The Genius - self portrait
There’s something special about Thomas Samuel Kerr.
As I flick through his archive of photographic work, my imagination dances from Utopia to reality to Utopia to reality. Each Story in his backlog depicts a magical Universe existing within our own. He’s making blatant examples of the magic we forget that we are a part of.
His ideas are limitless. His medium is Fashion Photography.
Thom Kerr began shooting in 2004 as part of a Collective of wannabes named Rufio Creative. I was one of these wannabes. The creative fashion scene in Brisbane was hardly industrious. There were only a couple of succesful fashion houses about. If you wanted to work in fashion, you left town. There were few mentors or or creative ‘parents’ to learn from, so we endeavoured to work it out ourselves. We likened ourselves to The Lost Boys, and figured Rufio from the movie Hook a better Icon than Peter Pan. We wanted to grow up and we wanted fabulous hair.
I was a budding Fashion Designer and already making a name for my label Hollywood Flesh. At 21 yrs, I used to take 18 yr old Thom with me to trendy boutiques like Natalie Denning and Blonde Venus and show him how to pitch a sale. Thom’s knack for talkin’ the talk quickly eclipsed mine and he started to show me a thing or two.. much to my delight and disdain. I preferred being the know-it-all.
Thom was fresh out of Uni as a Film Graduate and the team: a motley crew of Writers, Stylists and Makeup Artists with big dreams. We were unafraid and we were reckless. We managed to get our work published in local street presses, then laddered up into Lucky Magazine, our first Glossy, to Yen, Frankie and Rolling Stone. We’d write stories about each other when we could, or we’d wrangle opportunities to shoot famous people and get printed. We’d do anything to get ourselves out there. And Mister Kerr was the ever so charming ringleader.
Nobody got hurt. But we all got The Hunger. The Hunger for the smell of a freshly printed magazine which held our names down the side of a photo, an article on our latest work… or better yet… a photo of ourselves (usually me). It’s not an ego thing. It’s a milestone gainer in the fashion business; Press + press = more press and the more press you have the better your marketing strategy. I ought to fill you all in on my pre-Burlesque fashion work, but that’s a good story for another day. Let’s just say that I had a burn out and my heart craved the stage.
Today, Thom Kerr is one of Australia’s most successful Fashion Photographers, and becoming an icon in his own right. He shoots the best models. He works with the best magazines and he is also The Most Blogged about Photographer in Oz, and perhaps further afield. He’s come a long way baby.
- COLAB campaign
He has just launched a Campaign for COLAB’s Sunglasses collaboration with another Brisbane Artist who rose from the dust; Lister. Lister is a celebrated Visual Artist who began in the early 2000′s, grafittiing Brisbane’s trains. His work was so beautiful that the Qld government stopped painting over it and began paying him to paint electricity boxes on street corners. It went from there. Like Lister, Thom’s High sense of creativity was not always understood, but he stuck to his guns and is now celebrated as not only an incredible fashion photographer, but a visionary.
and he’s only 26 years old.
The day you decided to become a fashion photographer, you had a Film Degree but had never used a camera. What were you thinking?
During the final year of my film degree I was beginning to fall in love with fashion photography having dabbled in styling and production. I worked alongside other photographers via Rufio Creative, but felt frustrated that the final result never seemed as strong as what I had originally envisioned. Then funnily enough one day I saw a psychic who told me that I was going to end up a fashion photographer – and that my images would look strange, abstract and wonderful. That gave me the courage I needed to go and purchase a camera, and that’s how it all began…
As a Hyper Creative Artist, what is your process in scheming up ideas for a shoot?
To begin with I study the brand or personality that I’m shooting. I then meditate on the core creative values that I can see in terms of visual, design and philosophy. I process it for a while and strong imagery usually comes to mind. The next step is to workshop the concepts with the client – from that point onwards, it’s like a painting. The casting, the styling, the lighting… everything needs to work in harmony and make perfect sense to the core of the concept. Detail is everything! That’s where the magic is born!
