Interview with photographer Thom Atkinson
Thom Atkinson is a portrait, landscape and still life photographer based in London. He works commercially in the fields of editorial and advertising photography.
Why did you decide to take up photography?
A big reason was for the adventures. Being a photographer can be a free ticket to access and explore things - you learn a lot about the world. Another reason is that I've always enjoyed the freedom of being freelance and the variety it brings - every project or commission is different. And lastly I just love making and composing pictures - it’s so absorbing and there’s so much to learn and study.
What does your average day involve?
Today is a fairly average example. My studio is at home so I had a nice leisurely breakfast and some good coffee with a book. I’m currently obsessed with the Titanic and reading Walter Lord’s brilliant book, A Night to Remember. After that some invoicing and admin until some prints arrived. I’m putting together a new folio for some meetings I have tomorrow and working on the running order. Next I’ll be working on some retouching for a magazine piece I shot last week, looking at a glass blower and a cheesemaker. And finally I’ll be getting my kit ready for a personal project shoot this evening - I’m photographing a year in the life of a local farm in Kent.
Your historical inventory project and missing buildings are fascinating, where do you look to find inspiration for new personal projects?
I’ve always been interested in British history and myth. I studied an MA in photography based around those subjects and a lot of my projects come from those ideas. I also read a lot of history and tend to get really engrossed with with a particular story for a while. I think of inspiration as being quite a subconscious process - something just occurs to you out of nowhere. I think it can be influenced but not forced.
You've photographed some amazing craftsman and makers, what has been the most challenging project to date?
I’ve been photographing makers for a couple of years now, both for personal projects and on commission. It’s been really enjoyable and simple to do - it’s a very straightforward, old fashioned kind of documentary photography. But the most challenging project I’ve done so far would be Missing Buildings. This was 6 years of work and development of ideas, as well as a huge amount of walking and photographing. Once the project was complete I set up an imprint to publish it as a photobook. A huge mission but well worth it.
What would be the one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring photographer?
Fortune favours the brave. For me at least, photography involves a lot of bravery - it’s all about new people, new places and new experiences. We live in a very success oriented culture but this kind of thinking feels unhelpful. You have to be open to failure and frustration because you’re dealing with the real world and whatever it offers up to you. It’s much more comfortable to stay at home but a bit of bravery and risk makes it happen.
A big thank you to Thom Atkinson for contributing to our series of interviews with industry experts.