When you look up to the sky from our London offices, chances are all you will see are the flights of thousands of holiday makers travelling from Heathrow Airport to much warmer, sunnier climates. But look up from Bondi Beach or St Tropez, and your view may be of something very different.
One of the last things you expect to see is a figure dangling hundreds of feet above you from the side of a helicopter, but this is all in a days work for British photographer Tommy Clarke, who opted to take a more hands on approach to aerial photography than by the ever popular use of drones.
Growing up in Dorset and spending the majority of his childhood on the beach, Tommy’s work examines the human relationship between water and land. Since he began shooting his aerial photographs 5 years ago, his work has been exhibited at various locations across the UK, gaining regular press coverage and choosing to print with us here at theprintspace time and time again.
We recently spoke to Tommy about his work, the inspirations behind it, and what lead him to his signature style.
Hey Tommy, thanks for agreeing to speak with us! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background!
Hi! I’m Tommy, I’m a 30-year-old photographer currently based in Brixton. I used to be a fashion photographer but then moved to aerial photography when I was in Australia about 5 years ago.
What is it about photography that interested you?
I sort of fell into photography after I broke my back whilst snowboarding when I was 16. After this I was really limited with the amount of sport I was able to do, and so I turned my attention to the camera and it built from there. I started off in sports photography and it evolved into fashion and then aerial. Massimo Vitali is my favourite photographer and is a big inspiration to me, capturing incredible large format scenes of Italian beaches.
Can you talk us through how you produce your work?
My new series, Salt, is very abstract and the viewer has to really look into the work in order to tell that the piece is in fact a photograph. This series was inspired by the work of artists like Rothko and Newman, and in fact the abstract expression era as a whole. To capture these images I had to lean out of the plane with my camera pointing vertically downwards in order to create a very flat perspective with the land, making it quite hard for the viewer to understand what the images are at first glance.
Are there certain things you are looking to capture when you go on a shoot, or do you let things unfold in front of you?
Prior to the shoot I do a lot of research on the area and will have a rough idea of what I would like to capture, but of course there is always some element of luck on the day, and are things that you can’t control, so you have to let things unfold in front of you.
A lot of your work revolves around the sea and the coastline. What is it about the sea that attracted you?
I have always been very close to the sea ever since I was young, having grown up surfing along the British coastline, and so the sea has become a big part of my life and who I am. As an artist, I have always been interested in capturing the raw power of nature, it is something that you cannot control and the seas ever-changing colour palette intrigues me.
You choose to print your images on a massive scale, drawing the viewer into the scene and enabling them to see every detail. What do you think the importance is of printing your work in this way as opposed to just viewing the images on a screen?
These days, the majority of the photos we take stay as digital files on our cameras or phones, and they very rarely become a physical print. It has been a great experience speaking to people about the work when they viewed it on show in a gallery environment. The work seems so much more impressive when printed and presented professionally on a wall than when you view it on the small screen of your phone on Instagram for example. I worked very closely with theprintspace to ensure I got the most out of my digital images, and then with London Picture Framing to figure out how best to display them. These large prints work very well with my current series, Salt, as it enables you to see every detail within the landscape of the salt lakes, with the different textures acting almost like brush strokes within the work.
In your opinion, what is the best image you’ve ever taken? What was the scenario, and what is it about the image that you like?
One of the images that has significant importance to me is ‘Entry’ from my first ever shoot in Australia. It is the image that kickstarted my journey into aerial photography and the work I have been producing ever since.
What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any other projects?
I’m currently planning a big trip to Iceland, and then after that an environmental project focusing on the disappearing small islands around the world.
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