Art Interview Interview

Young New Zealand lenser Tom Shackleton fell into photography while in high school, after switching up statistics class for something more creative. Turns out it was a good move: discovering he had a knack for it, he started documenting his friends and their parties in Wellington. Now, he has curated these photos into a zine (his second, actually) that captures their hometown’s vibrant youth culture. 

Being eighteen-years-old, Tom and his friends are now splitting off to attend university, and so he explains his intention with this series was to “capture the fun memories spent with my buddies in the final months of high school.

In the process, he has achieved a chronicle of the esoteric youth culture that exists in New Zealand’s capital, the back of beyond. 

Angelica Hill: When did you start taking photos?
Tom Shackleton: I was always in the Photography Club in Primary School, but that was only because we were able to take a trip into town and the teacher would just be like, “OK guys, meet back here at the end of the day,” so we never really took photos, we kinda just hung out in town. It really all started the beginning of last year when I decided to switch from statistics to photography at school, which was a really good decision because then I found my passion.

Angelica: Why didn’t you look to photography from the start?
Tom: I think because I had that mindset of, “I’m at school so I have to do history, geography, english, statistics. No artsy subjects. But then I realised I hate statistics, and photography sounded really fun. It also took up a lot of my free time, because at home I would just be a bit bored, playing PlayStation. 

Angelica: What made you want to document your friends as part of your work?
Tom: I like taking photos of people a lot, much more than still life. I got a film camera (just a point-and-shoot) because I like the idea of taking the photos, not being able to see them, and then waiting. It’s like waiting for a parcel – which I love, as well as collecting records. I feel they all kind of link. I don’t know why I started documenting my friends, I just wanted to be able to remember by looking back over the photos. The zine I made was me being like, “I’ve taken a lot of party photos in my time, I may as well put them together.” 

“I realised I hated studying statistics, and photography sounded really fun.”

Angelica: Do you prefer to take staged or more spontaneous pictures?
Tom: I think it’s a mixture of both. We had this studio at school but it was the size of a shoe box, and me and my friend Alex would decorate it and get our other friends to model. I did take quite a few staged photos last year, but the studio space was so terrible that it was off-putting, hopefully now when I move up to uni this weekend, and go to arts school, their studio spaces will be huge, and I’ll be able to do more studio work.

Angelica: Are the photos you take all of your high school friends, or do you take pictures of strangers as well?
Tom: The majority are my friends. Sometimes if I’m at a party and people ask me to take a photo of them I will, but they usually come out terrible because I didn’t really want to take their picture. 

Angelica: Do you have a favourite moment you have documented?
Tom: It’s usually the latest photos, but these four on my wall are my favourite [points to photos]. These four are my favourite because they were for a shop in Wellington. I took two rolls of film and I gave all the photos to them and they were like “OK, cool we will post them all on Instagram.” Also the picture of Nardwuar, who is one of my idols. He is from Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. He is pretty famous. He is the best interviewer in the world, I reckon. He interviews musicians and he does his research so well, and I bumped into him when I was in Vancouver and I was so stoked I took a photo with him. 

Angelica: On your social media you have a lot of pictures of your friends skateboarding, do you skate too?
Tom: I personally don’t skate, I’m really bad at it, but my friends do. I just sit on the side and watch. Other than photography I like hanging out with my friends, whether it’s skating or going to concerts, so I guess I’ve just merged the two things.

Angelica: What’s the zine-making process like?
Tom: I love the process of making them, and of pairing photos together – it’s one of my favourite things to do. Then printing it out is fun, but a nightmare, because it’s so expensive. 

Angelica: I saw on your website it says you draw on the back and front cover of every purchased zine. What made you want to do that?
Tom: I love the idea of hand touched, handmade, unique things. I’m a big fan of limited edition stuff, like if there is a record pressed to 500 or something, and it comes with a poster and a signature. I’m really bad at drawing though. I draw whatever comes to mind, like dogs, and I have a sticker pack and I put a load of stickers on the drawings. I drew a lady lying down on her side, like that [demonstrating] – really ugly, but I try. 

Angelica: Who has been your biggest inspiration in terms of photography?
Tom: Juergen Teller. I like his style of photography, and I’ve got his book and the interview in there is really cool. For the zines, Mark Gonzales – he’s really good at making zines. Takuroh Toyama is really cool. I also really like the photographer Yuki Kikuchi, who does what I really want to do in the future: tour around with bands. 

Angelica: What kind of music do you like?
Tom: Tame Impala’s a big one, I love them. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and Connan Mockasin, Car Seat Headrest, Blood Orange, The Strokes, they’re really good. Aphex Twin is good. And I like a lot of funk from the 70s and 80s.

“I have a really tight group of friends from school, which is partly why I like taking the photos because everyone is separating… It’s sad, but I have all these photos and memories of the good times with them.”

Angelica: Can you tell me a little about New Zealand? Are all your friends people from Wellington, who you grew up with?
Tom: It’s really chill – it’s really safe in New Zealand. There’s crime, but you never see it. People are really nice. As for Wellington, it’s the creative capital of New Zealand and it’s known for its creative people. I have a really tight group of friends from secondary school, which is partly why I like taking the photos because everyone is separating, people have gone to uni now, most of my friends are gone. It’s sad, but I have all these photos and memories of the good times with them.

Angelica: What do you want to do with all your work going forward? What are you hoping to work on in the future?
Tom: I’m doing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, which is going to be hard because I only take photos, and in the first year you have to do drawing, painting, sculpture, screen-printing, all the arts. I’m really willing to learn though, I’m so ready. I don’t know what I want to do afterwards, there are a whole lot of things I’d like to do. I would like to be an exhibiting photographer, and touring with a band that would be really cool but that can’t last forever. But it could go any way – I could go to Arts School and find out that I’m the world’s best sculptor, or something really random that I have never done before. But I doubt it [laughs]. 

Angelica: What else would you like to do next?
Tom: Hopefully I can go abroad for a semester in New York, that would be really cool. I would love to go to New York again. I went for a school trip with my friends, and it was the best two weeks ever, and plus the whole scene there seems so cool and there are so many opportunities, if you want them. 

See more of Tom’s work at his Tumblr and follow him on Instagram