We sat down with Tom Blachford to chat about hitting career pinnacles, imposter syndrome, and the struggles of the creative process we can all relate to “when trying to bring something to life.”
OJ: How did you settle on photography as a medium? I’ve heard you are self-taught. How long did it take you to reach the point of your first professional shoot?
Tom Blachford: At the point that I became interested in photography I wasn’t looking for a career change or even a creative outlet. I was 20 years old and into my second year of a business degree. I picked up a camera and fell in love with the process, the medium and the world of opportunities it opened up to me. It just felt so right to me, like it had always been a part of me. It became my way to explore the world around me, to capture my life and to express myself creatively which was something that had been dormant in me for all of my teen years. I think the time between picking up a camera and doing my first paid job was probably 2 years. To get to a point where I was producing decent work took me another few years. It’s been a long road!
OJ: Much of your work, particularly the fine art portfolios, has a very surreal quality. A disconnect that echoes a disconnect of sorts we can have to our own environments that are now so often viewed through a screen or have had a filter applied. Why do you think you are drawn to subjects, aesthetics, times of day/night that exude this quality?
Tom Blachford: In many ways, I’m still unpicking the elements of this myself. Upon returning home from a shooting trip overseas and realising I have just flown across the world to stay up all night for a week straight – I really do wonder where that energy and inspiration comes from.
Practically, I find the process actually quite exciting and filled with adrenaline. Even though I spend many many hours out roaming the streets at night I still get constantly spooked by sounds, lights and movements in the shadows. My process kind of oscillates between adventure and meditation, hunting for buildings to shoot then having to calm myself and wait a minute or more for the shutter to close.
The process is also still really magical to me, even all these years later, especially if I have someone with me who hasn’t seen me shoot at night. You stand in the darkness struggling to make out any elements at all and then this whole world pops up on the camera in front of you, rich with colour, contrast and tones that are just beyond the limits of your perception.
OJ: You clearly have a deep-rooted fascination for Palm Springs, especially it’s mid-century architecture which has come to inform a distinctive collection of images. Was this a considered subject or more experimental?
Tom Blachford: Midnight Modern developed over quite a few years and has been constantly refined along the way. It definitely began with a spirit of experimentation, I set out to show Palm Springs from a different perspective or in a different “light”. That became literal when I went out to shoot one night and realised it was a full moon. That was my first trip in 2013 and I could only manage 5 or so images before giving up and going home. They haunted me for almost a year until I could get back and shoot some more. Those images became series I that I exhibited in late 2014. From there I went deep down the rabbit hole of mid-century and began to hang with many of the Mid-Century experts of Palm Springs who helped educate me and share their love of the period.
OJ: Do you personally harbor a hankering to live in a mid-century home or do you just like the way they photograph?
Tom Blachford: I really do. I am still incredibly drawn to Mid Century design and my partner Kate and I often dream of buying something that pops up on Modernist Australia. I have recently developed a deep interest in Post Modern design but I think I will always be a tragic modernist at heart and do hope to be the custodian of a Mid Century home one day.
OJ: Midnight Modern established a turning point in your career. It seems this body of work was a pivotal moment that threw your photographs into cult status. How did this change the future direction of your work? Did it propel you into a more fine art direction for example?
Tom Blachford: Midnight Modern completely changed my life. It was the first body of work I had really created from the heart and from a place of play and exploration. To find it was so well received was incredibly gratifying and important to know that my instincts were of more use to me than anything else I had ever tried in my career. Up until that point, I had been losing at someone else’s game and not playing my own, so to speak. My ideas of what was possible in photography were shaped entirely by seeing what had already been done, not trying something new.
I was also struggling with a bad case of imposter syndrome and had a hard time identifying as an artist. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be called that for a very long time. My brain works in a very deductive manner – that’s how I shoot – so when I deduced that if people were buying my work as art to proudly put on their wall it was probably about time I started feeling like I deserved to call myself an artist. It was a profound shift in the way I viewed myself.
9/ With two different sides to your work – the fine art and the commercial – which genre rings true? Do you identify more strongly as an artist or as a content creator?
Tom Blachford: At this point in my career I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do both. I adore my commercial clients, working directly for designers and architects I am able to work collaboratively and spend each day living their projects with them and all the ups and downs of them bringing their vision to life. It’s incredibly inspiring for me and is a constant reminder of the struggles of the creative process which we all face in trying to bring something to life.
My commercial work also allows me to be my own patron and to support my art so that I can create impulsively and without limits or external pressures. I acknowledge that not all artists have a smooth and clear path to being able to practice their craft in a commercial way and not feel like they are selling out or wasting their time, so I’m very lucky in that respect!
At this point, I think that balance is very important to me. Who knows where my career will take me.