Tuesday 16 February meeting: Tommy Hatwell Around the World and Back Again

Tommy Hatwell Around the World and Back Again


Tommy split his talk into two halves. The first half was about his journey into photography which began, by chance, capturing a spectacular shot of an orca predating a pseudorca (false killer whale) and her pup in New Zealand. This got him featured in the national press of New Zealand and on Sky TV, not only for the stunning shot but for being the first person to ever record such a kill.


As a keen kayaker Tommy has travelled extensively, working for rafting companies in Zambia, Morocco and Uganda as a videographer. His job was to record people on adventure holidays kayaking down rapids. He also worked on a yacht in Croatia. But it was while working in New Zealand on a whale and dolphin sightseeing cruise boat that his interest in still photography took hold. He did a four-hour course in photography in New Zealand which began his quest to learn more about photography.


He travelled to Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Dartmoor, taking photos mainly of people. At first he did not take their names but slowly he started to get interested in their stories. Then in 2014 he enrolled on a three-year Commercial Photography Degree course at Plymouth University. He had a very good summary of the relationship between students and tutors: the first year you listen to them, the second year you question them, the third year you ignore them.


While studying he went on trips to Morocco and India where he began to develop his photography to a have more emphasis on his subject, and the subject becoming part of the process. This would be further developed with his final project at college. Rather than a commercial company as the client Tommy chose a charity, the Soul Foundation, which worked in rural Uganda, a place where Tommy had done his kayaking a few years ago.


The second half of Tommy’s talk focussed on his final year project in Uganda. Here he really homed in on building the relationship with his subject matter. From Monday to Friday he was visiting the Soul Foundation’s project and documenting them, the rest of the time he was building close relations with the people of the small town. A boy, David, he had photographed back in the time he was kayaking in Uganda became his assistant who helped holding the flashlight, helped with logistics and translation. Tommy lived in the house of the mother of one of David’s friends.


Tommy put into practice everything he had learnt about photography and tried out different things. One shot he showed was of a lone boy in a school at night, at the side you can just see two younger children looking in. The image was very reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting. Tommy had David holding the light which lit the schoolboy in one shot and took a second shot with out David and blended the two images. He thought it worked well and asked other boys to pose in the school and used the same set up and multiple shots. The resultant image, Night School,  was shown at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017. Not bad for a third-year student.


Tommy has further developed his relationship with the people of the area and set up initiative to help them which can be found on his website https://www.thinkpeoplethinkstory.com/


The American photojournalist Eve Arnold said “If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.” Tommy showed us that he certainly matched that description.

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Oxford Photographic Society