Last spring, TJ Thorne and his son hit the road for a week-long camping trip. “He really got into the idea of gold-panning and wanted to go to the Rogue River area of Oregon since it’s a popular place for it,” the photographer tells me. “We camped not too far from the river at a small campground on a beautiful creek with a gorgeous swimming spot. Eight-foot-deep water… crystal clear. We spent almost the whole week bonding and swimming in that creek.”
It was 110 degrees outside, but they spent hours at the Rogue, with golden flakes sparkling on the silt below them. They collected some of those shimmering slivers, discovering later that day that it was not gold but pyrite, a mineral commonly known as fool’s gold. But, of course, they weren’t in it for the gold alone. A year later, what Thorne remembers most about that trip are the days they spent cooling off in the water of that creek close to their campsite. Looking at some of the photographs he made during that trip, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the water itself for liquid gold–glittering and bright.
In total, nine of the photographs from Thorne’s and his son’s adventures in Oregon made it into Ebb and Flow, the artist’s visual ode to water, many years in the making. Composed of 100 images and minted as 1/1 NFTs last year, the collection sold out in under three hours.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania and currently based in Oregon, Thorne has always felt at home in the natural world. “We are surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, so as I got more and more into nature photography, the waterfalls were an obvious subject,” he explains. “Back then, I was battling alcoholism, and it was amongst the waterfalls that I did so.” He continued to return to the water’s edge as he navigated the beginnings of sobriety, finding peace and fortitude in rippling cascades, and creeks.
“At its base, my work is about using the camera as a tool to intimately explore moments or subjects in nature that call to me, fill my heart, and lighten my soul,” Thorne says. “I grew up with nature in my backyard, so I always had a deep relationship with it. When I moved to the city and became an adult, my relationship with nature became much more important as a way to escape all of the things that life had become. When I was battling my demons, it was nature and photography that I used to immerse myself in the moment.”
His understanding of water as a recurring motif throughout his work came later, after years of reflection. “When I’m lost in my viewfinder, the world melts away and the only things that matter in that moment are my existence and interacting with the elements in that little rectangle,” he admits. “In the viewfinder is where I find the solace, peace, and gratitude that I need to deal with the ebbs and flows of life.
“Water, in particular, is easy to get lost with, as it’s ever-changing. The way the light or reflections dance across the surface and the rhythm of the movement draw me in like no other subject. I try to anticipate the arrangement of the elements until it becomes a sort of game that I can spend hours playing. I don’t just photograph and walk away. It just so happens that sometimes I get a photo that I’m willing to show people which represents my experience.”
Thorne created the photographs in Ebb and Flow throughout the Pacific Northwest, bringing them to the blockchain amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. He had known for a long time that he would release them as a unified collection, though he didn’t know until last year what form it would take.
“I took inspiration from Justin Aversano’s Twin Flames NFT collection,” he says. “I hadn’t seen any other photographers doing collections at that time, especially in the nature photography genre. So I finally dug into my deep backlog of water abstracts that I had been building over the past several years and put together the collection as it is today.” Today, Thorne counts Aversano among his collectors.
All of the Ebb and Flow photographs are highly coveted, and Thorne himself doesn’t have a single favorite photograph in the collection. But the pictures he made on trips with his girlfriend and son hold another layer of meaning, as do the earliest photographs, made when their dog was still alive and able to accompany them. And then, of course, there are those nine photographs from the trip to the Rogue River area–home of the pyrite flakes and the private creek where he swam with his son and the water glistened like gold.
“Downstream, there was a cliff that was about fifteen to twenty feet high that I was jumping off of into water that was about twelve feet deep,” Thorne remembers now. “My son really wanted to try it but couldn’t get up the nerve. He spent about an hour working up the courage, standing on the edge before backing away and climbing back down. I could tell that he really wanted to do it and coached him on ways to not let his fear control him.
“Eventually, he committed. As soon as he came out of the water, I let out the loudest cheer ever. Watching him go through that process and overcome his fear is something that I will never, ever forget. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. At the end of the trip, he said it was the best we’ve ever been on and is something he will always remember. I agree.”
All images © TJ Thorne