Tom Oldham is a London-based photographer celebrated for taking imaginative portraits of leading musicians, actors, sports stars and other talented individuals living today.
Tom takes over our Instagram feed this week, October 20 to 26, with a selection of his celebrity portraits. We caught up with Tom to discover more about his photographic practice.
You were the 2018 Professional Portraiture category winner and recipient of the Sony Grant. How has the Sony World Photography Awards benefitted your career?
It’s had a huge impact on my career - it’s shown me that it’s always worth taking that punt. To override self-doubt and push your work out there. So much positivity has occurred since the win and the accompanying press attention that followed. It’s meant people will take your call. You’ll get that meeting. People will sit for you. It doesn’t change your work but it does change your perception and that can be very useful. The Sony Grant really gave me the incentive to reach further with my new project ‘Shoot An Arrow and Go Real High’ and I couldn’t be happier with the work I’m creating for this. I’m super grateful, really.
How do you balance personal and commissioned projects?
By robbing Peter to pay Paul! I do lots of commercial work to enable my own projects to flourish without compromise. It’s very tough to manage both but balance and harmony are vital. I love that my own projects can take me on any tangent that only I will initiate, drive and control.
You've photographed some of the most famous faces of our time, do you have any anecdotes from photographing a particular celebrity you'd like to share?
No professional would ever give away the secrets that take place in these intimate experiences, but if you ever get the chance to spend time with Noel Gallagher, you won’t regret it…
Tell us about more about the photography book project you're running in schools.
I've been working with a couple of state schools for a few years and I’m disgusted and angry about their lack of resources. As someone who benefitted from the state system in further education, I just felt duty-bound to help pay back some of the advantages it gave me. Ages ago I had cleared out loads of photobooks that I no longer really looked at and gave them to a school. They were ‘jewelry’ on my shelves whereas they’d be an excellent resource for a school. I was sure other people I knew must be hoarding books too so I reached out and oh mumma, did my network come through. On their behalf, I've donated 400+ books to two schools and there’s more on the way. Maybe you have some? If you do contact me through my social media channels or email me (all details are on my website).
Do any other art forms influence you?
My dear friend David Morrison recently dragged me from my desk to the National Gallery to show how light was documented in the 1600s. Sometimes I find my interest in photography all-consuming and I forget to look up. As he was showing me some of his favorite works I realized I'd not spent nearly enough time considering the skills needed to create those paintings. It was very inspiring indeed.
You've created short films around particular photo projects (such as Longest Day, The Herder Boys of Lesotho). Why did you decide to introduce this media to your portfolio?
It feels as though this is a supportive medium that tells more about the story behind the portraits. It humanizes and deconstructs the process. I want people to see what’s involved in shooting this work so I decided to simplify and certainly demystify project work. It’s not hugely expensive and a short edit can engage the audience far more effectively than a few paragraphs of copy.
What are you currently working on?
Earning a living, finishing my project ‘Shoot an Arrow…’, campaigning against the climate crisis and Brexit, filling my hallway with books, looking after my kids, doing my VAT return… shall I go on?