Thomas Hawk will be one of the first people I look up when I visit San Francisco again. If you haven’t seen his photography yet, you’re really missing out because his photos are excellent. And it doesn’t seem to matter what the subject is, the photos are simply amazing. I had the chance to meet Thomas only once (so far, I’m hoping that changes soon), and while the meeting was brief, he gave a great first impression. Thomas was really nice and down to earth and really great to talk to. We chatted a bit about cameras since I had my Sony NEX-6 and he had his Canon DSLR. I’ve been in conversations with other “experts” that have this tone about them that makes you feel unworthy of being in the same space as they are because you don’t know as much, and the conversation with Thomas wasn’t like that at all. It was quite the opposite. He wanted to know what my opinion of the NEX-6 was, even though there wasn’t anything I could tell him that he didn’t already know. I get the same feeling when I chat with him on social media as well, and it’s really refreshing because he could easily be very arrogant and cocky, but he’s not. Knowing that the guy that shoots these amazing photos is a nice guy makes them even better in my opinion. His photos have been an inspiration to me because they challenge me to look at even the simplest things and try to see something creative in them. They challenge me to look at everything around me. He’ll go and post a photo of a chair, or a hallway, or a sign and it’ll be great. It’s a reminder to me to stop and look around and observe everything. His photos tell a story, and they inspire me to try and tell a story with each photo that I take. Another thing about him on social media that I like is that he takes the time to like and comment on other people’s photos and posts, and it’s very encouraging to newbie photographers like myself. Thomas is a great person to connect with, and I highly recommend you doing so. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his wife, Julia, who’s another great photographer and another cool, down to earth, person to interact with on social media. She also posts some really amazing photos, and I appreciate how interactive she is online. I hope that I get the chance to meet her as well in person!
Me: How and when did you get started in social media?
Thomas Hawk: I first got started with social media back in 2004 when I did two things, I started a blog at blogger and I started a Flickr account. Initially I was interested in blogging about Microsoft’s Media Center platform when I thought it represented great new technology for the home. As time went on though, my social media interests focused much more on photography along with the evolution of the DSLR.
Setting up a blogger blog was pretty easy back then and Flickr seemed to be a logical companion as a place to host the photos that I’d blog.
One of the first “meetups” I went to was at Barney’s in Noe Valley with my friend Robert Scoble, who at the time was blogging at Microsoft. I liked the social side of blogging and of interacting with other bloggers in the early days both online and offline.
Me: I’ve only recently been interested in taking photos, it took me a while to become interested in photography. What motivated you to become a photographer? Did you always have interest in photography?
Thomas Hawk: I’ve been interested in photography most of my life. I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, when I was 8 or so. I’d spend all my money I’d earn as a child buying film, shooting it, and then getting it developed at the local KMart and Photomat.
I had a big interest in the process of shooting and developing film as a child and when I was 15 my parents bought me my first DSLR for a bicycle trip that I took that summer riding my bicycle across America. I shot Kodak slide film on that trip and after I got back took a summer course in photography at Glendale Community College in Los Angeles. As part of that course I learned how to bulk load and roll my own film, work in the darkroom, and began working with photography more seriously.
In high school I was on the yearbook staff and edited the yearbook my senior year. We had a darkroom at school and I spent many hours shooting for the yearbook (and myself) and working with those images in the darkroom. In college I continued working with the yearbook and with the student newspaper as well, editing that my senior year of college. Having access to darkroom space during these many years for yearbook and the student newspaper, gave me a great resource for working with photography as inexpensively as I could.
I’m not sure what motivated me to start with photography. It just feels like something that has always been in my blood. I think working with photos at an early age in my life made an imprint on me that carried through as I got older.
Me: I have to say that I like each photo that you take. They all seem to tell a story and they’re very inspiring. What inspires you to take the photos that you take and capture the moments that you see? Is there something specific that you look for?
Thomas Hawk: I shoot everything around me all the time. It’s pretty much whatever my eye finds and sees. Some of my work is very planned out. I’ll make specific trips where I’m working on shooting a specific city or event or place and work pretty much full time shooting, from sunrise to late at night. Other times I’ll take a few hours here or there walking around San Francisco or doing a photowalk with friends, or whatever. A great deal of the time I’m in photographer mode, with my camera with me and I just shoot everything I see that looks interesting to me. Later I’ll spend many hours pouring over the RAW images and deciding which ones I like and which ones I want to work with and will finish them in post production.
I don’t think there is anything specific I’m looking for when I shoot. I think I’ve developed a style over time though and certain types of photos seem to show up. I like shooting people, especially portraits and from a human interest standpoint. I love shooting architecture. I like focusing on buildings and an abstract representation of architecture as art. I like shooting paintings and art and sculpture. I like lines and angles and really nice light.
I like thinking about how photographs will age over time and love shooting Americana — especially things like old neon signs. I’m interested in the disappearing landscape. I like shooting abandoned buildings and things that will be gone in the future. I love America and all the amazing cities of America. I’m working on a project right now to shoot the 100 largest American cities. I love the American road. I shot Route 66 last year and loved that version of America.
Sometimes I’m super inspired to take photographs, especially if I’ve set out to shoot a new place or area, other times not as much. Over time I’ve learned though to look at photography as a goal and to force it even if I’m not inspired. I find that inevitably once you get your feet moving and out shooting you find interesting things around you to shoot.