An image of ALPHA-BET

Lew Thomas

(1932 – )


Not on display
Further information

Applying principles derived from structuralism and linguistics to an examination of photographic content and its dissemination, American artist Lew Thomas plays with the nexus between text and image. According to Thomas, ‘a photograph not only reads like the real world; it also shapes our vision.’ 1

In ALPHA-BET, 28 black and white photographs of individual typewriter keys are arranged in a grid. All letters in the alphabet appear, with Q and W repeated. Dissociated from their neighbours, these letters present an open possibility. Any number of words and sentences could be generated from these constituent parts. By detailing the basic units of visual language, Thomas constructs a typology of text.

A strict uniformity dictates the aesthetic conditions of each photograph. They have all been shot from the same angle with the same stark tonality. Only the shadows deviate, falling at slightly irregular inclines. The arrangement of the photographs follows the order of the keys on a typewriter, moving from left to right, top to bottom. Repeating the first two letters at the end of the sequence, Thomas not only completes the grid, but introduces the suggestion of continuity. Language, like photography, is not a closed system but a malleable material.

1 Thomas, Lew, Structural(ism) and photography, NFS Press, San Francisco, 1978 p 37

printed 2015
28 gelatin silver photographs
18.9 x 21.4 cm image; 19.7 x 22 sheet; 148 x 98 x 4.6 cm frame
Signature & date


Gift of Geoff Ainsworth AM 2015
Accession number
© Lew Thomas