“Human vision is limited, especially at night. We are not evolutionarily endowed to easily see what happens around us once light - natural or artificial - is absent. Working in the liminal moments before sunrise and sunset, Tommy Keith regularly experiences that temporal moment when our paramount faculty, the one that may determine whether we live or die, is compromised. Before the Sun is Keith’s attempt to stand on neutral ground with, and within, nature.

Photography is a filter through which we look at nature. It is as familiar to us as flipping through old copies of National Geographic, or scrolling through Instagram. Such platforms often present nature as uniformly beautiful, almost mundane for its ubiquity. Keith’s photographs resist that comfortable categorization. Spindly stalks laden with drooping red blossoms or luminous green algae hold space for nature’s unattractive yet miraculous oddities. Ice - minuscule shards and abstract daggers hung from frozen tree branches - contrasts with fire, manifesting nature’s violent contradictions. And gulls congregated in a parking lot suddenly burst into flight, seemingly carrying revelation on their wings like angels of the Annunciation.

Keith’s practice is influenced by other sensorial powers - auditory and haptic vibrational cues - that are activated when sight is compromised, and render him more attuned. His desire to become a part of his environment defies the destructive, Industrial Revolution-era drive to contain or command nature. Cameras helped cut an avaricious consumerist path into our environment that, nearly two centuries on, has led to catastrophic fires, famines, floods, and storms. Hubris emboldens us to think that we are in control, when in reality, we are mere witnesses to nature’s terrible beauty and brutality. In seeking communion with his surroundings, Keith’s camera is not a weapon, but rather a dynamic extension of his senses. He is an ambassador, one whose reports hint at the inherently unknowable that surrounds us at all times.”

Roula Seikaly
Senior Editor, Humble Arts Foundation

Installation view at Columbia College Chicago, 2021

Book spreads from Mirrors, Men, Mist, Milk
Published by Columbia College Chicago, 2021