Words by Cameron Higgins
Tom Blachford is a kind of nocturnal Slim Aarons for the twenty-first century. The Melbourne-based photographer’s exhibition Midnight Modern, opened at the Bryant Toth Gallery last week and offers a case study of the Baby-Booming architecture of Palm Springs, California, updated for the Instagram era. To create his first NYC solo show, Tom used a long-exposure lens to photograph pieces of desert architecture under the full moon which means, in non-camera head terms, that the pictures he took literally do not depict conditions visible to the naked, human eye. The amount of light gathered by the camera lens conjured these images from a liminal space between reality and potential.
This makes sense, once you get to know Tom’s philosophy. He champions mystery, believes in the Jungian notions of collective subconscious and is deeply interested in the ways technology is scrambling our notions of “reality.” CONVICTS caught up with Tom for a CBD-laced coffee (which he described, rather accurately, as tasting like “shoe-ey weed”) and a chat last Thursday morning. Check out the full interview below.
Hey, Tom. How are you doing man? To start, can you introduce yourself to us.
My name’s Tom Blachford. I’m an Australian based photographer who shoots fine art and architecture and I’m here for the opening of my first New York solo exhibition at the Toth Gallery. Also, my coffee tastes a bit like weed now.
The marvels of CBD. So growing up were you always a creative kid?
Not at all, no. I didn’t know I was creative. All kids draw and paint but I went through my teen years having no idea I was creative. Everyone is creative, though. It’s just kind of a story we tell ourselves about whether we can or can’t do something.
How did you end up in the photography world, then?
I did a marketing degree and hated every second of it. Second year into my degree I got a camera and just fell in love with it. I had an organic but difficult time building my life around it.
What was the ‘fuck it’ moment you had when you decided to go all in on photography?
Probably when I failed three out of four exams in one semester and realized I didn’t give a shit. I was lucky. My family and friends encouraged me and saw that I actually gave a shit about something — photography — for once.
How did you start supporting yourself through it?
Just shooting crappy parties. I was one of Melbourne’s top three least reliable party photographers. I started assisting a photographer who shot lifestyle and interiors, so that was my education and payment at the same time.
How did you begin developing your own aesthetic?
When I was starting out, just fucking around and shooting everything someone showed me how to do long exposures and that just totally blew my mind. That was probably the first year I got my camera. I spent the next four years playing other people’s games, doing what I thought photography was: shooting portraits and fashion. Then in 2013, when I was in Palm Springs I decided to try shooting at night again and that felt right. It looked great and tapped into that place where the good stuff comes from. I find that process really interesting and the output really interesting.
What can photography do that other art forms can’t?
That’s a good question. It depends on the interpretation of photography. If people see it as photojournalism, they see it as facts and answers. I’m more interested in questions than answers. I like mystery and would rather a photo pose a thousand questions it will never answer than offer a single answer. My work plays off the fact that people don’t know whether an image is a photo anymore. The Midnight Modern aesthetic looks rendered. It is visually confusing, so I think I’m playing off the time that we’re in. We don’t know what a photo means anymore and I’m super open to having that confusion.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve got a few projects on the go. One of them is based in Bolivia in La Paz there’s this crazy architect called Freddy Mamani who builds these insane event halls that look like nothing else in the world. Then I’m working on another interesting project which is going to look like photography…but I’m actually working exclusively with a 3D renderer to create the images. The project is to take the ten most famous modernist houses in the world like the Farnsworth House and Falling Water and then reimagine that they were renovated aggressively and unsympathetically in the 1990s in postmodern style. Neon everywhere, lots of amoebic swirls, bright colors, referential columns…that kind of stuff. I’m going to render and pitch them as a kind of fake news meets McMansion hell.
So where do these ideas come from?
The best stuff comes from a place where you’re not thinking anymore…you’re just channeling. I’m into collective consciousness and the idea that ideas happen to you, not from you. You go into a trance and you come out and there’s something sitting there and it’s great. You’ve used the techniques that you’ve developed but the core of it…and you don’t have an explanation for where that energy comes from except for that it’s from outside of yourself.
Does that notion tie into your value of questions rather than answers?
Yeah, I think so. It’s a mystery to me and I think the best art translates that mystery to other people. Why would you put something on a wall if it’s just a statement? If it just says the same goddamn thing over and over? Why would you want that? You need to walk past it and think of something new every time you see it.
What else are you hoping to achieve with your photography?
Sharing mystery and also promoting the architecture. I feel a responsibility to introduce that architecture to our generation and to repackage it in a way that doesn’t feel staid and old and of the Baby Boomer generation. They’re really the stewards of these houses at the moment but at some point we’re going to have to pick up the mantle. If I can do a little bit for that and cultivate an audience’s love and affection for these houses, that’s great too.
Do you think of yourself as a storyteller?
Yeah, well…architecture is interesting. Architecture is the art that we live in. They are the sculptures and works of art that we live our lives in. As a result of that, people always tend to have a natural inquisitive nature about buildings. You drive past a big ass house and you wonder what goes on in there? Who is in there and what are they doing? People naturally, depending on all of their experiences in life, will script their own answer to that question. If you show anyone a picture of a house and ask who they think lives there, everyone will have a different answer. I see the houses as the sets of narratives. Palm Springs is an interesting one. There have probably been hilarious crazy parties and interesting moments and racist discussions that have gone on in those houses. I see my photos as the sets for those dramas.
Thanks so much for your time Tom, best of luck with the show.
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