In Conversation with Photographer Tom Blachford
Melbourne-based photographer Tom Blachford has forged a solid place for himself in the architecture and interiors landscape. His documentation of physical built environments — particularly those depicted in his Midnight Modern Series’ which portray “the interplay between architecture, moonlight, mountains and the tension of the unspoken narrative” in Palm Springs — has now evolved into an exploration of the digitally immaterial ones with A.I. carving a place of fascinating creative enquiry. We spoke with Tom about his recent A.I. deep dive, what it means to him and what his thoughts are on the artificial intelligence discourse that has us all in a lather.
Open Journal (OJ): If Instagram is any indication, the past couple of years have been a time of experimentation, exploration and artistic growth for you! Can you please tell us a little about your UVIF work with Kate Ballis as well as your pivot into A.I.?
Tom Blachford (TB): That’s true! Covid forced me to totally rethink my practise which artistically had relied on travelling to capture existing things and places. During covid that obviously wasn’t an option so Kate and I turned to home, growing flowers in our garden and converting one of our bedrooms into a pitch black studio space to capture the blooms using UVIF (ultraviolet induced fluorescence). It’s a pretty magical process that is super hard to get right but incredible when it works. The resulting series ‘Influorescence’ is something we both really love.
I was also trying to learn 3d modelling and rendering but it’s SUCH a huge learning curve it was tough to onboard when my brain is already very full of photography things. A.I., particularly mid journey, which is text to image A.I., turned up mid 2022 and I dove right in. It’s been a wild ride and it has developed so quickly, from a curious tool making scrawly drawings to what it is today. It’s now capable of making 48 mind blowing and completely photorealistic images of anything you can imagine PER MINUTE.
OJ: 'Midnight Modern’ is the series that you are arguably most known for? Now in its 6th iteration, how is it going? Where was it shot and how does it extend on the evolving narrative?
TB: It’s my 10th year shooting Midnight Modern and it has certainly been a life changing body of work. It was 3 years between trips for me which is the longest gap between shoots I’ve had over this past decade, but it was actually great. The town had kind of reshuffled and many homes that I wanted to shoot but could never get access to have new owners who were more amenable to me shooting. As of the last series, I had captured all of the architecturally famous homes in town so this time it was more about finding great moments that balanced houses, mountains, composition and CARS. This latest series was very focused on cars, and I was able to get access to some crazy cars that I’ve dreamt about since I was a little kid. I’m really excited about sharing all the new work over the coming months.
OJ: What is it about A.I. that fascinates you and why do you think it’s so polarising?
TB: I love A.I. for its ability to create anything you can imagine. It is allowing all the barriers of budget, time, lack of resources to come down and for anyone with an idea to bring it to life. I’m always on the side of bringing things to life. It allows you to mash together ideas and themes that would otherwise be totally unfeasible to explore and to see where it leads you.
I think it is polarising because many artists and creatives see it as a direct threat to their livelihood which is no small fear. Personally, I see it as another tool for artists and creatives to use to explore their ideas. I’m not threatened by it. I’m excited by it.
OJ: Your A.I. work rests in an “obsession with making images from the pages of interiors magazines that never existed.” Why? How do these imagined magazines differ from anything that does exist?
TB: A.I. is presenting us with huge issues where as a society we may not be able to tell what is and isn’t real and with that come incredibly dire consequences. I wanted to create work that plays in this space of questionable authenticity but in a fun and low stakes way. I want to invite people to peer down the rabbit hole with me and to sit with these uncomfortable feelings of distrust of images which is going to be a crucial theme in the coming years. I’m really interested in creating fantastical narratives and myths that seem wild but also totally plausible.
I’m also really interested in the divide between knowledge that is on the internet and knowledge that isn’t. It’s a huge divide. All the time you see “stories” being broken or discovered on TikTok or Instagram that might be from a book that sold 100,000 copies 100 years ago. There is an attitude in popular culture with the younger generations that if it’s not on the internet it doesn’t exist or it didn’t happen. I love the idea that my images will get swept up amongst scans of old magazines and adopted into the history of design even though these places never existed.
OJ: How do you think A.I. will alter the image making landscape? For better and for worse.
TB: A.I. is going to transform everything as we know it. Image making seems to be one of the first industries to feel it, but it will affect everything in the next decade, possibly in awful ways. I’m a big fan of the image making tech I’m using, but I’m also an advocate for a pause in the development of all A.I. until the ethical issues that arise can be understood and managed. With new technology comes new responsibilities that we don’t understand yet.
As far as how image making will be affected, it’s going to mean that the ideas really need to be great and current to encapsulate the times. Trends are going to come and go at lightning speed and the quality of all images we see will probably get drastically better. We’re heading for complete over-saturation of imagery, but I don’t think people’s sense of awe and ability to be impressed, inspired, and amused will go away. It’s just going to change at speed!