Pushing Boundaries. Photographer Thomas Brown on artistry and experimentation

Pushing Boundaries. Photographer Thomas Brown on artistry and experimentation

Photographer and Director Thomas Brown has a creative practice that is hard to pin down, and that's precisely how he likes it. His work reimagines what still-life is or could be through a hybrid approach that is both research-based and highly experimental. In crafting evocative images and innovative concepts, his work open's up new conversations about perception and how we engage with the visual world. He tells Capture about finding his visual language, creative evolution and how becoming a father changed his outlook.

For Thomas Brown, the connection with image-making came early. His father, a keen photographer and printer, turned their family bathroom into a darkroom. With plywood over the windows blocking out the light, they spent hours developing film and printing images in the bath. “​​There was something about photography that gripped me," recalls Brown, who is now an award-winning photographer and director. "The speed of the instant feedback loop, in which you can try something and determine what needs to be changed on the spot, is really satisfying."

After studying at Bournemouth University and assisting renowned photographer Dan Tobin Smith, Brown began making commercial and editorial work for Wallpaper, The Gourmand, i-D and COS. He established a name for himself in London and beyond by crafting intricate and experimental still-life imagery that combined graphic details, rich surface texture and a playful tension between the natural and constructed. His ability to forge familiar elements into something strange, beautiful and otherworldly set him apart from the slick, graphic trend dominating the industry at the time.

There was something about photography that gripped me.

"It was a journey for me to land my style," Brown tells Capture."I was coming out of the shadow of working for this great photographer, and I signed up with my agency when I was quite young. I realised I had to invest time in analysing my influences and reference points to discover the central tenants of my practice. As I did, themes emerged: I noticed textures and a wabi-sabi quality were important. It was also vital that the work be both research-based while also allowing space for serendipity. The accidents or things that occur naturally in front of the lens open up this whole explorative process. These are the things I constantly come back to."

An insistence to reimagine what still life is, and could be, is also a driving force in Brown’s work. In Pop Pop BANG, he collaborated with creative director Anna Burns to transform the humble umbrella into a sculptural spectacle inspired by the masculine appeal of B-movies. In a hybrid of film, photography and pyrotechnics, the duo abandoned the studio, the typical realm for still life work, and created three installations in quintessential English locations. Disarming in its scale and ingenuity, the project opened up new possibilities for the medium that refused to be categorised.

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Brown continued to push the boundaries of photography in Volume of Light. Inspired by websites that allow people to 'buy' square metres on the moon or name a star, Volume of Light allows the audience to name and adopt one of 469 photographs Brown created in his studio. The images, some nearly identical, depict balls of scrunched-up paper suspended and lit with variating grades of light. Together images chart an investigation of semiotics while offering a distinctive take on the art market. The project, which began as a website and is now a book, developed into a social experiment, exploring notions of perception and authorship while highlighting how we all decode the visual world from uniquely different perspectives.

"Making Volume of Light was a big shift," explains Brown. "Nearly all my previous work was collaborations. The project allowed me to push the boundaries in ways I'd never done before. It was a very freeing moment. While I still collaborate with people, this project was a game changer because it enabled me to develop a conceptual approach independent of anyone else.”

For Brown, this self-directed vision deepened when he became a father. In Votive Viscera, an ongoing body of work, Brown calls himself and his beliefs to task to evaluate, establish, and affirm his new existence. Acting as a multimedia guidebook, he explores themes of education, faith, knowledge, memory, perception, protection, regeneration and reproduction. The work is eclectic and varies in form, culminating as an interconnected constellation of ideas and interests connected through Brown's artistry and aesthetics.

"When we found out we would have a child, it was one of those moments when life gets real, and it makes you reflect on your beliefs. What do I want to pass on to my children? It was a real period of introspection. Votive Viscera began as a stream of consciousness. It was a process of allowing ideas to come out in a free association way. The result was the production of hundreds of images, which is quite unusual for me. A typical still-life shoot has between 6 to 10 images made over a few days, whereas this was done over a few years. ​​I'm working on that project now, and it's almost endless. It's given me a new process and template of working, which is quite exciting."

NFTs feel like a great opportunity to create and share work that never felt particularly at home anywhere else.

Over the last two years, Brown began to investigate Web3 and think about its potential for his practice. "In many ways, it feels like photography is in its infancy in this context," he says. "Initially, I felt like it was a space built by digital designers, motion graphics and CGI people due to their work being computer bound. For photographers, I think it's more of a shift. It's certainly fascinating, and as a lot of my work has a motion element, it feels like a great opportunity to create and share work that never felt particularly at home anywhere else."

As Brown’s evocative work reminds us, the power of new perspectives enables us to think deeper, connect more and hold space for discovery as a creative practice and a means of living.

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Visit Thomas Brown exhibition on Numberverse to learn more about the stories behind each photo.

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