I'd done a couple of Daffy's lookbooks through Johannes Leonardo, the ad agency in charge of the account. The shoots were always fun and quirky, full of characters cast from all walks of life. And to the credit of everyone involved, interesting selects were chosen from the shoot rather than your super-conventional, commercial poses. It had been a lot of fun working on the previous Daffy's shoots.
In the spirt of Fun, the team at Johannes Leonardo had an idea that would continue in our tradition of being slightly off-center from the typical commercial output. When I heard the idea I thought it was funny. It turned out to be a very cool experience. I had a great time doing it.
Did you shoot the image with the knowledge that it would be broken up into different puzzle pieces and did that affect your shots?
I didn't know how it was going to be handled specifically, but I knew that it would be broken up. It was kind of a cantankerous joke on the standards of the MTA (the ads ran in the public transportation system) that fragments are more titillating than any whole picture. My grandmother used to remind me, "Tom, leave something to the imagination." That's what I think is really funny about the fragments: they provoke the imagination overtly, whether you're a cynical intellectual or just someone along for the ride, you can't help it. They make a question that must be answered, even if the answer can never live up to the power of your imagination that demanded the answer. I think that's great.
For my generation, there is really nothing dirty or taboo left. We've seen every kind of picture and then some, to the point where it's somewhat all equal. But one of the things we still have left is the rebellious gesture, and deriving pleasure from being a little punk, rebellious just because we can and we like it, is still powerful. I now see the fragments as the primary gesture in this project.
Did you see your shots on the subway and was that strange just seeing a small piece of your work?
This question has a complicated answer from my point of view. I was at the shoot, we all bonded, had the best time, took funny pictures the whole day, all that great stuff that happens on a shoot. Shooting still photography is an incredible rush, and all of its full-spectrum experience stays with you. It's really that good. But any single picture from a shoot is something of a residue of the actual experience because a shoot day is like experiencing a great opera. The shoot itself is private art for the crew. The picture, the output, is a supporting document that others can look at. From the moment anyone sees the picture, it's less and less connected to the experience of the shoot.
To see a fragment of a picture from one of my shoots is peculiar. In my case, I think the fragments perform outside the experience of the shoot. I can say that whatever emotions a fragment of a photograph inspires in the viewer, a real shoot is even more complicated. But when I saw my fragments, I didn't think of my shoot and all of its real-life complexity, I was just compelled to think of the myth of a shoot. I was inclined to feel a little jealous seeing those fragments, like I wish I'd been on that set taking the pictures! Of course, I had been on that set, I had been the photographer who shot the original whole, but the fragment evokes something different. The fragment was forcing my imagination to run, even though my imagination didn't need to run because I'd been there. I was surprised by that.
How did you get into fashion photography
My wife Michelle is a printer/retoucher in the fashion business. At some point I realized I was more obsessed with her goings-on than my own, which had been directed at fine art for most of my life. I liked the pace of her lifestyle, and I envied the collaborative nature of the projects she was working on.
When I was a kid I built a darkroom and made myself sick with the chemistry trying to do trick photography. After that I was never able to go back into the darkroom with any kind of joy. I just felt sick. Years later, I realized my wife had developed printing skills that allowed me to make photographs according to my vision with very limited chemical exposure. How lucky, right?
What is your photographic style?
I'm obsessed with Style in general. I think that's why I shoot mostly fashion photography. You wouldn't know this from looking at me: I prefer to express myself in pictures rather than by what I wear because my nature is shy. I think this shyness allows me to engage with macro currents in Style because clothes aren't a big part of my personal identity, rather, they're functionaries in my symbolic order. Don't get me wrong, clothes and grooming are huge, maybe even the primary aspect of Style, but I don't neglect details like context, posture, body type, scenography, politics, image framing, casting, the list goes on, because it's all part of the macro current that is Style. And, yes, when I say Style, I mean anti-style, too. Everyone has meaningful style, and I notice it and respect it.
What do you particularly like to shoot? Action shots? etc
I like to make stories. I have a vision for my pictures and want to be able to control the results. I know what I want before I arrive on set, and the shoot is a hunt for my picture. I like to cast the men and women according to the needs of my scenes. I want my subjects involved in exploring the vision.
Who are your inspirations?
Yves Klein's photo "Leap Into the Void" was an early inspiration. Somewhere shortly after that I came across Man Ray's "Untitled (Self-Portrait with Camera)". I tried over and over, but I was never able to emulate these pictures. It took me a long time to feel for pictures like Robert Frank's "Political Rally, Chicago" from The Americans, but all of the pictures in The Americans haunt me now. Danny Lyon's counter culture immersions have been on my mind. I love civil rights era reportage, night-life reportage, any photo I was ever told is significant culturally, and pro-am photography from the 20th century. I like Michelangelo Antonioni's modulations and lucky misinterpretations, particularly the film Zabriskie Point. Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool is mind-boggling. Lately I've been excited by television shows. The first season of East Bound and Down must be the strangest comedy/tragedy in the history of the medium.
Who is your dream person/brand that you would like to shoot for?A dream collaborator is someone talented who wants the best and believes he/she can get it. Everyone can be a dream to work with, it's just a matter of will for all of us. I'm looking for the believers.