Questions and answers with Thom Kerr.

{April 2020}

Home: Los Angeles

Where was the final image from this photoshoot featured?

A digital story for Schön Magazine.

Give us a bit of background on the photoshoot concept.

It started with the model, Eden Fines, reaching out to me on Instagram. Eden has a striking look and I wanted to see how I could take her classic beauty and transform her with a more editorial energy. I’d just done an advertising job with the LA based stylist Kendy and I could tell she had an interesting eye, so I put together a mood board of fashion that she felt a connection to. We then agreed to shoot the story while Eden was in LA – she’s from Israel. We shot the story before we knew exactly where to place it but we felt confident that it would find a home, as we knew the images were special. I usually always shoot commission, so it was strange but also liberating to just create!

Why did you/your client choose the final image compared to the outtakes?

I like to challenge myself. Because I’ve been a photographer for nearly 15 years, it’s easy to slide into staying comfortable with what you know, and for me, that's digital – not film. I think it’s important as a photographer to keep exploring ways of creating that are slightly outside of your comfort zone, so I decided to shoot some beautiful Kodak Porta 400 film alongside the digital images. I would shoot it digitally and then when I found a moment I loved, I would swap over the camera and shoot on film. When I got all the images back, there were amazing digital pictures but I decided to just publish the film ones with Schön because my audience isn’t necessarily used to seeing that from me. It was difficult to cull it down because there were so many fabulous images.

Any cheeky moments during this photoshoot that you'd be willing to share?

I like to keep all of my sets high energy and fun, so I guess every shoot has a cheeky energy. I like having a light-hearted atmosphere and making sure the talent knows I appreciate their energy and enthusiasm. I’m sure it was a challenge for Eden to perform to camera with the genius giant wigs that Iggy Rosales had created. Those wigs are heavy and tight - but she made it look effortless.

Have you ever experienced a fanboy/girl moment?

I feel lucky that I’m in a position where if I like an artist (actor, model, performer, artist) that I can usually find a way to connect with them through my photography. It’s always fun creating with people who are also creators. Whether it’s a pop star whose music I genuinely love or an actor who I admire. There is definitely an actor and musician inside of me, so it’s not so much about me fanboy(ing) but more so about being in a pure state of joy. It’s a great feeling when someone you suspected would be a lot of fun turns out to be a lot of fun! I’d watched Big Little Lies when it came out and fell in love with Laura Dern’s character, so when I shot an Elle cover with her it felt like a manifested moment! She was such a cool and lovely person.

Shed some light on how you got involved in photography.

I was born on the Gold Coast, Australia, and went to high school and university in Brisbane. I went from being considered a weirdo to connecting with a lot of like-minded creatives who didn’t necessarily work in fashion. Looking back, they were the ones who inspired me with their unique style and personalities. I’d gone to film school and was focusing on writing and directing but at the end of film school I started pulling people together to creative direct these shoots for local publications. I wasn’t the photographer, I worked more on the concept and the hustle eventually developing the courage to start taking photos myself. By that stage, I had worked with enough photographers to have a sense of where I wanted to go. Without the technical skills, I experienced a lot of trial and error. I don’t think my career was a thunderbolt lightning moment, it was more of a steady climb. I feel grateful when I look back at my journey because it's what gave me the stamina to stay in the game when a lot of my contemporaries lost interest. It’s a hard game because you realize you have to keep collaborating, growing and evolving. Photographers can go in and out of fashion and I think I’ve experienced my moments of being both popular and not. It’s nice to be sitting in this current space and living in LA.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I definitely have images come to mind when I listen to music. It’s why I love collaborating with pop stars because it’s always been my source of inspiration. Even though the collaboration process can be harder, you land somewhere unique that you probably wouldn’t have got to on your own. Photographically, and stylistically, I feel a connection with the work of Mert & Marcus, Inez and Vinoodh, and Steven Meisel. There are so many photographers I love and draw inspiration from but, ultimately, the best access point is locking in a character, a feeling, and a moment - which is often delivered through cinema and music - then building the creative output around these elements. Nothing feels better than when you plan the elements out carefully and see the quality of the image sky rocket as a result. If you plan carefully, I think the photographing process becomes much simpler because the elements are doing all the work. You've just got to make sure the light and the character are shining through.

What’s it like being on set with you?

I used to find it strange that I would get a lot of feedback from agents saying people thought I was very funny. But I love funny. Who doesn’t want to be best friends with Kristen Wig?! I’ve learnt to enjoy that feedback. I think I like making everyone feel excited and confident while making sure I help steer the direction of the shoot in a positive and affirming way.

Do you prefer photographing with a big or small team on set?

Sometimes, when I’m directing music videos, it can be frustrating having so many elements that are between myself and the subject. I’m used to having talent right in front of the lens. So, I guess in some ways having lots of people makes things easier but you lose a little bit of that intimate connection that you can get from the smaller teams. Ultimately, though, I’m not too fussed – as long as the creative is strong and the elements are inspiring me.

Describe your ideal photoshoot.

Every artist on set, including the model, is deeply invested in creating an exciting image. Here in LA, there is a lot of ego and a lot of “I don’t do this, and I don’t do that”. Whereas, in Australia, we have more of a "get in there and help where you can" attitude. I like people who maintain their professionalism, but at the end of the day, I prefer those who are invested in their work and on a quest to create an artistic image fulfilling whatever task may be required. I think it always shows in the final product.

