Tomaas: Plastic is the New Black

Sarah Jayne Fell One Small Seed

Tomaas: Plastic is the New Black

ONE SMALL SEED issue 21’s cover artist is a fashion photographer who goes simply by the name Tomaas. Tomaas hails from Germany but has lived in New York for most of his career. Led there by a passion for travel photography, he now specialises in fashion and beauty. ONE SMALL SEED’s editor chats to the high-flying visionary about his photographic career and his latest series, Plastic Fantastic.

Interview by Sarah Jayne Fell

How did you end up in photography?

When I was a kid I was with an agency and did some work in front of the camera. I always enjoyed the energy on set, and the fast, distinct sound of the old Hasselblad cameras was magic to me. I got my first camera at 15, and I’d photograph zoo animals or walk the streets of Hamburg and take pictures of people and architecture. Photography was my passion, but I never thought I’d make it a career. At university in Germany and Austria I majored in Political and Communication Sciences and then did a master’s degree in Public Relations. Right after that, in 1995, I moved to New York. I continued to take pictures and travelled extensively. During a breathtaking trip to Vietnam, I captured the land and its people on film, and only then considered photography full-time. I returned to New York to attend the International Center of Photography, where I started building a portfolio and introduced myself to model agencies. From there, it went from testing to shooting editorials to commercial work. Eventually Robert Bacall Representatives became aware of my work and started representing me.

How is your work evolving?

When I started my career, my two-year goal was to be published internationally, have an agency represent me, collaborate with top model agencies in NYC, exhibit in a gallery, and get into advertising. I’ve now accomplished all this, but I feel the train has just started speeding up. I have a studio now and shoot more beauty photography – a big step, considering all my first work was done on location. My early work was moody. Recently I’ve shot much brighter stories.

What drives you?

The journey. Looking back, many things I’ve done are absolutely unconnected to my present career. But the journey itself is the best part because we can imagine how things will be once we’ve arrived. It’s like the anticipation of a kid before Christmas – sometimes more exciting than the actual event.

Who inspires you?

Fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh for his theatrical sets, Vogue photographer Steven Meisel for reinvention, Miles Aldridge for use of colour, and Paolo Roversi for mood. I also admire war photographer James Nachtwey for true representation of time, space and character.

What was your motivation for Plastic Fantastic?

I love location photography. For me, the stories are richer and more visually interesting, and that’s connected to my passion for photojournalism. Because of this, a beauty story must have a strong conceptual element to get me excited.

Prior to Plastic Fantastic, in January 2010, I’d shot a story called Eco-Beauty, using everyday materials. It was published in several international magazines and exhibited at the Icon Gallery in NYC. The team I worked with had such fun that we decided to do a similar shoot but focus on one material alone. The more we researched, the more we became aware of plastic. It’s everywhere and it’s so versatile. You could almost say that among materials plastic is the ‘new black’. The story’s an ode to this material.

What draws you to fashion and beauty photography?

I love to create, how a simple idea blossoms into a full-blown photoshoot. I also love being part of a team, and fashion photography’s very much a team effort. Only if everybody understands the concept and pulls together in the same direction can one execute it successfully. And the field is always changing so that keeps me on my toes.

Where would you like to be in ten years’ time?

I love travelling and I’m curious to see the outcome once I’ve had a chance to incorporate the globe’s visual treats into my work. I’d also like to focus on advertising. There are bigger budgets and, compared to editorial, everything is incredibly mapped out. Editorial is more convoluted. You have a concept and idea but not the structure. The execution process is far more precise in advertising. But ultimately, both have the same purpose: you’re selling a product.

Published in one small seed magazine, issue 21 – dec-jan-feb 2010-11.