Lately, I’ve been collaborating with set and prop stylist Jack Wrafter on some fun personal projects. I get a lot of joy out of teaming up with my friends in Buffalo’s creative community for cool side shoots – be they stylists, artists, dancers, or something else entirely. We decided to combine our unique skills to create these portraits of actress, dancer, and singer Arienne Davidow at Jack’s event space here in Buffalo – Georgette. Arienne is a rising star who has had roles in Spamalot, Nine, Equivocation, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and more.
I had a rare opportunity to photograph architect Robert Traynham Coles this year. Now in his late 80s, Coles had a 50+ year career in the world of architecture, and his innovative and eponymous modernist home and studio in Buffalo’s Hamlin Park is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Robert T. Coles, for lack of a better word, is a legend in Buffalo. An African-American architect who battled racial discrimination through his career and who left an indelible mark on a city already heralded for its historic and preservation-worthy architecture. His visions for the JFK Recreation Center, the Merriweather Library, and myriad other private homes and public buildings that he designed are indicative of his commitment to an “An architecture of social conscience” a goal to create and advocate for public spaces that were more humane, civilized, and inspiring to those that occupied them while still being aspirational examples of mid-century modern architecture that emphasized light and openness. His designs for private home often blur the boundaries between residences and the outdoors.
Coles is also noted for his passion for social advocacy and efforts in the civil rights movement as he fought against housing discrimination, segregation, and the poor state of schools throughout his career. He also put great efforts into attracting more minority students to the study of architecture.
Coles studied under and worked with luminaries of the architecture world like R. Buckminster Fuller, Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, and Carl Koch of Techbuilt. And when he did eventually close Robert Traynham Coles, Architect P.C. in 2012 it was the oldest African-American owned architectural firm in New York.
“I believe that because architects have the ability to see things as they can be, they have a special task, which goes beyond simply designing the physical environment. They must be activists involved in the social and political life of the community. They must address their efforts to change in these areas as well so that people can make the needed adjustments to an increasingly challenging and rich urban world. They must, in their works, build the demonstrative alternative to the way we live today. They must be initiators as well as implementors – leaders, more than followers. They must truly be revolutionaries who see their architecture as a broad movement to enhance the quality of life of urban people.”
Robert T Coles – 2004
I was recently very humbled to be asked to serve as a judge for the 2019 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year contest alongside legendary food and photography figures like Alice Waters and David Loftus. The contest has been promoting the best in food photography and food photojournalism since 2011. It was a tough assignment to be critical of so much amazing imagery from around the globe and I strongly suggest you drop by their site to see the gallery of this year’s winners in a number of categories.
If you asked me how I envision a shoot at a vineyard going, I’d immediately start to describe experiences from past projects I’ve shot — sun-drenched days in lush fields photographing dozens of workers amongst the vines, dressed comfortably for warm weather, and with a cold drink handy to beat the heat (or at least a few glasses of wine after the shoot wraps…) Things that would probably not be a part of that description would include my heaviest coat, hand-warmers, breath hanging in the air, frost on the ground, and about a gallon of hot cocoa to get through the pre-dawn chill.
I was in Hydes Maryland, just outside of Baltimore on the first day of a weeklong assignment with Crowley Webb for M&T Bank. It was early December and we were in town to shoot a variety of stories about businesses and community organizations in the Baltimore area that had found success through their partnerships with M&T. The first shoot of the week was at Boordy Vineyards, and it was going to be cold.
As the state’s oldest winery, the land that comprises Boordy Vineyards has been worked by Rob Deford’s family since the 1700’s. As the president and a chief winemaker of the vineyard, Rob presides over the four generations that currently work and live on this historic land — hand-harvesting grapes from the 46 acres of non-irrigated vines spread across two micro-climates in both the Long Green Valley and the western Blue Ridge Mountains at the family’s South Mountain Vineyard. Boordy vineyard produces approximately four hundred and fifty thousand bottles a year.
Even when I’m photographing wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region or even Southern Ontario in Canada (where we’re no strangers to the ice and snow), we tend to stick to the warmer months for these sorts of projects (or at least that’s when magazines and clients tend to assign them to us) so when my assistant Brandon and I arrived at the winery well before sunrise and found hard ground covered in frost we weren’t quite sure what the rest of the day would have in store for us. I’d never photographed a vineyard in winter — but I’m so happy I have now.
