After featuring Lorick Fall 09 collection that was a big hit (see it here if you missed it) we wanted to interview the man behind the lens. Tom Hines has a wonderful cinematic sense about his work, his photography feels like walking into a Hitchcock movie.
What did you study?
I studied Fine Art at Cooper Union in New York City. It’s a small, interdisciplinary program, which, in retrospect is extraordinary because a student has access to all media and modes of expression without having to declare one as a focus. That access was great, but I was obsessed with the history of the so-called avant guard. I tried to make sure my study correlated with what was going on in high-minded contemporary art. Because of this mindset, I kind of neglected craft in order to catch up on theory jargon. Besides, craft wasn’t rewarded in contemporary art. The end result was, I basically studied how not to be a photographer, and I struggled for a long time after school to find my way back to celebrating beautiful, complicated things that don’t concisely illustrate an artist’s thesis.
Have you always wanted to be a photographer?
Yes! But it’s not that simple. Often you’ll hear photographers self-mythologizing (I’m not condemning this, I think it’s probably important). They’ll say something to the effect of, “I got my first Leica when I was 4 years old and I’ve been a prodigy with a clear direction ever since.” That certainly wasn’t the case for me. Photo was a medium among many that was on my radar as a means to self-expression. And there were things I absolutely hated about photography, too. As a teen, I built a darkroom in my parent’s basement and got pretty sick from the chemistry. I tried for months to make a print look like a Man Ray, and I never got there!
I’ve had spectacular failures in nearly every medium in the art realm, and I love them all despite the pain they’ve caused me. The take away from this collection of experiences is that an artist has to identify the abstract rhythms and feelings by which he wants to operate and then select a medium to harmonize with those abstract drives. Today I choose photography to tell my stories, but we’re in the midst of a sea change within photographic media. I have no intention of playing the reactionary if/when everything is turned on its head. That said, I’m going to hold out with still pictures for as long as I can.
What, to you, is the most important in a photo?
I don’t work that way; I resist having a signature style as much as possible. I like to work conceptually with an eye on art history, and I’m always looking for “the tell” in a picture, that element that makes it fit in where it does.
But I’m going to answer the question anyway. I think contrast is the most important in a photo. I think every picture probably has a story to tell, and contrast is the thing to make it or break it.
What inspires you in your work?
There is nothing I love more than being involved in a project with brilliant people. The other day I did a small story for a friend’s upstart publication. About 10 people came over to my place for a brainstorming session. Everyone that was involved were well-versed in their area of expertise, but you could feel the intensity of the creative process, and witness the revelatory solutions to the challenges. When you find yourself in a moment with a creative team and you’re all in the zone, everything is clicking, it’s a better feeling than anything else in the world. It’s like watching a rock concert times 10.
What does being a fashion and art photographer mean to you?
In my feelings I don’t differentiate, they feel the same, and the meaning is the same to me. What’s not the same is the politics. Art is a pond and fashion is an ocean. For example, art is more academic than ever. An art audience is going to have a different reading of a picture than a fashion audience because an art audience is much more specialized and homogeneous and cultish. Fashion, on the other hand, is extremely broad. When a kid in the American Mid-West puts on his lucky socks for baseball practice, that’s fashion. When a soldier puts on his uniform for war, that’s fashion. Everybody does fashion everyday.
If you had to collaborate with another photographer, who would it be?
I have already collaborated with other professionals, like my wife, Michelle who is a career printer/retoucher. The lens is no longer part of her area of expertise, but printing/retouching is still photography. Michelle and her peers can make a photograph from nothing, rather, from a PC! They don’t really need what I’m doing with a lens to make a picture. I’m humbled by that prowess every time I shoot.
And, if I’m working in motion pictures as a director, I rely on the expertise of other photographers. I recently worked with Paul Yee, a New York based DP who first worked in the film industry as a gaffer. His knowledge of craft in lighting and photography was completely different from mine, way more extensive and rigorous, and it was an inspiring experience. As photographers are obligated to move toward motion, I imagine we’ll see more collaboration like this.
So, what can we look forward to from your upcoming work?
My long horizon is about connecting with a new generation of story tellers and story technicians. I want to make quality images for the web. I want editorial vehicles for the web that are as good or better than print vehicles. My high ideal is the story, and stories haven’t changed. Only the media changes.