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The Violet Hour

The photographs of Thomas Jordan, taken during the first and last moments of daylight, turn suburban streetscapes into Hopper-esque scenes of exquisite beauty.

Above:(From left) West Chicago, near dusk. Bartlett, near dusk.

A couple of years ago, Thomas Jordan, a then-26-year-old self-taught photographer living in DuPage County, began toting a medium-format film camera around Chicago’s western suburbs and outlying towns. With a full-time job in book publishing and two young kids, he knew that running off to New York, as so many aspiring photographers had done before him, wasn’t an option. “I asked myself, Can I make a serious body of work without going far from home?” he says. “It was difficult at first. These were places I’d gone to my whole life.”

But after repeated excursions, he realized something: The unprepossessing streets and houses of Middle America underwent a transformation during twilight. In the slanted, refracted light, the familiar became new, the mundane became otherworldly. Over the next few months, Jordan took dozens of pictures on long morning and evening walks. Unpeopled and tranquil, his images seem to exist outside of time.

After sharing his work on Instagram, Jordan says, he started getting messages and emails from all over the Midwest and beyond: “Someone would say, ‘This reminds me of my hometown’ or ‘This reminds me of the summer when I was 10.’ ” Others praised the carefully composed, painterly quality of the photographs. In January 2019 Jordan was invited to take over The New Yorker’s photography feed on Instagram for a week, and in April 2019, he published Instant Honey, a limited-edition book that includes many of the pictures taken on his suburban wanderings. Today his own Instagram account has more than 77,000 followers.

A sense of longing imbues Jordan’s photos, which he describes as capturing “a fleeting moment of isolation and reflection.” They also document the unremarkable in a remarkable way.

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