ACCORDING TO SILVS: Tom Kavanagh is a London based photographer, he is also an old friend. I thought I would ask him a few questions.
When did you start to have a keen interest in photography?
I picked up my first camera when I was quite young, about 13. I got a snappy, shortly after that I got my first SLR. I started playing around with the different aspects of a camera, and understanding what those different things could do, and playing around with the dept of field, and understanding that you could actually manipulate what it is your photographing. But I didn’t really get the confidence in it until I started college at 16/17 and started to develop what my voice would be. And now I’m trying to assert what it is that I do differently to other people.
What do you think your photos say about the people they feature?
I try to my best to create an interesting juxtaposition of honesty and also tension. I always feel like there’s and old fashion thing of when you put an camera in front of someone they feel uncomfortable, but there’s this wonderful moment where they show themselves.
It’s tension, where they’re showing you themselves, but in a guarded manner. I always feel like that’s what happens when I take portraits, people do give something to you when you chat to them a bit, but I think it’s naive to think you’re capturing the real person, I think that’s bollocks. I’ve never liked that in photography, people are too complex to think you can do that. I like the fact that I’ve never captured the real person, but there’s always a hint of it. It’s always a performance, and it’s false to think it’s not.
Above: Two of Tom’s portraits from the ‘Experimental Circle Club‘ album
I think that you seem to control the person when you’re shooting them. You get each person to stand in a similar way, and manage to get them to always have a similar expression. Do you think that you did this on purpose from day one because that’s how you think your portraits look better, or did you realise after a while this was what you were doing, and decided to continue with it as a style?
It’s something I’ve developed more and more, by finding something that works and moving with it. I like the idea of consistency, I like the idea of a repetitive task, I like the idea of doing a process in the same way over. If you’ve got something that’s good, keep doing it, it’ll get better. I don’t think I’m trying to manipulate it, I think I’m trying to create an honest portrait of someone.
You mother and father are artists, your step father is a photographer. Do you think that growing up in a household where creativity is the everyday norm, makes you more likely to follow a creative pursuit, or do you think that this is within someone from day one?
I don’t think it’s in someone from day one. You’re defined by the people around you, my environment did dictate a lot of the things I do, and my thinking. I’ve always over thought art and I think that’s because I was always surrounded by people that do that.
Show me 3 artists or photographers that have influenced you and explain why…
Mark Rothko – I really love the minimal and the transcendental of his work. Recreating the sublime with abstract form rather than an obvious landscape, acts a good surreal to me.
Nan Goldin – Her intimacy and honest approach to photography has always been a big influence to me. I have used this quote in my own photography for my whole journey so far.. “You should always photograph your own tribe.”
Geir Moseid – A great photographer from Norway and a very good friend of mine. Manages to find the humour in the mundane, in a surreal way.
From left to right: Nan Goldin, Mark Rothko, Geir Moseid
What do you want to do with your photography next?
I want to really take the art and story telling side of photography and be funny. Be a bit more stupid with it, at the moment I’ve been taking pictures of strange souvenirs that you find on holiday. I’m working on a project at the moment called “You think you know where you are but you don’t because you’re stupid.” I like the idea of being a little bit more sideways comical about it, it’s meant to be silly, but it’s also meant to be a little bit serious. Like isn’t it weird that you can find an orthodox Jewish rubber duck in a Jewish memorial museum in Berlin? That’s kind of odd isn’t it? Funny in the odd is something i’d like to explore more. I’d like to take more of a f*** you attitude to the art world, I’ve seen a few photographers do it recently and I kind of like it, like my friend Geir Moseid, he does it and he showed me some other Scandinavian photographers doing it, it’s kind of funny.
You are funny and odd, that is not a question, that is my parting statement. Do you have anything to say about that?
I agree whole heartedly.
See some more of Tom’s work here: tomkavanagh.com