Tom Blachford // what makes a good photograph?
Based in Melbourne, Australia Tom Blachford specialises in Interiors, Architecture, Aerial and Fine Art photography. Working with many of Australia’s most prominent and creative architects and designers Tom prides himself on translating space, texture and design intent into strong sets of images. His graphic approach and cinematic aesthetic also been utilised by brands and agencies seeking evocative images to elevate their campaigns with the use of his signature style.
[C] Why the built environment? When and where was this interest first cultivated?
[T] That's something I’m still unpicking myself. It began many years ago after seeing the work of Matthais Heidrick and realising that buildings were not only art in their whole form but also as tighter compositions and graphic shapes. I have never been able to draw, so in those days I used them to create graphic compositions that I didn’t know how to create otherwise. Gradually my interest turned more to the psychological aspect of buildings and how they make us feel as well as the ideas that we project onto them. Every human on Earth interprets every building slightly differently and has a different explanation on what they think might go on behind its walls.
[C] In your work you look to transform what we see, known environments become surreal and dream-like worlds. How do you set about achieving this? What is the purpose of this transformation?
[T] In my opinion great art asks more questions than it can ever answer and elicits a different response from different people. By creating dream-like worlds I try to allow the images to become their own mysteries that warrant revisiting. Otherwise what's the point of just pasting up a fact on your wall? It has never made sense to me. It's all about finding the simplest way to distort a perception of a place with the greatest effect.
[C] You’ve talked about the ability of a camera to bridge between our world and the unseen. What do you mean by this? How is this result produced in practice?
[T] I try to use the camera as a bridge to link myself to a view of the world that our eyes are not capable of seeing. That may be through long exposure, using long or ultra wide lenses or long exposure to compress minutes into a single moment. The way we experience the world through our eyes is very fixed and linear, we can only capture so much light, see so far in the distance or perceive the movement of time and objects in a very limited way.
[C] Often photographers aim to create a narrative through their work. You aim to do the very opposite looking at the creation of scenes allowing the viewer to write their own script. Why is this? Where did this idea first originate?
[T] Practically it may have originated from the fact that I really dislike photographing people. I love people, I’m a total extrovert and I love photography but it is a compromise to mix the two for me. What resulted was a practice that left me interested in the places that people inhabit, create, destroy and build. Their marks are everywhere in the built environment but taking them away adds a mystery - that is key to my work. Another element of my work is trying to remove the ability to place when they were taken, it's far more important that any abstraction of where they might have been taken. People can be a giveaway, even if styled to look like another era they will no doubt give too many hints as to a time period. I love that buildings outlive us and have many different lives, its impossible to pin down which life a building might be living and in that way it exists in all realms at once.
[C} You only work with existing light sources, this allows for what could be considered a very real moment captured in time. Is this way of working integral to the final outcome?
[T] For me its the only way to work, I only do my best work when I’m in touch with my impulses and in the moment. To add in production elements for me only slows me down and brings doubt to my choices. When I am fully in the moment I know there is no other possible way I would photograph a scene and nothing else that I would need to add. If I feel something is missing from a scene I usually just keep moving until it feels right.
[C] Don’t you think there’s an irony in hunting for the cinematic scenes in life whilst trying to capture what we consider the everyday?
[T] I like to hope there is as much irony in everything as possible. I can certainly agree with this one!
[C] Could you talk us through your process from finding a location to the final product?
[T] It really depends on the series and what I'm trying to communicate. Midnight Modern and Nihon Noir were both rather produced with planning, scouting, lists and working with a retoucher. My Noct Angeles Series as well as my Venice work was super spontaneous and impulse based with as little post-production as possible.
[C] What does the term ‘art’ mean to you?
[T] Art is the stuff made by people who call themselves artists. My definition of artists (borrowed from the book Art and Fear which I feel is absolutely compulsory reading for all artists) is that artists are those who listen to their impulses and habitually refuse the give up in the face of all adversity. In the end its the only thing great artists have in common. Great art takes many forms and is in the eye of the beholder. I spent many years confusing the art of curators with the art of artists. The words you read in didactics have nothing to do with the impulses that drive an artist to create, though they do provide wonderful context and consideration.
[C] How do you see your work developing?
[T] We all tell ourselves many stories, most of them untrue. For me, the most prevalent one has been that I am only a photographer and unable to create art in any other form. I’m hoping to break out of that and begin to explore other mediums. I’m dipping my toe in the water, first by creating a photography series rendered totally in a computer with no live elements, I’m more a designer on the project. It's quite a trip!
[C] Finally, what makes a good photograph for you?
[T] Something that keeps you coming back, asking more questions and never reaching the same answer.