Skip to main content

Better to confuse than bore - An interview with Tom Oldham

7 years ago

Tom Oldham is a London-based portrait photographer, focusing mostly on portraits of musicians, sports stars and other "talented folk".  He works in locations across the UK and worldwide. 

Tom has recently exhibited at agencies Mother and Publicis and the Gibson Showroom in London. He was also chosen as part of the 2015 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize with his image of Gilbert and George. He has also been awarded in the 2016 Open Series in the AoP Awards for his work with Riders For Health in Liberia.

We caught up with him to find out more about his practise, and why it's better to confuse than to bore! 


Hi Tom, thanks for chatting with us. Why photography? 

I worked in men’s fashion retail out of school and oh man was it dull. Somewhat annoyingly, I was quite good at selling trousers and what have you. I foresaw the rest of my life doing just that – it certainly wasn’t a calling as such, just something I seemed ok at. Then for my 21st birthday, a girlfriend at the time suggested I get a camera. I wanted a watch, but she was quite persistent and turned out to be spot on. It’s fair to say that photography saved me from a forever of inside leg measurements. I could still measure you for a suit though. Turn ups sir?


How did you get your “big break" in the industry? 

I went on to study at Plymouth College of Art and then worked there as a technician and in the kit stores. Getting myself out into the industry was hard from Plymouth as it’s a long way from the metropolitan hub but I started contributing to magazines and that enabled me to get some access to shoot DJs and crowds and just generally be where I needed to be. We doted on one particular title at that time – Sleaze Nation – and the editor Steve Lazarides starting taking my contributions, which was a huge moment for me. Their clubbing section was the coolest thing out there and when I got the full bleed page with two ravers in the nuddy in the sea in Brighton – that was the greatest day. I’ll always be chasing that feeling actually – I only surpassed it nearly 15 years later on first seeing my picture hanging in The Nation Portrait Gallery.


Tell us about your most memorable shoot

I'd have to say it was my shoot with Usain Bolt. I’ve shot him a few times and to be near someone with that kind of gift who remains decent and humble, fun and considerate is something special I think, plus it’s helped by the fact that he’s an astonishing example of the human physical form who responds wonderfully to lighting.



Tell us about your approach to portraits and portrait photography. What is your aim when you are behind the camera? And what makes you stop and look at other work?  

My first consideration with any portrait session is, somewhat annoyingly, how long do I have. It weighs heavily on any session and can really effect the outcome with how deep can you go and how technical can your set up and requirements be. Jane Bown said that portraits are given and not taken, so my objective has always been to ensure my sitter is as comfortable, as welcome and as respected as possible. This way you'll always get more than you hoped for. I'm all about good vibes me. 

Instagram makes me stop and look. Obvious answer I know but I just when you think you've seen it all, something stops me in my tracks. It was this one today.

What was your most recent shoot? 

A campaign image for Skoda with Bradley Wiggins up North. Really lovely too.

Do you have a photographic philosophy? 

Better to confuse your audience than bore them.



What’s next for you?

I’m having an exhibition w/c 25th June 2017 at the old Photographers Gallery with Hasselblad and Metro Imaging, showing beautiful big prints of my portraits with The Herder Boys of Lesotho. You should come, it’s the best work I’ve ever done.