Inside the Photographer’s EyeInside the Photographer’s Eye


April 6, 2017

4 min read
Words: Damian Christie
Photos: Tom Powell

Photographer and graphic designer Tom Powell believes photos are the ‘souvenirs of life’. In an age where everyone has a camera attached to their phone, the act of taking a photograph holds little risk. Take it, like it, post it. Take it, don’t like it - take another dozen until you’re happy.

In an effort to make sure his souvenirs mean something, Tom takes almost all of his photos using traditional film cameras – some dating back to the 1960s. The results speak for themselves, but they don’t come without risk.

Tom Powell
How did you get into photography?

I was the guy, probably not as good at skating as everyone else, so always the guy with the camera. That just sparked my interest a lot more and I've always loved it.

Did you always shoot on film?

Yeah, I'm totally from a film background, and when I studied photography it was all darkroom.

What is it about film you like?

The photographs you get are just so...  - there’s more depth to them, there's more colour to them. And there's the pay-off when you get it back. It's so great because it's such a surprise and a treat.

Does it make you more careful with what you shoot?

Yeah. When I travel, say I'm going away for three months, I don't know if there's going to be any camera shops, or what I'm going to come across. So I might take ten rolls of film, and then you're going to have ten rolls of film on you the whole time, even after you've shot them. So you don't really want to be carrying too much, because if you got robbed or you lose your bag, it would be devastating. I'm not particularly careful at looking after cameras either, so I usually come back with a bag of broken cameras.

  1. Impromtu Roadtrip with @rhombie Joshua Tree, CA
  2. My old Rollieflex before it broke.
Tom Powell
  1. Featured photographer in the Outsiders book.
Tom Powell
  1. Featured photographer in the Outsiders book.
Tom Powell
  1. Cabin Porn: Featured cabin.
Tom Powell
  1. Cabin Porn: Featured cabin.

“I was the guy, probably not as good at skating as everyone else, I was always the guy with the camera”.

Tell us your best ‘destroying a camera’ story?

My most recent was, you know the big tree on Highway 1 in California? The one that everyone gets a photograph of a car driving through. I was on a bike tour with a few friends, underneath that. I'd set up a beautiful medium format Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. The most beautiful camera I think there is.

I had it set up on a tripod, self-timer, all of us just sitting there ready to take the photograph, and it just lost balance. It toppled down a little concrete side barrier thing, then never worked after that.

What made you start photographing cabins?

So I spent quite a lot of time in cabins and places like that through WOOFing - Working On Organic Farms, - you always end up in quite interesting spots. There's a book called "The Outsiders" and I got quite a few photographs in that, and there's a ‘Cabin Porn’ blog that's quite well known, and I've had shots on there too.

So, what's been your best experience taking photos?

The last bike trip though the States was an absolutely epic trip. I had so much fun on that trip. It's the most free you can ever feel. For me, when you set off on a bike tour and you haven't really got a deadline to be anywhere. It's so simple because you've got two bags and your bike, you've got no real place to be.

Is there any downside to the film-only approach?

Oh that can be heartbreaking as well! With film you don't know whether you've really got the shot, and you don't want to take two of everything. Sometimes you get it back and it's over-exposed or out of focus. Or, like after I dropped the Rolleiflex, I didn’t realise but it had affected the wind-on, so actually I got four films back where they'd only taken one frame on each, and that was devastating!

Tom Powell
  1. Sunrise camp before crossing The Golden Gate Bridge.
Tom Powell
  1. Redwood Orphans, Bike Gang Avenue of the Giants, CA.
Tom Powell
  1. Driftwood Fort off state highway 1, San Gregario beach, CA.