Loose the ego at the door! Canadian photographer Tommy Ton knows this better than anyone. He’s anything but egocentric. The talented photographer is making waves documenting street style at fashion-centric cities across the globe. His photographs capture the crème de la crème of street style and yet, Tommy is humble and down to earth. His low-key demeanor is reflected in the casual elegance of his photographic body of work. THE GROUND got a rare opportunity to sit down with Tommy and learn about his creative process.
You photographed the most iconic fashion editors in the world, from Anna to Carine. Have you ever been photographed as a fashion icon yourself?
Oh gosh, never. Not even now. It’s a silly idea to think someone wants to take a photo of me. I still get weirded out if someone asks to have a photo taken with me.
How did you get into photography? How did it all begin for you?
I dabbled in it when I was in high school and had a slight interest in it but didn’t think of pursuing it. I only really pursued it as an excuse to go to shows and shoot outside of them. I think when I started seeing how much there was to document, that’s when I became addicted to the idea of shooting and that’s when I really pursued photography. I think of myself as a phony because I don’t have a clue about photography but my pictures stem from my passion for fashion.
In a way, you could be seen as one of the founders of the street-style movement. What do you think of the people who follow your path?
Oh, I don’t think I launched the street-style movement. I may have helped popularize the moment, but I was part of something amazing that was happening in fashion as it caught up with the digital era. Blogging and social media started becoming in sync with fashion.
Lately, fashion editors have started becoming celebrities. Internet is certainly a part of it. Do you think by shooting them you contributed to their fame? What do you think of this sudden fame?
I don’t think I’m solely responsible for anyone’s fame. I think it’s a culmination of so many blogs and photographers featuring these women and men. People tell me about the influence my site has, but I don’t think of it that way. I think this “fame” is great for a number of young, emerging talents in the industry because we’re in a different age where these young stylists, models, and editors have an opportunity to use their image in a positive way to elevate their status and careers.
Do you plan to shoot a whole fashion editorial story one day? Have you already received some proposals from magazines?
I’ve done several, mostly for Vogue Nippon. I’ve shot five so far, so I’m very lucky.
What pushes you to photograph someone? Is it their name? Their style?
It really just comes from a gut instinct. You just know when you see someone, there’s some quality about them that urges you to take their photo. I’ve learned from the past not to be so analytical.
To make a beautiful photograph, I believe beautiful clothes are required. Have you ever felt challenged by what editors wear?
Of course, but if you don’t like what someone is wearing entirely, you scan and look for a detail of the outfit. You just have to always keep your eyes open and also keep an open mind and let your taste levels grow as well.
You photograph men as well. Are men easier to shoot than women? What attracts your lens in a man?
Fashion for men is quite narrow. I think they’re equally as challenging but I really do love photographing men now just because it’s more of a challenge since you have to really scan for details. I love how sartorially creative men can be. It’s just fun seeing the little details from the monogram on a cuff to the frayed edge of a neck scarf.
You have the knack for capturing the most amazing shoes during fashion weeks. What do you feel will be the pair of shoes on everyone’s feet next spring?
The obvious answer would be the Prada flame heels but then I have a feeling you’ll be seeing a lot of New Balance sneakers on everyone.
You have seen and photographed a myriad of well-dressed people throughout the years. Could you list your Top Ten?
Marina Munoz, Haider Ackermann, Hanne Gaby Odiele, Emmanuelle Alt, Aurora Sansone, Nickelson Wooster, Robert Rabensteiner, Anna Dello Russo, Taylor Tomasi Hill, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Technology is developing insanely quickly. When it comes to your work as a photographer, do you think there will be a new way for you to showcase your work? How do you adapt yourself?
I find it hard to keep up. I’m a late bloomer when it comes to technology. I just like to focus on the actual photos I take and keep the way they’re showcased in the simplest format.
How would you like to showcase your work in the future? A book? An exhibition? Magazines?
Luckily, I’ve been able to partner with some retailers and exhibit my work through some small exhibitions, but ideally, I’d like to put together a book, but not anytime soon. I’ve had a book offer, but I declined because I’d like my book to be a documentation of how rapidly street style has changed.
Are there other technologies that you currently use as supplement to your camera?
I always have my iPod Nano Touch on me. I always need my music to keep me distracted while shooting. It keeps me focused and drowns out all the noise and chaos.
How do you manage your schedule during Fashion Weeks? Do you plan your schedule according to brands?
I try to go to as many shows as possible, but then you have to be strategic about who will go to what show. So usually, I’ll go to all the big shows or at least try to make it for both exits and arrivals. There’s always some shows that some of the other street style photographers don’t know about, so I always keep quiet if I know someone great will be there.
Is running to each show on time to shoot the right people stressful?
Absolutely, but it’s all part of the rush and fun of fashion weeks. It’s all in good fun.
I saw you outside the Azzedine Alaïa show last summer. Behind the mob of photographers, you seemed very calm, perhaps knowing that you would have the photo you wanted. How do you manage to keep your calm in such an environment?
I may look like I’m keeping my cool, but I’m actually probably really stressed and frustrated. It’s harder to remain calm in difficult locations, when the weather conditions are harsh, with more and more photographers popping up, but you just have to keep yourself grounded and remind yourself why you love doing this type of work and that it’s truly a pleasure. I try to have fun with it, especially with my colleagues chasing these subjects and dodging traffic.
Today, in fashion there are many editors, magazines, photographers, bloggers, and brands. What inspires you to move forward? I think the most inspiring thing that keeps me going is looking forward to be in the moment of all the excitement at the shows. It’s really the ultimate high, and I just love being thrown into all that chaos. The adrenaline rush is what you feed on.
THE GROUND ISSUE #2