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Q + A with Tom Blachford

With just two sleeps to go until our next exhibition opens, we caught up with Tom for a chat about the making of Midnight Modern.

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Tom photographed by his girlfriend Kate Ballis out the front of the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs.

Tom Blachford’s new series of works captures California’s famous mid-century modernist homes under the midnight glow of a super moon. The journey from one late-night discovery to a finished series has involved two trips to Palm Springs, quite a few late-night scouting missions and some amazing street light serendipity.

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1030 West Cielo Drive. Photograph by Tom Blachford for his exhibition Midnight Modern.When I think of Palm Springs, I think of harsh, bright sunlight. What made you choose to photograph these houses in the dead of night? Do you think the idea to shoot this way would have occurred to you in your hometown of Melbourne?

These houses have been around for 60 to 70 years and I imagined they had been photographed from every angle thousands of times. We were also pushed for time to see everything so we needed to squeeze in some shooting and exploring after a dinner one night. I guess that’s how it originally came about. We lucked out and noticed it was a full moon and I thought it might be interesting to see how they looked under the moonlight.

After seeing the first few images I was hooked. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when the first image appeared on the screen after the 30-second wait. After experimenting with a few houses I found that the only shots that would work were when all the lights were off, except for perhaps one lamp inside the house. Curiously, all the older palm springs suburbs have no street lights, which also helped.

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1133 N Vista Vespero. Photograph by Tom Blachford for his exhibition Midnight Modern.What led you to making this collection of images? At what point did you realise you were working on a series?

I absolutely love the mid-century tract houses, and admiring them during the day on our first trip I was struggling to capture them in a way that felt unique. On the first trip I shot about six images and we were exhausted so we headed home. Returning to Melbourne I looked at them over and over and kicked myself for not staying up to shoot more. I knew I had to return so we (my girlfriend and I) checked out the dates of the moon and found there would be the first of three super moons for this year in July. We planned our trip around being there for the moon with a couple of days to scout beforehand and a few days to relax by the pool afterwards!

The sparseness of these images can lead the viewer to imagine their own narrative. Is there a feeling that you’re catching these houses when they are recharging, or in between scenes?

I love to imagine what is going on behind closed doors. These images of the houses raise so many questions and possibilities for stories. Even better is the thought of the scenes that have already played out behind these doors in their 60-plus years of existence. Every time I look at them I like to imagine something different going on behind the breeze-bricks.

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879 N Monte Vista. Photograph by Tom Blachford for his exhibition Midnight Modern.How important is the physical scale of these works?

I wanted to recreate these homes as large as I could possibly print whilst maintaining quality – but also hoped that I could give them a diorama effect by shrinking them into little boxes on the wall. There are a couple of images that I swear could be doll houses with little painted mountains behind. Even when I’m standing in front of them sometimes I swear those mountains are a painted backdrop – the slight haze over them makes them look so unreal.

What initially attracted you to photography? What attracts you to it now?

I’m obsessed with the way the camera is able to warp both time and perspective to capture the world in ways I was never able to see with my eyes.

This series is very much a renaissance for me. I initially fell in love with photography when I was playing around with long exposures and light painting. The first time the shutter closed and I saw a streak of light painted across the image I was hooked. I played around with it for a couple of years very early on but left it behind to explore other techniques and complete commercial jobs that weren’t interested in such magic. It was amazing to be back out in the darkness and using long exposure to create work again.

What kinds of images are you interested in making next?

I’m not sure what my next series is. I would definitely like to work with the moonlight again, potentially explore a new style of architecture, and I guess, in turn, a different unspoken narrative. I love the stilt houses of northern Australia and I have a fascination with the littered lawns of the suburbs in our urban sprawl. I might try to work up the courage to shoot four hours a month under the full moon somewhere a little closer to home.

I also became obsessed with shooting from a helicopter earlier this year and I’m hoping to get up a few more times over summer to put together some more shots in my Aerial Summer series.

MEET TOM AND CHECK OUT HIS INCREDIBLE LARGE-SCALE WORKS AT THE EXHIBITION OPENING THIS THURSDAY 2 OCTOBER, 6-8pm.

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