Often creatives are celebrated in my art form (Burlesque) but assumed to not be able to commit to more Commercial tasks of work, Has this been a wall to overcome in your industry? Have you had to adhere to the rules at times?
I definitely experienced difficulty in the beginning trying to get people to trust in my creative ideas. It’s a challenge to explain an abstract idea to someone who doesn’t really have a strong ability to visualise. Also, without a strong body of work to back me up, often I was dismissed as hyper creative or too kooky. I really had to put in the hard yards and demonstrate that I knew how to make people look beautiful in a traditional context before I was given permission to experiment.
Rules are made to be broken, but I believe that they are worth learning from and studying first. Has playing by the rules of Commercially viable photography helped you to sharpen your skills for the fun stuff?
I think commercial photography helped me gain access to the tools I needed to take my work to the next level ie: the talent, the equipment, and the creatives. Being forced to simplify taught me patience. And developing patience taught me to be present in my photo shoots. Hyper creatives (like me) tend to be obsessed with what they see in their mind’s eye and can often ignore what’s happening in front of them. As a result, the image suffers. I believe as a photographer you should examine what’s in front of you. Don’t be afraid of taking charge or changing something when it’s just not working. Recognising what looks amazing and what needs to be abandoned is the key to getting the best shot.
Since the Rufio Creative days, have you found mentors?
I always loved the photography of David K Shields and Justin Edward John Smith. I now count myself lucky enough to have met and befriended both of them who taught me so much just by sharing their personalities with me. I also want to acknowledge that I’ve had many teachers who’ve helped me along the way - investing their time and energy into teaching me how the business works and strengthening my technicality. Right now though, I feel I’m on a personal creative journey to develop my own aesthetic and to challenge the conventions that still exist in the day-to-day dealings of the fashion industry. It’s about not being afraid of your own potential.
Who are your heroes?
All of the creatives who surround me. I think it takes real courage to chase your dreams. Collectively we all experience the highs and lows of being an artist. But there is something magical in seeing the product created by all of my friends. Their own belief in their work helps me to overcome the insecurities I feel in my own life. For those who need a list of heroes, they would be:
Everybody is beautiful. How do you feel when people criticise fashion photography’s almost exclusive use of a very slim figure?
Well you can look at the fashion industry from two points of view – I’m not going to say that fashion doesn’t create stereotypes. The industry expects models to be of a certain height and size in order to be functional coat hangers for the designer samples showcased – and a uniformity is presented in terms of sizing that ultimately can have a negative effect on how everyday people can perceive themselves. But to summarise this as representative of how fashion impacts society is short-sighted. The other reality is that it was the fashion industry that helped break barriers in many other ways – they showcased that beauty could be found in feminism (Coco Chanel introducing menswear into womenswear), ethnicity (Naomi Campbell), androgyny (Andrej Pejic), sexuality (50 % of the fashion industry). Often fashion was at the forefront of cultural movements of acceptance of people on the fringe of society. Fashion has constantly celebrated and glorified those who were perceived as outcasts from everyday society and helped promote tolerance and expressionism – not just elitism.
Who is your favorite Performance or Burlesque Artist?
Well my heart will always belong to you Rita Fontaine - but I guess if you were kidnapped by an alien spacecraft and taken to planet vixen then I would say I’m a big fan of Betty Grumble. I like the fact that she’s merged her visual performance so successfully with her political message. It’s like watching the perfect mash of horror meets pop culture and I think it’s wonderfully executed.
When are you going to shoot me for Australian Vogue in Cavalli?
Australian Vogue? Yeah right… we’re doing Italian Vogue all the way baby – and I’ve skinned Donatella alive so that you can have that one-off fabulous Versace gown you’ve always wanted. Oh the glamour!
Thankyou my darling, Thomas.
Readers can follow Thom’s work via his blog :
His new website will also be up soon : www.thomkerr.com
Rita by Thom Kerr
Rita by Thom KerrRita by Thom KerrRita by Thom Kerr
Rita by Thom Kerr