Usually when you get flicked the details of someone to interview via the ads department you’re in for a pretty beige affair.
But not always. Tapping “Tom Gould” into Dr Google, the first thing that pops up is the “Easy Rider” video, featuring a bandana’d Mr Bronson riding through the desert on a Harley in all his hefty glory. And that’s just the tip of Tom’s directorial and photographic achievements. The NZ/New York transplant has directed videos for some of the biggest names in contemporary music, won a couple of awards for his troubles, and continued to be prolific shooting stills throughout. The reason that he’s slid across the desk this week is that he’s just had a photo show with Huffer, so we caught up with Tom to chat leaving home, working with high profile names, and photo series DECADE, below.
Tom’s 31, and he grew up in Auckland, NZ. “Growing up you don’t know any better,” Tom says, “but looking back on it I understand the reasons I turned out like I did and that interests and passions ended up shaping my life and career.” Those passions included picking up a camera when he was 16, something that helped steer Tom’s coming years on the course that they took. “It was just through running around being a kid interested in graffiti and documenting the things that were happening in the Auckland scene,” Tom explains. Stills came before Tom progressed to the moving image, and he admits that he’s incredibly grateful that his education came in the order that it did. “It teaches you so much about composition, lighting and just generally figuring out what works,” he says. “After I started to take it seriously I realised it was the people behind the images and their stories that I found powerful, so I moved into film to be able to tell these stories in greater depth. There is still something so pure and special about a single frame that can tell its own story though—it’s not easy to do, but that’s what makes it special.”
Then came New York. Knowing where Tom grew up and seeing some of the work he’s produced since, the New York influence is clear. And Tom says that it’s something that was meant to happen, and did. “I was just so influenced by everything coming out of New York as a young teenager, so naturally I wanted to get there,” he says. “The music, art, films, the stories, the people, it all made me so intrigued and eager to be a part of it. I had never been to New York before I packed up and moved there, I just trusted that I would love it and make the best out of it. It’s been 10 years now, so something is still keeping me here.”
Scrolling around Tom’s impeccable website, the names that pop up aren’t the work of your regular director gone to the States to make it big. Action Bronson, Future—legit artists who’re at the pointy end of what’s happening in music right now. In light of this, I ask Tom what the most important thing he’s learnt in working with high-profile names. Ultimately, he says, it’s that the project isn’t about you. “It’s a collaboration and you have to respect that,” he says. “In a lot of situations you’re there to help bring a vision they had to life. It’s a two-way street and the best ideas often come when you’re able to bounce ideas off like-minded people.”
Tom’s Sydney show, DECADE, is simple in concept and powerful in its delivery. “It’s a personal reflection on the past 10 years of living in New York,” Tom says. “My time here has been defined by the faces and personalities I have met and formed friendships with along the way. So this series is a way of reflecting on that, and documenting some important people in my life. Some are old friends, some new, but to me they all represent this beautiful, crazy and diverse city. It’s basically 10 New York faces to represent 10 years of a Kiwi kid living in New York.”
When asked for a guiding mantra, Tom cites the best piece of advice he’s been given in acting as a rough guiding light. “The only way we can preserve anything in life is through documentation.” When you’re headfirst into directing and making yourself relevant on the highest level in the music and film worlds, it’s a useful message in remembering why you started doing this in the first place. And that’s exactly what DECADE is about. It’s Tom touching base with the 16-year-old in Auckland who first picked up a camera, and reminiscing on how far he’s come and the people who’ve shaped his experience along the way.