Caroline Tompkins

The Creative Unconscious: What's your name, age, and professional title? Where are you currently employed?

Caroline Tompkins: Caroline Tompkins, 24, Freelance Photographer, Photo Editor at Bloomberg Businessweek

TCU: What hobbies do you have outside of your professional field that keep you inspired and motivated to generate personal work? How do they inspire you?

CT: Having a day job is my biggest motivator in making personal work. I work best when my free time is precious. A real over-scheduler over here. Because that day job requires me to look at and think about pictures all day, that fire is always there. Motivation is a funny word because it implies that the thing in question is a chore or something to procrastinate towards, that's not my relationship to picture making. I need motivation to workout at 6am, but most things I do, I do for pictures. In speaking about hobbies, I have a tendency to be a bit of skill-collector (to a fault). Lately it's been how to make ceramics and how to be a better plant mom and how to make bread and how to sew clothes and how to run. What can I say, I'm a Gemini. 

TCU: Do you have a hard time balancing being a creative professional and generating personal work that you're proud of?

CT: They both push and influence the other. I'm fortunate enough to be able to make pictures for the magazine, and that practice is only helping me learn and experiment more than I might at any other job. If I'm not happy with how a shoot went, I can usually go home and try again tomorrow. The goal is to never have a job you’re not learning from, but that’s obviously a very privileged perspective. The other side of that is by continuing to make personal work and engage in the photographic community, I think I am making myself a better, more valuable worker. As I said earlier, I need limitations to create work - whether that's time or location or subject. Working full time keeps me from floating away. 

TCU: What time of day do you feel the most creative? What about the most productive?

CT: I'm very skeptical of the word productivity because it's a capitalist tool to make you feel more or less valuable as a human. If I meditate for 10 days straight, is that productive? I can’t disconnect productivity with money making and that’s gross to me. With that said, probably 10am-1pm. I also live and die by a to-do app called TeuxDeux if anyone is looking for a bare-bones, but visually compelling and highly usable to-do app (god please sponsor me).
Regarding creativity, does that stuff run on a schedule for some people? For me it’s not about time but about circumstances - it happens when I’m undistracted, trying to solve a problem, and having fun (corny I know). It’s about holding yourself to a high standard, while also being in the mindset to play. 

TCU: What are your creative goals for the future?

CT: My biggest goal is to continue learning/practicing patience and compassion. I've said this before, but an upside to being a woman is that my work isn't going to get recognized until I'm like 60 or dead, so I've got time. I'm joking, but I'd rather have a slow steep than to be famous by 25 and have something impossible to live up to the rest of my life. I'd like to continue to make work that's fulfilling to me, be encouraging and complimentary of other’s work and successes, be critical when it’s productive, own a motorcycle, learn to fly, dance often, practice ceramics, love a lot, cry some, have some dogs and a small farm, be happy, you know?

TCU: Are you working on any personal projects right now? If so, can you share a little bit about your inspiration and your creative process?

CT: I’ve been working on a project about swimmers that is still very early on for me. I'm interested in taking a closer look at the culture behind competitive swimming, as well exploring the utilitarian use of the body when performing a sport, especially in adolescence. I swam competitively from age 4-18 at a swim team in Cincinnati. The photos were all taken at that same swim club in the last year. I like the idea of someone's greatest connection to water being a pool, especially in a place like Ohio with no ocean or abundance of natural bodies of water surrounding it. Again, I’m still figuring it out.

I’m also working on a bit of a secret project about men in midtown in NYC, but I can’t say much more than that right now.
I think inspiration should come from personal experiences and mining your own life for subject matter. I’m skeptical of someone opening up a map, picking a spot, and deciding to make personal work about it. I’m not saying everyone has to make work about their mom or some sport they performed when they were young. I’m saying that I don’t think it’s okay for the straight white male from Maine to make work about the Ferguson protests. To represent something photographically is a privilege and a power.

TCU: What scares you?

CT: I’m very privileged to not have to fear the things people of color and/or queer/trans people have to fear on an everyday basis. I do have to fear men, but I think we all have to fear men. I’m pretty sure I’m done being scared of spiders. I tell myself that I’m okay with death, but it’s very hard for me believe that it will actually happen to me. I’m truly scared of the parts of me that I try to bury – my ego, self-entitlement, malign towards another, impatience, the dark stuff.

TCU: What does success mean to you?

CT: Success means failing a lot, which is to say it’s about trying. A big lesson I learned out of college is that no one really knows what they’re doing - everyone is just guessing and sometimes it really works. Most people feel like imposters. I often think success is an illusion - especially when it comes to internet likes/follows/etc. In that way, it doesn't matter. Just be good to others and make weird stuff. 


Head on over to to see more of Caroline's amazing work.