My own experiences with viticulture and vinification had been limited to a handful of past projects, some relatives who were briefly in the business of growing grapes for ice-wine in Canada, a disastrous attempt at home winemaking when someone bought me a kit as a last minute-birthday gift (I am still apologizing to everyone unlucky enough to taste that failed experiment), and an overly enthusiastic if unrefined appreciation for drinking the end product of a vineyard’s efforts (i.e. I like drinking wine a lot), but outside of a few personal favorite bottles I’ve come to appreciate I lean heavily on people like Kelsey from SommMom to help me out when I need to choose bottles to impress someone at a party or give as a gift.
I’ve always had a misled belief that wine was a seasonal thing — tend your grapes in the growing months, harvest, and repeat next year. I now have a more fully realized sense of just how year round the tasks of grape growing and winemaking are. My talks with Rob as we photographed him set me straight on just how much goes into the process of caring for the vines and land during the winter, and how active the process of fermenting, blending, and aging Boordy’s wine is. December now feels like a wholly appropriate and beautiful time to photograph a northeastern winery like Boordy — and seriously? That sunrise was everything I needed to make me love Maryland on a winter morning.
We were working with a fairly large production team with both a full video crew shooting a commercial spot as well as me running a small and agile stills unit that was tasked with telling these stories like I might for an editorial assignment – weaving in and out of the moments between takes of the commercial shoot to build lighting setups on the fly or find quieter more journalistic moments in totally different parts of the farm at any given moment. It was an incredible amount of freedom to have on such a structured shoot, and allowed us to find just the right shots and moments to tell a parallel but different kind of story than the commercial did – one better suited to the print ads and out-of-home uses these images were destined for. I’ve loved working with both Crowley Webb and M&T on this and the other stories in this series like the Meyer Brothers Cider one I shared a few months back – more of which are coming soon!
I made a frantic dash to the store to buy a new pair of rain boots the night before this shoot.
We knew it was going to be a wet morning long before my team and I headed out to Gasport NY for a shoot at New Royal Orchards. The motion crew for this project had been there a few days before to shoot the broadcast component of this campaign, and it rained the whole day on their shoot. In fact, it had been raining heavily for the better part of a week (or maybe it was weeks? Hello, Western New York in the autumn!) before our pre-dawn arrival at the orchard to photograph Garett Mayer in what we thought was going to be a torrential downpour. We were suited up in new boots, rain jackets, and equipped with enough umbrellas, covers, and sandbags to keep the gear dry and in one place (because who wants to chase runaway umbrellas on a windy day?) We were ready for anything from a flood to windstorm…
…But what we got was a light drizzle and a gorgeous sunrise; however, the boots still helped with our early morning trek through the mud as we carted gear out to those perfect rows of apple trees that we had scouted at New Royal. If you can’t tell, I come from a long line of “I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it” types — here’s to being passionately in to over-preparation!
In the last few months of 2018 we spent several weeks working with the kick-ass team at Crowley Webb on a series of print ads for M&T Bank to accompany the commercials that were being shot by the aforementioned (and also kick-ass) film crew — you can see their spot here. We created portraits in Buffalo NY, Harrisburg PA, and Baltimore MD, that focused on successful businesses and community organizations that had strong relationships with the bank — and worked at locations that ranged from rain-soaked orchards, to funky ice cream parlors, to an NFL playing field. Some were chosen for their growth & success, some for the quirky appeal of their business, and others for their legacy & longevity in their communities.
Garett Mayer is the 5th generation owner of a cider mill and growing beverage business that’s over 165 years old. In fact, it’s one of the oldest family-owned businesses in all of New York State, and their relationship with M&T has lasted for over 90 years.
How’s that for longevity?
A trip to the Mayer Brothers store for fresh hot cider and donuts is a REQUIRED fall activity in Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure that autumn would actually get put on hold and Halloween delayed if the mill and store failed to open — you have to go at least once (the apple is our state fruit for a reason).
