Captured Candidly: A Conversation With Tom McKay
Part of the perks of this job are that I get to write about people, places and projects that I think are worth sharing, and one of those people is Tom McKay. Tom is a photographer from Auckland whose work is vibrant, candid and memorable all at the same time, and we recently caught up to chat about photography, New Zealand, and his plans for the future.
Firstly, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and when you started taking photographs?
I’m Tom, from central Auckland but raised in the east. I started shooting 'properly' in 2014 doing the whole urbex (urban exploration) buzz, mainly rooftops and train tunnels with my bro Scott Olds. I've always had a gearing towards shit that looks dope so fashion photography has been an interest since before I even started shooting, and when I did there was a natural gravitation toward the fashion side of things, which I've been doing since mid 2015.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I would describe my style as raw above anything else. I get a lot of inspiration from the candid imagery of the east coast rap scene from the early to mid ‘00s, I feel that 'excess' kind of steeze a lot and find it fun to work with. I also look to classical photographers such as Robert Frank and Irving Penn for inspiration around the mood and feel of an image, and then meld the two eras together with a splash of what I’m seeing in New Zealand. In an image first and foremost I look for a feeling – I believe that, like a book or song, an image has the capability to make the viewer feel real shit. Even if I’m shooting a fashion week or something like that I’m always looking for the moment that will invoke a real thought or feeling.
I think that inspiration definitely translates across a lot of your work. Asides from those influences, does anyone or anything else shape your style and approach to shooting?
Thank you. I would say a big part of my style comes from my real life experiences: outside of fashion and art I've experienced some pretty crazy shit, and that has definitely had an impact on how and what I like to shoot. I shoot quite 'quickly' and also look for the grittiest, even the most unflattering moments because those are the best, the most real. Drawing off my life, I can find people and brands within the insulated fashion community that really connect to what they are inspired by. My favourite models are the ones who aren't trying to be models if that makes any sense. Basically, if you’re out here doing you for real, regardless of if you're signed or not, it will show in the photos and I love that. In the words of a big inspiration of mine, Mr K. West, "if you try hard, you die hard" and I've seen that play out many times over.
Do you have a particular subject that you like to shoot?
Top 5: Tashi Silver Levitt S/O my muse, Moses Smith the Katayanagi Twins all day and Vincci Zhong.
How do you like to approach a shoot; do you like to give direction at all, or are you more hands off in that sense?
Generally I'll go off the vibe, I'll choose the location and prefer to have my models rock their own clothes or steeze, but if a stylist is needed that's always fun. I won't really 'direct' unless it's crucial to the shot – as I mentioned earlier, I look at vibes over poses, so if we’re getting the right mood I’m not going to be too vocal, but if it's a really specific shot I'll micromanage until we get it.
Is there anybody you would love to work with that you haven’t yet?
Stolen Girlfriends Club and M+RC Noir as brands, Sita Bellin and Amina Blu as models and Bloody Osiris as a stylist/creator.
Your work frequently incorporates striking lighting, is that something you look for, or is it just a natural part of trying to capture an image that evokes a feeling?
I do, lighting to me is the most subtly important part of any image, it sets the mood, the tone and the look. I see lighting as the paint to the brush (camera).
Do you like living and working in Auckland, or would you rather be somewhere else? And what do you think of the New Zealand scene in general?
For now, Auckland is all good. I have a number of things in the works here, and as a place to grow and learn its great. Of course I am looking to experience other places as a base, namely Moscow, Miami and New York.
I think the New Zealand scene has a lot of growing to do and also a lot of chilling out. We are a really creative and innovative bunch but we do need to chill. A big part of our 'scene' is so enveloped in the 'flex' side of things that its lost its soul and is endangering the integrity of other areas of the creative community. The Auckland scene needs to get a grip, it isn’t moving on the levels it would like its peers to think it is. That’s’ not to say it isn’t making moves, it definitely is, and New Zealand as a whole, especially music, is killing it right now, but it's being made to look trivial by these plastic ass DJ's and "who even are you" club promoters.
What is it about those places that appeals to you? And who are some people that you think are pushing things forward in a positive way?
Moscow: Cold, big, raw, me as a city haha. Miami is the land of opportunity for my kind and I can see a lot of things to do there. New York? it's just the place to be.
In terms of people, shout out YGB, Tom Scott, Melo and Eno those boys are holding it down for real, Melo especially with his work with the youth and the learn to rap classes, dope stuff. Keelan Bowkett at Milkshake Models has done an incredible job with reppin the under-repped in our town, she is really making a tangible impact to our culture and society in Auckland. In general.
Have you got any projects at the moment that you’re really wanting to do?
At the moment I’m mainly working on Snkcare and getting that business up and running, but I will be starting work on quite an intimate series with a close friend of mine that I'm hoping will be good enough to do an exhibition with later this year. I’m also doing a bit of rapping, just went to the studio a few times over the weekend and it was dope, peep a track soon haha. I do a lot of skateboarding and big mountain skiing as well – always keep up on the unauthorised painting too haha.
Forward: Nick Ainge-Roy