Tomas Schelp is a world-renowned photographer. Born in Germany, he moved to London aged 22 to pursue his photography career. In 1999 he won the Grand Prix of the International Advertising Festival in Cannes for the PlayStation photograph, Nipples.
Since, he has returned to Germany after a successful advertising career to undertake more personal photographic projects. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tomas for ArtWeb’s blog. A snippet can be read below.
You got into photography through studying art books and you quickly got into advertising. Now you have gone back to a more ‘art-based’ or portrait-based practice; could you tell us about your moves into and out of advertising?
I never wanted to really do advertising, but it was the only thing that was paying in photography. Most of the editorial work was not paid, so I got into advertising to pay for my personal work or to pay for editorials. Also, it was very easy to get into advertising: you just had to pick up the phone, ring the people and turn up to show your portfolio. Of course there was a lot of competition in advertising but I think the competition is much higher now than it used to be in the past. High-end photography is a very tough market now. It has always been tough, but people were more willing to take risks back in the nineties. It was a mad business, now it is really boring.
Do you feel like you had a lot of freedom within your advertising work at the time?
I took the freedom and I paid the price. Obviously, if you take a commission then you are doing something for a client. However, I thought that I was doing it for myself because I thought it was the best way to do it. A lot of my work comes from the heart: it is very convincing and real. In a lot of ways I was very lucky; the people that worked with me were very relaxed and they gave me a lot of space to do what I wanted. There weren’t as many control freaks around. I think today you get: “we have a layout and you have to stick to the layout because it is what the client has approved.” You do not invent new photos; you not are allowed to invent new photos.
You were very successful, you won awards and a lot of clients wanted your work.
I was successful for a brief moment in time. I had a lot of billboards running in London for major advertising companies, and I worked for some big brands like Evian and Sony PlayStation. I really liked it; it was good fun; the people were cool…and I miss it a little bit.
It is very fashionable at the moment to say ‘I am into analogue photography’, ‘I am an analogue photographer’. What role does fashion play in photography, does it change anything?
I can’t really tell because I am not looking at others’ work at the moment – I am concentrating on my own to make that work instead. I noticed analogue is happening right now. To become a good analogue photographer, you need to really understand photography and you need to understand your subjects as well. You have to be in control. I feel lucky that I grew up with analogue photography because it really taught me how to photograph. The possibilities were not endless, it was slow, you had to really concentrate, and I still benefit from that…