Today at Artist Strong we welcome photographer Tom Horton from Further to Fly to share his ideas and creativity!

Carrie: How would you describe your style of photography to Artist Strong readers?

I am a collector of shapes and lines and colors. I like to explore how light defines these.

People look at my work and want to put me in a “landscape” or “nature” box, but I would say the outdoors is simply my studio, or my palette.

Another theme that I became aware of only recently is the rejection of people. I realized that I go to great lengths to get people out of my photographs, as if they were contaminants — which might not be a bad description, I sometimes think. Even when I photograph people, which is rarely, they are invariably monks or hermits or misfits — people who have rejected, or been rejected by, civil society.

Huangshan Mountains, China by Tom Horton

Huangshan Mountains, China by Tom Horton

Carrie: When did you first realize your love of photography?

It was probably the first time I looked through a viewfinder, and discovered I could break up a complex and disturbing world into approachable chunks of beauty and simplicity. That rectangle is both a refuge and a reward.

Also, I figured out pretty quickly that chicks dig photographers, and that worked out OK too.

Carrie: Can you speak to your training and practice as a photographer?

I was always a good writer and the expressive side of me got a journalism degree in university, while the curious side of me got a science degree. And it was at college that I first pick up a camera and found the rapture of the rectangle I just mentioned. So I dug into every photo course and practicum I could find and, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I became competent I developed a nasty allergy to darkroom chemicals, so I had to put away the photography and focus on writing.

Out of university I worked in television news for several years, writing and producing, with other people shooting my photos and videos for me. This turned into a long career doing science and technology writing and marketing for a variety of institutions and companies, including some very recognizable names like Intel and HP and the US Navy. And all this time I was hiring and editing a lot of commercial photography and not shooting it. I was not particularly enamored with it because there was so much money riding on it, it was a source of more stress than satisfaction.

Clouds Over the Komodo Sea in Indonesia, by Tom Horton

Clouds Over the Komodo Sea in Indonesia, by Tom Horton

Then, looking for an honest occupation, I dumped all that and became a science teacher, and about that time I started taking pictures again, more out of curiosity than anything, because there was this improbable, speculative new thing called digital photography. I started playing around with the earliest digital cameras, still and video. It actually felt very good to be doing photography again without large sums of money involved. I guess you would call it fun. And this solved the darkroom chemical problem nicely, too.

That was around 15 years ago, and since then I have been working at developing a style and expression. I’ve actually tried to avoid making much money at it, for fear it would spoil the thing. But someday I hope to overcome that and become rich and/or famous.

Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?

Hiking boots.

Carrie: How does your life experience and/or emotional state feed into your art?

In a generalized way I am disappointed with people. For all of our vaunted brain power, our self-knowledge, and thus our empathy and compassion, is pretty mediocre. I often think the world would be much better off without us. That’s the world I’m trying to photograph.

Woman in Black, Tadmoor, Syria

Woman in Black, Tadmoor, Syria

Carrie: What suggestions do you have for people interested in photography?

Read the camera manual, and try all the buttons. Know how to use your tools. Get the highest technical quality of images you can afford, you can always degrade them later if that’s your thing. Shoot huge amounts of photos, electrons are free.

Don’t let anybody see your bad work.

And to get good photographs, go where the good photos are, which usually requires effort and money. Wandering around randomly with camera in hand produces a low return of good photographs.

Carrie: Is photography a social or meditative experience for you? (Do you feel it is a collaborative medium or an individual’s journey?)

What I do is not wildly collaborative because it involves a lot of travel and flexibility, which just works better with fewer people. But there are still key creative collaborators that that are very important to the finished product — framers, web designers to name a couple. But there are other types of photography that thrive on collaboration.

Harbor Sunset, Flores Island, Indonesia

Harbor Sunset, Flores Island, Indonesia

Carrie: How do you know when a photograph is ready for showcase/display?

Somebody says “Wow, I want that on my wall.” Of course, there have been times I thought I heard that but I was mistaken.

Carrie: What do you wish you knew that you now know about your creative process? 

First, always shoot RAW images and never do destructive editing. Of course, there was a time in digital photography before RAW existed, but even after it did, I didn’t catch on right away. So now I have some old and very good images that are of limited use because of the havoc I played with them that I can’t undo.

Second, people will praise all kinds of art but they will only buy what is familiar and comfortable. That’s human nature, I’m afraid.

Wadi Luab, Musandam, Oman

Wadi Luab, Musandam, Oman

Carrie: Who/what inspires you?

There are many photographers I admire for their exceptional eye and meticulous image quality, even more so if they can be commercially successful without letting the money drive or corrupt their inspiration. If I had to name one, it would be Ansel Adams, who affected me in my teens, before I ever picked up a camera. I could get lost for hours in the fine natural detail of just one of his big prints.

The nexus of my motivation remains the big print. Even when I see a winning shot in the camera or on the editing screen, I find myself holding back total commitment to it until I see it coming off the printer, big, and I imagine people getting lost in the detail like I do with Adams.

Carrie: How do you define creativity?

Let’s say, the synthesis of new meaning by assembling existing disconnected objects and ideas. That’s a pretty broad definition, but I think creativity is very broadly present in human activities.

A sincere thank you to Tom Horton for his time sharing his ideas with Artist Strong. Don’t forget to spend some time on his website Further to Fly.

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Have you taken the time to go through your camera manual? Maybe it’s about time.