And as important tradition a visit to Mayer Brothers is for many, it’s easy to lose sight of the enormous amount of work that goes into products like cider — from planting, cultivation, and harvest to pressing & bottling. That’s why it’s so endearing to experience Garett’s connection with and deep reverence for the farmers that grow apples for Mayer Brothers in person. As we spoke with him during the shoot and in between setups he told the crew and I what qualities he’s looking for in the apples they press into cider, the relationship that he has with the orchards, how he plans to grow the business, and about his family history in the area — going back to the beginning when his great-great-grandfather bought the cider mill to serve as a place that farmers and families could bring their apple harvests to be pressed.
The final ads are below, and I’ll be sharing even more stories of incredible businesses from this campaign in the coming months. This was one of the most fulfilling and fun projects for me to work on last year because the subject matter is so close to what I am interested in as a photographer (and it doesn’t hurt that the team from the agency and the client have been incredible to work with!). I’ve spent so much time documenting the journeys, struggles, and successes of unique entrepreneurs, makers, and doers in Buffalo — and now I’ve been given the opportunity to help tell those stories on a much bigger stage and in other cities across America through this project. I can’t wait to share more with you.
Thrilled to announce today that four of my portraits were named as finalists in the 2018 One Eyeland Photography Awards in the Professional Portraits — People category. My images of Michael Polczkalski, Edreys Wajed, Philip Brunner, and one of my War of 1812 Reenactor portraits were all recognized this year.
This year marks the start of a new collaboration between myself and Buffalo’s amazing Irish Classical Theatre Company. In the coming months I’ll be working with the cast and crew to create a series of character portraits of the company’s players in their roles from theatre’s seasonal productions. This first set of portraits are of actor David Lundy in his role as Seán Dóta in the play Sive by John B. Keane (which just closed to great reviews). Up next in their production schedule is Sense & Sensibility with Frost/Nixon, Hamlet, and Entertaining Mr. Sloane to follow throughout 2019.
Over the summer I returned to Youngstown NY (where I lived when I was a teenager who had just moved to the United States from Canada) to photograph the reenactors and historical interpreters of Old Fort Niagara. The fort, first built in the 1600’s, played roles in a number of conflicts such as the Seven Years War The American Revolution, and the War of 1812. Every summer there would be an influx of reenactors who would descend on Youngstown for various encampments and events at the Fort, spilling out from the usually contained historical bubble of the Fort itself into the streets of the town. People in period dress would cram restaurants, and traffic would slow as drives watched the fife and drum corps march by — giving a feeling both anachronistic and otherworldly that stuck with me long after I moved away.
I’ve loved traveling to New Mexico the past few summers to photograph the musicians, artists, and characters of Santa Fe and Albuquerque — its a world apart from the cold and snow people so often associate with Buffalo. The landscape itself is living art.
Garry Blackchild is a folk musician I met first in Albuquerque, and upon meeting him I immediately felt that I was in the presence of a real-deal wandering performer and road tested musician. I photographed Garry at the Albuquerque Rail Yards on a long, hot, and dirty shoot day that thankfully ended with one of the craziest desert storms I’ve ever seen to wash away the grime and sweat. I was also lucky enough to hear Garry perform a few impromptu songs as he wandered the interior of the rail yards with his guitar during the shoot. Check out some of Garry’s music here (this live video also features Freddy Lopez, another new Mexico performer I’ve had the pleasure of photographing on a past trip to Santa Fe)
Infamous in both photography circles and bars across the country, Aaron Ingrao is on a whiskey-soaked multi-year journey across the country to document the lives and passions of Americas hardest working bartenders (and to squeeze in some quality mountain biking along the way). I shot this for a liquor.com story about Aaron’s trip in his vintage trailer along with his dog Luke (which he claims was named after me) to tell the story of the America’s craft cocktail revival and the bartenders behind it as part of his project Keepers of The Craft. Aaron was briefly home in Buffalo for a visit that coincided with the story, so we were able to meet up at Ballyhoo — one of our favorite local bars, to shoot these these portraits.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened after the shoot, but I think it had something to do with a bottle of Four Roses.