What makes a photograph special, in your opinion?

I heard someone talking the other day about whether or not something has a consciousness behind it. I thought that was such a fantastic way to describe whether or not something feels alive. We’re kind of existing in a massive digital consumption era where we don’t ask ourselves to reflect on an image anymore, so I get bored when I see images that don’t really have any purpose or meaning behind them. It’s a strange thing to describe but there is a feeling you get when you can tell the photographer is sharing a genuine perspective as opposed to regurgitating a ‘cool’ aesthetic that doesn’t have anything real inside at its core. I love photography styles that don’t resemble anything close to what I create. I’m not looking for a mirror reflection, I’m just looking to feel authenticity. Show me what you think is beautiful. Don’t just copy something else because Instagram will get you the likes.

Express what photography means to you.

I definitely come from the school of fantasy – not reality. Taking the photo is one step in creating the final piece of art. Purists can be irritated by the digital manipulation of my images. I used to get a lot of post production questions, which used to irritate me, but now I’ve become comfortable with my process and just enjoy following my intuition and landing somewhere that feels right. I see myself more of an image maker than just a photographer and I’ve been stepping more into creative directing again to expand my visual world. I guess telling stories through images is just a way for me to shed some of these fantasies I have and breathe them into reality. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but when it does, it feels like magic. When I can’t stop looking at an image, I know the audience will feel that magic too.

Do you photograph full-time? If not, what pays the bills?

I've been a full-time photographer and director for about 8 or 9 years now. Prior to that, my life was very much about working enough side jobs and crashing at people’s places. I’m so grateful to everyone that took me in when I really didn’t have any money. When I first got to Sydney, Australia it was a real struggle. I was testing with models and starting from scratch, not knowing much about the industry. I lived on couches, in a photo studio, in an attic, a garage, crashed in beds next to my friends, and any corner or crevice I could find. At one point, I remember working at Sportscraft in Double Bay as a retail assistant, then living in a hostel across the road from the Darlo bar. I shared a room in that hostel for six months and it's kind of wild to think back on that now. As long as I had a place to sleep and good laughs, I would find a way to make it work. I always spent my money on trying to make the images as special as possible because I didn’t want to fall into the trap that other artists do - talking about how their work would be way better if they had more money to spend. This was the only way I could break the cycle. These days, there are moments where I’m rich, and then not so rich, but I live in a beautiful home and have everything I need, so I am so grateful because I know where I’ve come from. To anyone who ever let me stay with them - thank you! I’ll never forget it.

Instagram and photography...need we say more? Give us your two cents.

I think that as much as I would love to have less competitors in the market, my authentic self believes that photography and image making belongs to everyone. I’ve discovered some amazing artists through Instagram who shoot incredible pictures. One thing I find strange is when people discover my work. I feel like I’ve been doing it for a long time, so when I get messages from people around the world who tell me I inspire them, it’s a moment for me to ground myself and realize how far I’ve come instead of punishing myself for not being further along in my journey. I do think Instagram as a medium is more about people wanting to stalk you out, rather than just study your work. I think artists get confused about what is quality and what is "thirsty", so they may be likely to fall into the trap of losing their artistic identity by being on a quest to keep their online audience happy. I think there has to be a balance. Sometimes, my audience may not connect with a picture I've posted but I have to resist the urge to pull it down and remind myself that I don’t like everything so I shouldn't expect other people to. The most important thing is holding onto a sense of self through the process.

Do you have any suggestions to budding photographers out there?

Experiment as much as you can with your camera and light before you are put into situations where there is pressure and expectation. I really wasn’t technical and learnt everything as I went along, so there were times where had I started with more of an understanding of light, it would have made for a stronger image. I don’t regret anything because that’s what makes it my own journey. Know that everyone will have an opinion and it’s important to know when to take that constructive criticism and when to trust your instincts. I had a lot of people give me bad advice in my career about who I needed to be to succeed. It’s always messy but I think learning to embrace failure is important as well as always striving to do the very best you can. Also, test as much as you can so that you become comfortable finding beauty in any type of environment.

Any additional info you'd like to share about yourself and/or your photography?

Having a clearer headspace, I now realize that a lot of what I was doing with artists and brands was creative direction. I didn’t have a word for it at the time but I now know that the best work comes from collaborating on an image.

We obviously believe this outtakes concept is brilliant, but why do you think it's important for outtake photographs to be promoted in the industry?

Everything is so rushed and so consumed that I think it’s important to remind photographers they are allowed to have a point of view as opposed to just being the vessel for someone else’s project. Looking at outtakes reveals more about who the photographer is and what they are drawn to. I think it also asks the viewer to slow down and process the image a little more. Outtakes bring the art back into photography. There have been moments where I have hated what my clients have chosen but I’ve learnt that it’s a business and to be grateful for the spotlight – even if it doesn’t align with my vision for the story. Any platform that helps photographers showcase their true voice is much needed in this consumer obsessed industry.

Anything you're working towards with your next move in photography?

I’m moving more into film and television as well as music videos and photography. As I delve further into cinema, it’s actually reinvigorating my passion for photography again. I'm getting back in touch with my cinematic inspiration points, as opposed to fashion.

Share a quote you live by.

"Don’t compare yourself to somebody else’s greatest hits."


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