Photographs ©Tommy Forbes
I met Tommy through Flickr. He’d created some nice work in London but what really got my attention was the work he produced on his worldwide road-trip, which was inspired by a family tragedy . It was amazing to watch the evolution of his work during this time. And that’s the beauty of the internet. It takes a bit of patience but if you’re willing, you can watch photographers evolve on a daily basis.
Your photography really seemed to evolve during your trip around the world after the passing of your mother. Was that trip a certain liberation for you photographically? How did your approach to photography change while you were on the road? Or didn’t it?
The trip was definitely liberating, having all that time every day to wander allowed me to firstly learn the camera properly and then find out what kind of pictures I wanted to make. Before I left I shot mainly portraits and I was worried that after a year on the road I’d come back with a load of landscapes and pictures of my girlfriend stood in front of stuff. This was actually the case for a while, I look back over the initial few months of the trip and wonder what the hell I was doing, and clearly wasted a lot of great opportunities. I think my approach only really properly changed when (on your suggestion) I met up with Jared Iorio, Ludmila Morais and Alex JD Smith in LA. Not only were they very hospitable, but our chats about photography & street photography in particular led me to try new things all of which eventually led to better pictures.
That’s interesting that your visit to LA had such an impact on the way you photographed. Almost as if you got a dose of inspiration to mix with the liberation of the road. What attracted you to the street approach?
I’m not sure there was anything specific about the approach that attracted me, more I was just on the street every single day so it seemed like the obvious thing to try and shoot. Street Photography is a tough bastard, before I left I considered it an intimidating thing to even try, requiring a lot of time & failure before getting anything worth showing. It was only when I had a lot of time that it seemed more achievable.
I take it you were shooting film on the road. Were you developing it as you travelled? Or did you wait until you returned home? Film or digital, doesn’t matter, right? ha. But I think shooting film on the road, especially when you’re experimenting with a new genre or style must have presented some challenges. I mean, you must have really needed to trust your instincts.
I developed everything as I traveled, saving up my rolls until we got to a city big enough to have a good lab. At home I process everything as I shoot so not seeing anything for long periods of time was a new way of working and one that I grew to like. After a long wait, having 20-30 films to trawl through is a good feeling, especially in comparison to picking through just one roll at home and realising you have nothing.
This approach wasn’t perfect though. I used to leave sometimes months worth of work in rank hostel rooms convinced we’d have all our stuff stolen. The amount of time I obsessed over where exactly I should leave the rolls in the room, was incredibly annoying for my girlfriend.
When I got a load processed, I’d spend hours sorting through, seeing what worked and what didn’t and then use the good images to inform what I shot next and refresh in my mind what I was aiming to do.
Now that you’re off the road so to speak, how have you noticed a change in your routine or process? How do you apply what you learned on the road to the more habitual work you do at home, hitting the same streets, hanging with the same people, etc.?
My routine has digressed to what it was before I left, snatching what time I can get to take pictures, sending a few rolls each week to get processed and then getting slightly depressed when I scan them. It’s sad and annoying but juggling a job and photography is becoming increasingly hard. When I got back I promised myself I’d dedicate one day a week to photography, this hasn’t happened.
The main thing I leaned whilst away was to be quicker. Before I left I’d spend a lot of time on composition and capturing a moment or look wasn’t really something I attempted to do. Since I’ve come back I find myself trying to capture those moments far more than anything else. All my best work from London this year have been snatched to some extent.
What’s the day job? I think many photographers struggle with finding time for photography. I just read how Fred Herzog would go out for a few hours at night and then on the weekends. Somehow he kept a routine over all of those years!
I’m a Producer/Director in telly. Not been doing directing for very long but it feels really good to at least try and bring some of what I’ve learned through photography into work. I would love to have Herzog’s discipline . . . must try harder.
Are you ever able to bring your camera to work? It sounds like it could be fertile ground for a photography project!
I take my camera everywhere so it’s always with me at work and I have made projects about the shows I’ve worked on. However I’m not sure they’re of interest to anyone but me and the people that worked on those shows . . . If you’d like an example here is a set I made whilst working on a show called “Relic”. We were filming within the British Museum every Sunday for 13 weeks. It was a difficult job for many reasons but to have the opportunity to shoot there was incredible.
I like those. I think you could put together an interesting edit eventually. How about one more question? Where do you see yourself going with photography in the future?
My main aim next year I’d like to have ‘Because You Left We Went’ edited and organised into a book. If I could get that done and stop dithering and thinking about it that would be amazing. I’d also want to see Strange.rs go from strength to strength, build upon our body of work and collaborate more effectively (like we did on the Occupy movement).
Long term I have no idea what is going to happen. I’d love to go on another long trip and add to what I learnt from last year but think it’s unlikely. My wife and I plan to have a family soon, my job is going to get busier and the disposable time I have for photography will dwindle. I hope I can keep it going because I love doing it so much.
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