Photographer Focus: Tom Hull
8 September 2019
Long term member Tom Hull talks to us about building up his career from graduating to how he picked up the necessary skills to get him to where he is today. Tom's fascination with people has lead to a personal project in his new home town - Portraits of Frome. Read on to find out more about Tom's project as well as his commercial clients.
© Tom Hull. Portrait of Frome - Frome Eggs, Lesley Richardson.
What have you been working on lately?
My partner, Laura, and I moved out of London with our two (now three!) daughters two years ago and I managed to buy our first home in Frome, in Somerset. Very quickly it became apparent the breadth and diversity of the talent and skillsets of many of the local inhabitants. Since April this year I have been shooting a very sincere, unpretentious, but hugely engaging portrait project, plainly called Portrait of Frome (@portraitoffrome on Instagram for the moment). I began the project to learn more about the town, it’s history, it’s many local characters, but also as a way to embed myself into the local area and to be able to give something back where possible. If people are happy to sit for me, I visit them in their place of work, chat with them for anything between 30 minutes and a couple of hours and make some images of them during that time as they work. The beauty is I’m able to give them all the images I’ve made, as a gesture of thanks for opening their doors to me. I love the trade-off between their time and conversation by offering the images in return. I have found that photography as an industry can often be so much about making money out of someone along the way, that to have something as a simple free trade of services is such a beautiful way to operate, it’s extremely rewarding and very interesting finding out about people! Other than that, I’ve very luckily had an amazing run of things recently with great commissions for British cycling brand, Fabric, including a fun couple of days in European cycling Mecca, Girona with good friend and brand manager, James Hoppe, that was an awesome trip! I shot some portraits of a couple of local talents, an artist and a chef, for a fantastic, noble new(ish) jacket company, Frahm, run by founder and ex-owner of cycling apparel brand, Vulpine, Nick Hussey. I’ve had continued work with the NSPCC, with whom I’ve worked closely for over 6 years now, had a really fun shoot with food recipe-box company, Gousto, including lots of kitchen dancing and tons of laughs, as well as two fairly high-profile public advertising jobs for Google and American card-payment company, Square. So as I say, I’ve been very lucky and have had a really great spread of interesting and challenging jobs to get my teeth into in the last few months.
© Tom Hull. Portrait of Frome - Master Thatcher, Chris Keelty
What are you passionate about shooting?
People. Simple really. I think I’ve known for a long time that I really love people, from any walk of life, it’s always fascinating learning about individuals, their backstories, hobbies, loves, fears and what makes them get up, or not, in the morning. I guess I must be quite an inquisitive person, which I think has driven my photography since I began making images at 15 years old. It was my intensely curious nature that led me to continue to learn and push myself from that age, and very luckily for me, it kept, and continues to keep, delivering more intriguing commissions, forcing me to continue learning and opening more doors. I love all aspects of photography, from the technical, hands-on side of things, but most recently I think I’ve fallen back in love with the communicative, time-sharing elements that photography brings me, that’s definitely the aspect I find most rewarding at the moment. Alongside that, through my little project, I’m also really enjoying writing more, offering quite in-depth information about who and what I’m documenting, so that has been a wonderful challenge I’ve fully immersed myself into recently as well.
© Tom Hull. Portrait of Frome - Director of Photography, Roger Chapman.
How would you define your style and has it changed over time?
That’s a question that, in truth, I’ve struggled to find a perfect answer for through the years. Yes my style has definitely changed, but I think that was just as an evolution of the subjects that I was interested in. I used to shoot a lot more landscapes than I find myself doing so now, but that was before I had a family, and as such had more time to invest in exploring, in travel and in finding myself in wildernesses new, recording the landscapes around me. Many of those landscapes were devoid of people, but always about the human interaction between Man and nature, but over time I started to include people in the scenes and through working commercially I ended up getting closer and closer to people until I realised it was always the human presence, whether distant or near, that drove my interest. I would now say my style is very relaxed and free, loosely documentary-based, even bordering on reportage at times, but when shooting commercially, always very controlled, crafted and highly orchestrated. Scenes are constructed naturally and with little directing, I allow the sitters to work instinctively in front of me, capturing them in a spontaneous, lighthearted and genuine fashion. I generally situate people in their own environment, focusing and settling on whatever it is that drives them. I love people who graft, who work tirelessly hard and are usually often extremely talented at that one thing they’ve chosen to call ‘their thing’. I was raised with a strong work ethic, so I think I somehow seek that with my photography.
