This is a series of Interviews I hope to be updating periodically. For these interviews I sit down and talk to artists about why they do their work and why art matters in the world. Here is my interview with Tom Cochrane.
Tom Cochrane is a photographer, collaborator, and overall awesome dude. Tom’s the kind of guy whose eyes become wide and arms start to flail in excitement when he starts talking about how awesome photography is. Tom’s probably best known for his landscape photography around Western Newfoundland, particularly Gros Morne. But it would be wrong to consider him just a landscape photographer, read the interview to learn more.
“it’s that act of sharing and trying to bring people together, that’s the core of what I do.”
JB: How did you get your start as a landscape photographer?
TC: It’s interesting that you say that because I never considered myself to be a landscape photographer. In grade 9 I had an art project that was photography based and I ended up using my dad’s old pentax k1000. It was a cool experience and I got good feedback from it. That was probably the first time that I got positive feedback from creating something outside my family.
Then at some point I got a camera for Christmas. It was a Canon point and shoot that my parents bought for me, but I remember asking for one that could be used in manual settings. I got that and used it for about a year and then I was like oh! this is super cool! I want to do more! I just loved being able to document different experiences. I learned I could document an experience and share it. That’s what it was about for me at the time, sharing. It still is a lot about sharing.
Then I moved to Toronto. I was living there for 2 years, I went to a bunch of concerts and that started this obsession with concert photography which I still love to do. I shot that which was super fun. I got some gigs writing concert reviews and publishing music photos for some magazines up there, super cool. Then I moved back to Corner Brook in 2010. That’s when I started getting involved with a classical music festival that’s based between here and Gros Morne.
I originally started working in communications and marketing at memorial university. But I also started a community news website cornerbrooker.com
JB: I’ve seen that before, are you still working on it?
TC: It’s on indefinite hiatus right now.
JB: So it might be revived?
TC: It’s on an indefinite hiatus. (laughs)
You know it was definitely a project of passion for a few years. Then you move on and try to do other things. But my art practice always goes back to sharing ideas and things. While I didn't recognise Corner Brooker as an art project at the time, because I didn’t consider myself an artist at the time, it’s that act of sharing and trying to bring people together, that’s the core of what I do. I’d put the photos up on the website and give the community a chance to see itself, which I think is really important.
JB: Who is it that inspires you?
TC: I get inspired from friends, I get inspired a lot by them and the people I get to work with. I have a bunch of pals that are photographers so I would see their work and I was like that’s awesome! I want to learn how to do that! So I’d go out and figure out how to do it. Something I tell people all of the time is if you want to get better find someone that’s better than you. Emulate them or figure out how they do it. Then figure out how you can integrate that into your style, or what you like to do.
“I could go on about why I live in Newfoundland for just way too long. I think at the end of the day it just feels right, and it feels special, it feels magical.”
JB: What brought you back to Newfoundland?
TC: Just, Newfoundland’s just special. I could go on about why I live in Newfoundland for just way too long. I think at the end of the day it just feels right, and it feels special, it feels magical.
JB: I hear that a lot, there’s something special about Newfoundland.
TC: Do you hear it from people that were born here, or people from away?
JB: Mostly people born here.
TC: It’s not for everybody. I think that’s really important to recognise. Newfoundland is not for everybody. It’s not an easy place to live, you’ve gotta be stubborn as hell to live here. (laughs) The weather is just foolish sometimes.
I know a ton of other folks that aren’t from here but somehow discovered this place and have made it their second home. Coming here for a week or two is necessary for them to live for the rest of the year. There’s an energy in this place that’s real special. It’s been interesting over the past couple of years to recognise the impact that has on my work.
Last fall I went on the road for about 4 weeks. I was in Ontario for 2 or 3 weeks and that time was meant to create, go and huddle away for a little while and create. But I couldn’t and it was brutal. Things just weren’t ticking in my brain properly. I’d try and shoot and it just wouldn’t work so I was like what’s going on? Then I came home in November and I was like oh right. It’s here, this is important to my work.
JB: What keeps you motivated to create?
TC: Definitely sharing. create share, create share, create share. you just get addicted to that process. You create because you make friends and they’re sharing and you’re just like holy fuck their work is so incredible and you want to keep up. That whole thing it creates is, it’s both good and bad. It pushes you to make content and I love that. I tell people that all the time just make as much content as you can. It’s not good in some ways because you’re just throwing tons of stuff out into the world and you’re not thinking as much about your stuff. But I think as long as you find the time to have a balance then it’s pretty cool.
“I find that really inspiring, to play a part in other people making cool stuff. I think that there’s a really important role for that, to create more cool stuff in the world.”
JB: when did you realise you wanted to photograph Gros Morne? I know you go there all the time.
TC: I live there for 4 or 5 months of the year
JB: Damn. Have you explored all of it?
TC: I haven’t done every trail but I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve been really lucky to do helicopter tours for work. Being in a helicopter you get to see a lot more. I’ve been on boats off the coast and in the backcountry. Around 2010 would've been the first summer where I was up there every weekend for probably 6 or 7 weeks. I was working for a music festival and that was really cool. That was that first kind of “ting” where I realised Gros Morne had something special.
JB: Light, nature and weather are all things that are crucial to landscape photography. Do you ever think of one being above the other? Do you enjoy one over the other?
TC: In my interpretation of those words it would be light. That’s what drives me. Then nature just because I love working on the coast and the type of landscape is really important to me. But I’ll gun it if I think that the sunset’s gonna be real good. It’s always on my mind. What time is sunset? What’s the weather like today? Is there a chance of good light? The plan’s always churning in my head.
“If someone sees it and they like it and they want to share it with their bunch of people, and if someone with a lot more following sees it then they can share it with a ton of people and that can happen like bam bam bam. I just think that’s really cool”
JB: What’s the role of your art right now?
TC: okay, my art... It’s interesting because my art practice, or the way that I see it right now, it’s a visual thing but I also like to curate people. I like to create networks with people. I like to create collaborations. It doesn't even need to involve me, I just want to put some people in the right place. The process of doing that, curating creation is something I really enjoy. I find that really inspiring, to play a part in other people making cool stuff. I think that there’s a really important role for that, to create more cool stuff in the world.
Also to work collaboratively. To work with someone on telling their story. If they have a story that’s great! But let’s find a ways to incorporate visual elements, or video, or sound or whatever just to turn it into a bigger thing.
There’s also something to be said about the artist’s role in responding to the world. I think the world’s pretty incredible. We’re really lucky as humans to live where we do. But it’s also real messed up, we’ve messed it up real bad. It’s part of the artist’s role to respond to that, how you respond to that is up to you. I do it by trying to inspire others very positively, others take on the more aggressive and angry approach. I think there’s room for both and I think both are necessary. Also bringing people together, that’s really important, which comes back to the positivity thing.
You can see more of Tom’s work here