Search for content, post, videos

SPMOP : Thomas Sayers Ellis : Paradise ǀ Paradise layered


This exhibition Paradise ǀ Paradise layered by Thomas Sayers Ellis is on view at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in Tampa, Florida from June 18 until August 4, 2024. The exhibition is curated and produced by Saint Petersburg Month of Photography (SPMOP).

Marieke van der Krabben, executive director and curator Saint Petersburg Month of Photography, writes :

Writer, poet, bandleader, and photographer Thomas Sayers Ellis has been living in Saint Petersburg, Florida for a few years after moving down from Washington DC and New York City. He is still not used to the heat but his urge to document the streets and the people overcomes this obstacle. His presence is unnoticed by most, but occasionally someone remembers that he took their photo at an earlier time. He is open, polite, and friendly, qualities a good street photographer needs to have to create the candid images that belong to this genre. However, with his images he creates narratives that go beyond street photography. They are seductive, they will lure you into paradise. They are confrontational, they will show you the fringes that make up your paradise. His images are layered, both in the literal as in figurative sense. They show a different dimension in paradise, a dimension that is made up by advertising, marketing and image building of what paradise should be. But at the same time, this paradise is a construct that is only available for the happy few. The long-time inhabitants of paradise are being displaced to the margins, out of sight, just outside the frame. The fact that these inhabitants are often minorities and of low income, echoes Tampa Bay’s long history with segregation and gentrification. With his photographs Thomas demands attention to the “forgotten” people in this paradise, but at the same time juxtaposing the bright and colorful tourism industry with the dark underbelly that makes this industry run. The layers he adds in his photography create an awareness of things that were once obscured, outside the frame of the famous Florida-themed photographs we all know: the dolphins, sunsets, and flamingos. He creates an ironic metaphor for the world we currently live in: Bright shiny things, aggressive one-liners and promises of paradise make the people blind to what society has become. Ellis’ photographs show us that things are always what they seem.

(excerpt from ‘In the hall of mirrors, nothing is as it seems’, by Marieke van der Krabben, Foreword in Paradise ǀ Paradise layered)


Thomas Sayers Ellis was born in 1963, in Washington, D.C. where he attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, played timbalés, and dreamed of becoming a writer. In 1986, he purchased a stolen camera and, in 1987, he took his first memorable photographs at the funeral of novelist / essayist James Baldwin in New York City. He co-founded The Dark Room Collective, a literary forum for emerging and established Black authors, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1989 and Heroes Are Gang Leaders, an ensemble of artists and musicians in 2015, the same year he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in poetry. In 2018 Heroes Are Gang Leaders were awarded An American Book Award for Oral Literature. While touring with HAGL and the Dead Lecturers, Ellis has used his camera in Paris, Berlin, The Hague, Lisbon, Florence, Venice, and Gdansk. He is the author of The Maverick Room (2005); Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems (2010); Crank Shaped Notes (2021) and Mexico (2021), a collection of photographs. His writing has appeared in Best American Poetry (1997, 2001, 2010, 2012); The Paris Review; Poetry; The Nation, Tin House, Grand Street, and numerous anthologies. His work was the focus of two solo exhibitions at Studiottantuno in Mantova, Italy, “Manually Forcing All Modes of ReSKINstance Into Fo(lk)cus” (2019) and Fotosincronologie: frammenti di un tempo poetico (2022). Ellis has lived like a lens in several U.S. cities including Boston, Providence, Cleveland, Missoula, New York, Washington, D.C., Missoula, Iowa City and San Francisco. In 2016, he relocated to Florida where he has quietly compiled an archive of creative and critical images of daily life in Paradise. A recipient of a Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant for photography, he was named the first Photo Laureate of Saint Petersburg during Saint Petersburg Month of Photography in 2023.


A book of this exhibition, Ellis’ year as the first Photo Laureate and more of his recent work will be available for purchase.

Thomas Sayers Ellis : Paradise ǀ Paradise layered
June 18 – August 4, 2024
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
1630 E 7th Ave,
Tampa, FL 33605

Saint Petersburg Month of Photography

Create an account or log in to read more and see all pictures.

Install WebApp on iPhone
Install WebApp on Android