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Tom Sloan: Young Hearts Run Free

25.11.2015 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

British photographer Tom Sloan is making pictures the old fashioned way – by letting the journey dictate the result.

What initially pulled us towards Tom’s work was a recent trip he took to Wales – Merthyr Tydfil to be more specific – which produced a stunning series of photographs documenting the kids in and around the town. When we asked him what prompted the project, his response was so unselfconsciously thoughtful, that we knew we had to know – and see – more.

“I had been in the Forest of Dean area making pictures and came across two lads night fishing who were from Merthyr,” he told us. “They described the place to me and talked about what it was like growing up there. It sounded tough but at the same time quite romantic. They were honest about its problems with unemployment, benefit culture ect but they also described it as having a close knit community and it being a true Welsh industrial town. One of the lads was a keen boxer but had injured himself badly in a motorbike accident, he talked about training daily in and around the town as a youngster. One of the things I remembered them saying was that because of its geographical location in the Merthyr Valleys it was always shrouded with a thick foggy mist from the surrounding mountains, all of this got me interested.”

It got us interested, too. Here, along with a brief interview, we present you with a curated edit of some of Tom’s work. We think you’ll enjoy it.

What first drew you to making pictures?
I made short films as youngster, when I was 10 – 12 years old. They were very action-based as you can imagine. I used my Dad’s video camera. It was obviously all analogue, but I’d take it seriously and spend a lot of time editing, acting in them and making my brothers get involved. I was actually quite clever then, I worked out how to use a dodgy old editing machine my uncle bought from a car boot! But that was the start of me framing the world through a lens.

Can you remember the first photograph you saw that made a strong impact on you? 
There have been many photographs that have made an impact on me, it’s a tricky question… Chris Killip’s ‘Seacoal’ pictures fascinated me. I would say it wasn’t just the individual pictures, although each one is incredible with such impact, it was the body of work as a whole and the world it showed me. It woke me up to telling a story with pictures. I was introduced to him when I started studying photography at university, aged 21.

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Cameron, Merthyr

When did you first pick up a camera? What did you take pictures of?
I took up photography when I was 16. I was told I had to fill my schedule up at college by an extra four hours per week, I was doing retakes of my GCSEs! I’d spent a lot of time enjoying myself at school… perhaps too much! I came across GCSE photography and thought it sounded interesting, a good mix of the creative and the technical. In my first lesson I was shown a variety of photography books, one was a Don McCullin book. I loved his early pictures of his friends in Finsbury Park and the work he made up north in Bradford. I began trying to shoot gritty black and white in Southampton. I had the docks, some dodgy friends and rough areas to explore.

When did you realise that you wanted to make photography your career?
It was a simple decision weirdly. I remember I’d been to stay at my dad’s for the weekend when I was about 17, we were heading back to Southampton in the car, he was asking about jobs and careers etc and I just came out with it, and it felt right. I’ve been indecisive in other areas in my life, but deciding to be become a photographer felt right.

What are the realities of being a photographer these days? Is it as romantic as it sounds?
This question moves nicely from the last… Yes and no! It’s very tough, confusing, exciting and unpredictable! But interesting in so many ways. You have to stick to your true self and your gut instinct, which is difficult at times. I think the point I want to make is, for me, photography as an art form meant I’d have to go out into the world and find people and places and go on adventures. That’s what would interest me when I looked at photographers work, I loved the mystery of how they got the pictures, the process. It almost doesn’t become just about the individual picture, the work becomes about the photographer and the journey. Going back to the question though, for me the most romantic aspect of being a photographer is the freedom the days can hold.

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Merthyr

If you had to choose one of your pictures to best act as an example of your style, what would it be and why?
Umm tricky again… I like the picture I took of these two lads in Croydon, riding on the back of a moped. It’s certainly not my best picture but it sums up what I’m interested in when it comes to photographing these types of lads. There’s a sense of living the way they want to live, slightly wild I guess. I want a hint of excitement, I think this picture holds that.

Is there anyone that has influenced your work over the years?
Loads of people have influenced me, from photographers I’ve worked for to people I’ve looked at over the years. Strangely, although I don’t look at his work so much nowadays and it’s quiet different from my own work, I was a huge Wolfgang Tillmans fan. When I first saw how he displayed his work it blew my head off! His exhibition ‘If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters’ was a real influence on me. He curated and edited his work to have such an amazing rhythm. Others include: Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Juergen Teller and Glen Luchford.

Much of your work depicts youth, and young people – is there a particular reason for that?
Without trying to sound cliche, I guess they give you something honest? I like the excitement of being young as well, you can get up to a lot. I used hang out with huge groups of kids when I was growing up and we had so much fun, it was wild. Weirdly, you don’t see that so much now. I think teenagers spend more time online than hanging out at the local rec.

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Sam, Merthyr

What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up?
My childhood was pretty normal. I grew up with my two brothers in Southampton until I was 10, when my Parents divorced. My dad moved to a tiny cottage in the countryside, we stayed in Southampton. My mum remarried a few years later and the family grew, I gained two step brothers and a step sister. I had a pretty eventful teenage period, hung out with the type of kids I photograph, took drugs, went to parties, roamed the streets, usual stuff.
Do you have a dream project that you’d like to make reality one day?
Well it would be in the UK to start, I love making work here, I understand it! I think it’s a special, hugely diverse place. It would be shot on the outskirts of the city where the countryside and the city meets – my favourite territory! It would be a space where the teenagers own the land… To be honest I’m sort of shooting this bit by bit as I go along… I think…
What’s inspiring you right now?
Road trips, I’m enjoying making work outside London at the moment, I get really inspired by the countryside.
What would be the highest compliment someone could ever pay your work?
That I’m considered authentic. That means I’m on the right track.
tomsloan.co.uk
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Sam, Merthyr

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Cameron, Merthyr

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Cameron, Merthyr

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Cameron, Merthyr

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Sam, Merthyr

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Merthyr

And here’s some more of Tom’s work…

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