Interview: Leeds-based photographer Tom Martin

By December 8, 2015



Image courtesy of Tom Martin photography

Last week I had the opportunity to interview photographer Tom Martin before his double debut exhibition entitled LIVE. The exhibition will be held at Leeds’ Black Swan and Manchester’s Sandinista, both opening on the 3rd December 2015 and will run up until the 31st January 2016.

Leeds loving lad Tom’s glistening career working with established magazines such as NME, Kerrang! Bizarre and well-known brands such as H&M and Ray Band (just to name a few) happened, in his words, “by accident”.

From a young age, Tom didn’t quite know what career path to go down. But, after deciding that his interests lied in the arts, he decided to try his hand at photography. Thus landing him in the business he is in today, taking opportunities as and when they’ve come. Doing and focusing on what he loves whilst being so down to earth and not taking things too seriously has led me to believe is his secret to success.

So Tom, first let’s get technical. Tell us what camera you’re using at the moment and why did you choose it?

I use Canon SLR’s. I always have done; 5D mk3’s to be specific. I just try to get the best, most up to date cameras I can afford really. I’m not massively into all the ‘gear’ side of photography; I just see my cameras as tools – I don’t get too attached!

What initially got you into photography?

It was a bit of an accident really, I knew I wanted to do something in the creative industries but I didn’t know what that was. I did an art and design course where I got to try photography and I instantly knew that was what I wanted to do. I remember developing my first roll of film and printing in the darkroom and I just knew that it was working and I had found something I could be good at.

Who inspires you? Do you look up to or try to emulate any particular Photographers?

I don’t really have many ‘go to’ inspirations in terms of photographers because I just keep trying to find new stuff all the time. I definitely go through phases; at the moment I can’t stop looking at Tim Flach’s animal photographs endlessly. I think we all try really hard to be original in our style and not emulate but I definitely admire lots of photographers for all sorts of reasons. People whose work always amazes me include Nick Meek, Alex Telfer, Kris Atomic, Shang Ting-Peng, Danny North, Andrew Whitton, Tom Oldham, and then some obvious ones too such as Nick Knight, Rankin. I could go on endlessly and I’m always trying to find new stuff.

What’s your favourite photograph, famous or not, and why?

I hate having my own photograph taken, but there is a photograph of me with my cat Smidge that a friend took a few years ago that I use for everything, which I love, I guess just for personal reasons.

For you what makes a good photograph?

It can be lots of things really. Atmosphere. The originality or subversion of content. Or just the purely aesthetic, great colours and lines. Or a mixture of all of that!

What makes you pick up the camera?

I’m not sure anymore, I just can’t stop. When I was a young student, it felt like taking pictures was a chore sometimes, but now I’m working it seems I just shoot more and more, for work and myself. I just can’t really stop, it is my art I guess, and it’s what is giving direction to my life right now. 

Do you want your photographs to be a part of history someday?

I guess everyone wants to have some sort of legacy; I suppose it’s a nice idea. I’d maybe be more keen on thinking that when I’m gone people I know could see what I’ve been doing and think ‘oh yeah, he got a lot done. We all thought he was messing around but these are alright.’

What does photography mean to you?

Quite a lot at the moment since it’s my work and my interest and my hobby all at the same time! But mainly it’s how it survives – if I don’t shoot I can’t pay the rent!

You’re having two photography exhibitions to showcase your work, one at Leeds’ Black Swan and the other in Manchester at Sandinista. What will you be  showcasing at each venue?

So it’s all one show, across the two cities and it’s just called LIVE. It’s pretty straightforward in that it’s just some of my favourite bits of live music photography from the last 10 years.

Why are you having two exhibitions on the same night at two different venues? 

Leeds and Manchester are both cities that mean a lot to me and I grew up right in the middle of them and now work endlessly in them both it just felt right. Black Swan and Sandinista are great venues and have been really supportive and enthusiastic about the show.

So which exhibition will you be attending?


Do you think being from Leeds comes across in your photography?

I think my approach to shooting music has definitely come out of the DIY scene in Leeds and the surrounding areas. I think a lot of influences on my non-music work have come out of growing up in Sowerby Bridge and Halifax too.

Do you like shooting locally, does Leeds have any importance in your life or not?

Absolutely, I’ve chosen to stay in Leeds rather than move to London or elsewhere for work because this is where I want to be.

I’ve read on your site that you get lot of young photographers asking for advice, what advice would you give somebody just starting out? 

Yeah its tough starting out, I think you have to just work really hard on the quality of your images and ideas, never stop trying to learn or shoot new things, once your photographs are working all the other career stuff will start to happen too.

If you’d never fallen into this career what else do you think you would have loved to have done? 

I would have loved to be a painter. I still would. I still might be depending on how this goes!

So far, what’s been your favourite or most notable job you’ve worked on?

The Live from Jodrell Bank shows have been great, festivals like Kendal Calling and Boomtown fair have always been amazing too. In gigs, I’ve loved some of the work I’ve done with Elbow and Basement Jaxx. Oh and The Cribs Cribsmas at Brudenell. Sorry… that’s more than one! Lots!

Tom’s laid back attitude is a breath of fresh air – he is a true individual who clearly knows his craft and can present his personality as well as those he photographs so naturally that it brings each image to life. To check out his photography and latest portfolios visit