© Tom Hull. Portrait of Frome - Ceramicist Printmaker, Steven Jenkins.
What are the advantages to having an overseas agent?
I would say the major advantages are having a fantastic team behind me who know their local photography market inside-out. They’ve been working to a very high level for a long time, so they’re able to open doors on my behalf that I simply wouldn’t have access to if I was to search for and contact the same people from the UK. The jobs they’ve won for me have allowed for some local international travel, have pushed me to work with people whom I don’t share the same language with, so I’ve learnt how to lean on my own abilities and trust my judgement and experience when situations have been more pressured. I think in all honesty it’s been a lot of fun learning more about Belgian people, their culture, humour, food and of course drink, more closely! For me, Belgian people seem to be quite closely tied with British people for their love of sport, food, beer and a good old piss-take, they have a very dry sense of humour, which I think comes across in the ads they produce, so it’s always been a really fun collaborative process whenever I’ve worked over there. I used to have a UK agent, but they unfortunately closed their doors a few years ago, so I returned to representing myself in the UK which has, on the whole, been great, but I wouldn’t rule out another good relationship with a UK agent, should that come around organically again.
© Tom Hull. Portrait of Frome - Glass Maker, Lolita Parslow.
How long have you been an AOP Member and which benefits are most valuable to you?
I’ve been a member of the AOP since 2004 when I first started working in the photographic industry, initially working at the long-since-defunct hire studio Box Studios in Camden. The owners and various studio inhabitants always had copies of previous years of the AOP, and prior to that the AFEAP, Awards books, so during quiet moments in the middle of the day, I’d often find myself thumbing through the pages of those books, massively broadening my understanding of exactly what a professional photographer was, or what the images they made were like. I studied a very fine art-led photographic degree in Bournemouth, so when I first came to London at the end of 2003, I had no idea what professional photographers did, in many ways. Working at the studio was a real eye-opener, but through talking to some of the photographers who rented small office spaces within the studio buildings, I was able to forge relationships and an assisting career by talking to people and making myself available. I think just having an open and understanding sounding-board, available to ask questions of, is what I found of most value with the AOP. The industry is seemingly ever-evolving, as with the technology that it uses and relies on, so the AOP can’t be expected to know everything, but by allowing easy and honest discussion, it helps to answer some of the questions that are due to arise through working in the same industry for a long period of time.
© Tom Hull. Portrait of Frome - figurative painter Sally Whelan.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out?
I suppose it depends on what stage of starting out we’re referring to here, if it’s at the very beginning, then who knows where or what the industry might look like by the time they’re completing any method of schooling and/or assisting and I’m not quite sure what I would suggest, perhaps just follow your heart and own instincts initially. However, if you mean starting out in commercial photography after a preliminary schooling or assisting introduction, then I would say some of the most important aspects to consider, for me at least, would be always make yourself available, work hard, persevere, believe in your own abilities, take risks to get where you want to go, appreciate what you have or are offered, be humble but always be yourself, enjoy what you do and say yes more. I fully believe the ‘power of YES’ has an intangible ability to allow more chances in life, it’s far too easy for people to say no, to cut off a conversation and take no risks, in saying yes more we open ourselves up to vulnerability and opportunities that are less obviously available. I’m a firm believer of something good being taken from every situation, whether desired or not, so I see risk-taking as an inherent feature of being successful in photography these days, in my opinion anyway.
What’s next for you?
What’s next, well I think if this is published after the beginning of September, then I’ll be nursing a sore head after celebrating my 40th birthday, who would have thought it?! I managed to craft a career and a life out of something that simply started as a childhood hobby, and for that I am truly grateful. I think what’s next is continuing to push myself to build strong relationships with my clients, new and old, explore avenues within photography that I’ve not spent much time pursuing, like putting on an exhibition and shooting a few more editorial pieces. I primarily shoot advertising, but I would never say I’m bound by that - the same images could be used for multiple purposes - so I would greatly enjoy the process of working more freely for a different printed media. I’m continuing with my ongoing project in Frome, of course, and can’t stop thinking about making a short film about my grandma, so perhaps that’s the next thing for me to focus my time on, let’s see..! Thanks very much for your time and for thinking of me for this, it’s been great fun reflecting :)
View Tom's profile on Find