The University of Southern California Libraries have acquired the archive of international architectural photographer Wayne Thom. The 250,000-image collection documents 2,805 of Thom’s projects, capturing the development of hundreds of landmark structures from initial models through final construction.
Thousands of pages of correspondence, diaries, client proposals and meeting notes accompany the photographs in the collection. The breadth of materials provides tremendous context for Thom’s images and makes the archive an invaluable resource for multidisciplinary inquiry in art and architecture, the history of photography and representing the built environment, and the business of urban development and design.
Thom’s approach to architecture as sculpture on a massive scale is a defining characteristic of his creative practice. “I always view a piece of architecture as a piece of functional sculpture,” Thom said. “As an architectural photographer my task is to capture the artistic form of the sculpture and illustrate the functional aspect of the building. USC and its libraries, with a unique commitment to the arts as well as a strong research enterprise, will make an excellent home for this archive that represents more than five decades of my work. "
The photographs introduced the world to many of the standout buildings that shape major Pacific Rim cityscapes—the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles, the Transamerica Pyramid Center in San Francisco, the Overseas Chinese Bank in Singapore, and the Bangkok Oriental Hotel in Thailand. The collection also includes photographs of several buildings on USC’s University Park Campus.
“The Wayne Thom archive is a world-class addition to our collections from every perspective,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries. “It extends our already strong holdings in the photographic history of Los Angeles and the American West. It strengthens USC’s position as a source for understanding L.A. as a Pacific Rim metropolis. And most significantly, it makes certain that Wayne’s point of view will remain a vital part of scholarly and creative conversations among generations of researchers and artists.”
Quinlan thanked James Steele, professor of history and theory at the USC School of Architecture, for introducing Quinlan and Thom and recognizing USC’s potential as the home of Thom’s archive.
“Wayne’s work captures an especially evanescent moment in national and regional history, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when then supreme confidence in progress and technology, and seriousness embodied in the Modern Movement, began to be tempered with the possibility of formal variation and hedonistic expression,” Steele said. “This historic collection represents an understudied period of our regional past.”
Wayne Thom was born in Shanghai and grew up in Hong Kong before moving to Vancouver. He worked as a ski instructor before studying photography, first at Art Center College, now Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, and then at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, where he graduated in 1968.
Thom photographed the work of many prominent architects—including Arthur Erickson, Frank Gehry, Quincy A. Jones, Albert C. Martin, I.M. Pei, William Pereira, and Gio Pònti—while developing his signature method of visually communicating architectural structures and ideas. Among his many achievements and citations, Thom is a fellow of the American Society of Photographers, an honor currently held by only 108 master photographers worldwide.
The Julius Shulman Institute has organized Light, Matter and Form, an exhibition of Thom’s photographs at Woodbury University’s WUHO gallery in Hollywood, opening on November 6.
The Wayne Thom archive will arrive at USC on September 10, and the USC Libraries are developing an exhibition based on the archive for a 2016 opening.