have been most present in his work for the past 30 years.’ Elsewhere, in an interview with David Bellingham, Cooper talks of his early approach, choosing sites like the San José Canyon in accordance with “ongoing concerns which included how both physical and emotional aspects of place, that were highly interiorised in their physical surround and emotionally charged in the gestural conditions of their object matter (grass, rocks, leafless-branches, etc.), helped me to recognise and then picture the 'symbolic field' that was and still is important to me.” In the photographs, he was “consciously removing the traditional elements that allow for a recognition of place” so as to “intensify what is now an abstracted 'symbolic field' for visual reference and location.”
In general terms it could be said that Cooper’s photographs forestall a rapid perception of landscape so as to embroil the viewer in more complex processes of thought and feeling. In his 1992 essay, ‘Poetry and the Space Beyond’, Thomas A. Clark discusses the way a Thomas Joshua Cooper photograph operates in three stages. First we admire its scale and intensity, the 'deep blacks and velvety whites' of its surface. Secondly we penetrate to the place itself - not some famous site, just an assemblage of trees, foliage, water. Finally the viewer starts to feel the spirit of the place, which ‘will always be alien, unhuman, beyond our preconceptions.’ In this way Clark looks at the photograph ‘San José Canyon: A Quality of Dancing’ and sees not just morning light on a hillside, but an evocation of first light and first things, ‘a world cleansed of history’.