Interview with Tom Leighton
TIFA 2019 Winner, 1st Place, Architecture, “Building Constructs”
Tom Leighton is an accomplished British photographer and printmaker whose works are featured in prominent collections around the world, including France’s MUCEM and the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background?
Although nearly all of my work involves photography as part of the process, I chose to study printmaking rather than specialize in photography. I was then able to research how different print media, such as etching and screen printing, might impact on the photographic image, through the process of manipulation, stripping down and deconstruction.
During my MA at the Royal College of Art, I was experimenting with these possibilities alongside my core work with the digital manipulation of photography. Aspects of each of the practices fed into and informed the other – and I think this has helped me to develop quite a malleable approach to photographic composition.
Q: Are there any parameters for choosing a building to photograph?
I am a bit of a collector of the city statement building, of the most famous and iconic features of a city landscape. Although I love to work with images of this highly recognizable architecture, I can just as easily be working with a detail or texture on a nondescript industrial warehouse.
Q: What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
I mainly shoot with my Canon 5DS which gives me the resolution to create large works, but is still very portable. As I like to capture the full buildings plus close up details, the most common lens I have on the camera is a 24-105mm, which also suits my exploratory approach to city photography. I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to do all of my post production and digital collage work. I have been using the software since its early incarnations and the scope for what is possible is always expanding.
Q: How do you get the person, place or thing that is in front of the camera onto the film, chip or paper in just the way you want?
I try to capture architecture from every conceivable angle, which often means seeking out elevated vantage points in adjacent buildings, rooftops and sometimes fairground rides! Often different views of the same building will feature in a single composition so it is important to collect all of the pieces of my future jigsaw while I am out shooting. Sometimes you can find the perfect joining component in a shot that was previously overlooked.
Q: Is there any city whose buildings you have liked the most? And if so, why?
I am not sure if I can pick one out as a favorite, but the combination of hyper modern architecture and the stunning surrounding landscape of Hong Kong definitely places this city near the top of the list. Due to the relatively small surface area Hong Kong has to work with, the logic of building upwards has led to incredible feats of architecture, which are both aesthetic and highly functional. And all this is framed perfectly by sea and mountains. I loved photographing in Hong Kong and although my visit was short, I found so much to capture.
Q: What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
Back in 2007 I had an exhibition in Tokyo which I travelled out for. It was an exciting time as I had not been to Japan before. It was great to spend time with the other artists in the show and explore the amazing city. I also took pictures of colorful umbrellas spread across the mesmerizing Shibuya Crossing, these pictures – and others that I have returned to take since – have been a recurring feature in many of my compositions over the subsequent years.
Q: Do you have any rituals you practice before you start working?
Often my compositions start with experimenting with symmetry. I have always been interested in the extent to which mirroring a subject or space can transform it. Already beautiful and complex architecture can become futuristic megastructures – and spaces can become more expansive and epic, or claustrophobically narrowed to harsh perspectives, depending on the angles of the source image. For me it has long been a way to initiate inspiration for a new composition.
Q: What was your first formal job as a photographer?
Nearly all of my work comes from personally led projects, as I started showing work with galleries during my MA studies. I do occasionally take on commissioned work and the most recent was a 12-meter work for Arts Heritage at University College London Hospitals. It was a great experience creating something on this scale for the hospital environment, and came with some of its own challenges. There is a bit about the project here:
Q: What is your next big project? Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline?
I am looking forward to getting back to visiting new countries and cities to collect more material for my future compositions and shows. The current Covid restrictions on travel have meant that I have moved my focus to working with locations close by. I live in a rural area and this shift has been from architecture, to rock formations and woodland. There are certainly some parallels in how I approach both and I hope the opportunity to experiment has a lasting influence on my future work.
I am also launching a virtual exhibition of my works, which I am approaching as a retrospective of images from the last decade. At a time of uncertainty around the physical art show, I am looking to explore the unique possibilities of presenting exhibitions digitally – where the curation and room layout can evolve over time. I am also currently recording audio to play with the images to give some idea of the process of their creation!
Fascinated by the urban environment, he has photographed and worked with iconic and hidden architecture world-wide. Leighton expertly manipulates images to allow us to imagine alternative cities of the present and the future. He seeks beauty in everything, from functional buildings to the most ornate architecture, and repeats motifs in unexpected places. Leighton ultimately asks us to reconsider our cities, what they are and what they might become.