As part of our relaunch week, Of The Land & Us (formerly Eyes Forward Magazine) are doing an interview a day with a landscape photographer, and today we’re talking to Thomas Hofer, a recent photography graduate based in London. We were entranced by Hofer’s project Domesticated Landscapes and decided to ask him a few questions about his projects, practice and plans for the future. Read our interview below:
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Thomas Hofer and I am a photographer and assistant working London. I was born and raised in Austria, but I moved to the UK in order to study after I finished school. In 2014 I graduated from Edinburgh Napier University with a BA(Hons) in Photography and Film with First Class Honours. A few months ago I moved to London with the aim to pursue my career as a photographer.
How did you get into photography?
My earliest memory of photography is playing with my father’s DSLR on a holiday when I was a kid, but what really ignited my passion for it was a school trip to London when I was sixteen. I bought my first digital camera for the journey and I spent the entire week obsessively taking pictures. Afterwards I began to work as photographer and graphic designer for my school’s theatre society, which continued to commission me after I graduated. I loved the inspiration I got from it as well as the creative freedom of working with people.
What is it that draws you to capturing landscapes?
To be honest I shoot a lot of different genres and I enjoy all of them equally. What I like about landscape photography is the correlation of time and space. You have to understand how they influence each other in order to create a consistent body of work. Thematically, I am interested in photographs which document human development and its effect on the environment. When I saw the manner in which Las Vegas expands into the desert, I immediately realised that it would make an interesting project.
Your project Domesticated Landscapes is gorgeous – what is the story behind it?
The project started during a trip in the US. I spent a few days in Las Vegas during which I took a helicopter tour from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back. The city itself is right in the middle of a desert and as soon as you reach an elevated point, you can see how the cityscape merges with the natural terrain. I found the graphic shapes created by the mix of natural and constructed environments absolutely fascinating. The textures and shapes vary in incredible ways, which I hope to document in the series.
What were the successes and failures in this project?
One of the successes of the Domesticated Landscapes series was its selection by UP Editions for their first cycle. UP Editions is an online gallery that promotes and sells the work of up and coming photographers. They are currently preparing for their second cycle and I really enjoy being part of them. Overall I received a good amount of positive feedback for the series. I definitely feel that it helps me to promote my photography and gain a bit of exposure.
Through Domesticated Landscapes I also learned a lot about presentation. It was my first time presenting one body of work in three different manners: online, as a physical exhibition, and as a book dummy as well. All three media are inherently different in the way people engage with them and you have to consider how this can alter the context and the understanding of the work. In the end I am happy with the results and what I have achieved with it so far
Do you have a favourite image, or project of your own?
The short answer would be no, I haven’t. I was encouraged to work within a lot of different genres at university, which I really enjoyed. I quite like the creative insights that come from alternating styles and genres. It puts you out of your comfort zone and forces you to learn new skills with every assignment. You develop a broader understanding of photography and you will be able to apply your new knowledge in further projects.
For example I gained most of the technical skills I use in portraiture from a still life project I did. Within still life photography the technical aspects heavily contribute to the overall quality of the image and having an inanimate subject matter eliminates the element of chance out of the process.
The one project that I am probably the most fond of is my degree series called This Must Be The Place. It features portraits and audio interviews of migrants in Edinburgh. For it I spent a lot of time with people from different backgrounds. Being a migrant myself, I was interested in the reasons why other people left the place of their birth and whether they had similar experiences to what I had, or not.
Some of the sitters I knew fairly well when I started the project, and others I had to get to know, but in the end I felt that I established a great connection with them all. I learnt a lot about myself during the project, and I definitely intend to continue it here in London.
Where do you stand in the film vs digital debate?
I think it is an unnecessary dispute that is kept alive artificially. Most people I hear discussing digital versus film appear to be more interested in talking about technical details than the actual content of the images. A prolific image-maker will be able to achieve a great result with any camera or medium, and hence should just use whatever equipment they are comfortable with.
Personally I shoot digital for commercial projects and film for pleasure. I like the pace and the aspect of the manual labour which goes into shooting film, but unfortunately it is hardly viable in a commercial aspect. Both media have their advantages over each other and I hope I will be able to mix and match them for a long time coming.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I quite like to visit galleries and libraries to look at the work of different artists, but I would say most of my inspiration comes from browsing websites and blogs online, as well as from films.
The Photographer’s Gallery in London is an absolutely amazing place to visit, and I would definitely recommend checking out the bookshop downstairs.
As for social media sites, I’m actively following a lot of people on Tumblr. It takes a bit of selective work to sort through it all but I have come across some amazing work there.
Who are some of your favourite artists?
I really admire the portraits by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Anton Corbijn. There is something in the way that they approach their sitters that draws me really into their images. I also find that their images have a delicate simplicity to them, which is really intriguing.
When it comes to contemporary documentary photographers I admire the works of Pieter Hugo and Mikhael Subotzky. Their work strongly deals with the topics of post-globalisation and post-colonialism in a very analytical but also playful way.
Other artists that I appreciate are filmmakers including Christopher Nolan, Alejandro González Iñárritu and David Cronenberg. I find the way in which they seem to convey themes and narrative through structure and layering very intriguing.
I did a module at University called Visual Anthropologies under the wonderful Dr. Louise Milne, which introduced me to the work of Chris Marker. His film essay Sans Soleil utterly impressed me. It features a selection of footage from different geographical locations and cultural events, including a cat shrine in Japan, children in Iceland, a carnival in Guinea-Bissau and many other events and locations places. The overall context is very enigmatic and encourages interpretations from the viewer, but some guidance is provided through the narration of poetic letters from the traveller to his friend.
Another two directors whom I admire are Hubert Sauper and Michael Glawogger, whose films once again deal with post-globalisation.
What photographic projects have you got planned for the future?
Currently my main focus is to further increase my hands-on experience in the commercial industry through assisting and taking on commissions, but I am also very keen to continue my project on migration. I am still settling in here in London and it is a very refreshing experience. It is certainly the biggest and most multicultural city I have every lived in and there are lots of things that intrigue and inspire me.
What is your top advice to an aspiring photography student, as you’ve just graduated?
Never be afraid to introduce yourself or to ask anyone for feedback. There are a lot of networking events and opportunities where people specifically want to chat with each other, so don’t be shy and give it a shot.
Also, don’t expect everything to happen overnight; it is a long and continuous process that hopefully will get you to where you want to be. In terms of setting up a photography business, I can recommend a book titled Beyond the Lens published by the Association of Photographers. It contains all the legal, logistical and financial aspects of running a successful business and is immensely helpful if you like to look up any questions.
Also, one last piece of advice that one of our lecturers told us:
“After graduation, give yourself four years. If you are still doing what you studied, you’ll probably do it for the rest of your life. If not, enjoy the rest of your life.”
Just because you have a degree does not mean that you will have to stick with it for good. A lot of people find their calling by experimenting and understanding what works for them and what does not, and having devoted three years to something does not bind you to anything.
The nice thing about a qualification is that you know that you have the skills to do something, and proof that you have dedicated a certain amount of your time to it; but, it should never become a chore over a calling.