Did you know that my team and I have a public Spotify playlist where we post some of the best tracks we’ve been listening to in the studio and on road trips? Usually curated by me, but sometimes by Cassandra Lyons, Brandon Watson, or the occasional special guest! We’re a music driven group and big on the sense of atmosphere it can create for shoots and office hours in the studio. Usually updated weekly but there can be the occasional delay on extremely busy weeks/months.
Right after my return from an incredible trip New Mexico this summer I hopped right in the truck with my crew to head to Boston MA to shoot this assignment for M&T Bank as part of a series of client success stories. I love working with the creative team from Crowley Webb, the agency behind this project. The subject is David DiAntonio — the CEO of McCue Corporation, a company that makes industrial barriers and safety barricades. Always great to see my work in use!
I was immensely proud when former Buffalo Sabres Captain and Western New York Native Brian Gionta was named as the captain of the 2018 US Olympic Hockey Team. A veteran of teams like the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Sabres, and Bruins, Brian actually turned down additional NHL offers as his tenure with the Sabres came to an end in order to play alongside Team USA in South Korea – a long time dream of his. I was even more excited to get to create some portraits of him after he was announced as team captain for a brief back page interview piece with him for Sports Illustrated.
Tom’s second solo episode while I was back home in Buffalo with Alistair Huxley Copping — the newest addition to my family!
In this episode Tom chats with Lynn Goldsmith about her images of figures in entertainment, sports stars, film, literature, and “the ordinary man on the street”. Her images appear in numerous collections: The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, The Museum of Modern Art, The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Museum Folkwang, The Polaroid Collection, The Kodak Collection, etc. Her work over the past 50 years in the editorial world has appeared on and between the covers of Life, Newsweek, Time, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, National Geographic Traveler, Sports Illustrated, People, Elle, Interview, The New Yorker, etc.
Middlebury Magazine sent me to Cleveland OH for a cover story on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ GM Koby Altman back in March. We got to spend the better part of a day with Koby shooting portraits and documenting what a game day is like for him leading up to tip-off as he and the Cavs geared up to Face the Milwaukee Bucks that night.
You can read the full story over at Middlebury Magazine.
A quick look at my newest portfolio.
It took a while, but I finally got my friend David Butler back in front of my camera after all these years.
Dave is a production designer, art director, and set dresser for feature productions like Marshall, The First Purge, TMNT 2, The True Adventures of Wolf Boy, Emelie, Sharknado 2, and After the Sun Fell – And that doesn’t even begin to touch on his decades of work in theatre and television.
We first met back when I was the studio manager at the wonderfully infamous production space in Buffalo, NY that David would do prop and set work for, and I consider myself unbelievably lucky to still be collaborating with him for the past ten years or so. He has built almost every set piece in my studio and he has been a true guide in helping me to turn my ideas into the finished images I share with you.
Tom flies solo in this episode as I was back home in Buffalo with my family in the final days before my wife’s due date!
Ron Haviv is an Emmy nominated, award-winning photojournalist and co-founder of the VII Photo Agency, dedicated to documenting conflict and raising awareness about human rights issues around the globe. Tom and Ron discussing what Haviv has learned while covering more than twenty-five conflicts in over one hundred countries. Ron has produced an unflinching record of the injustices of war and his photography has had singular impact. His work in the Balkans, which spanned over a decade of conflict, was used as evidence to indict and convict war criminals at the international tribunal in The Hague. President George H.W. Bush cited Haviv’s chilling photographs documenting paramilitary violence in Panama as one of the reasons for the 1989 American intervention.Haviv’s work has been featured in numerous museums and galleries, including the Louvre, the United Nations, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Haviv’s photographs are in the collections at The Houston Museum of Fine Arts and George Eastman House amongst others as well as numerous private collections.
Big thanks to Adorama and The Photo Bridgade for their continued support!
A group shot with the team at Angelica Tea Room.
One of my favorite places to drink in Buffalo — with unforgettable beverages and an amazing crew behind the bar! Occupying the same space as the former Club Diablo (a goth/metal bar and a dearly departed former haunt of mine) The Angelica Tea Room is a much brighter and more refined space than the former occupant — instead of beer, shots, and thrash the focus has shifted to a mellower mood and features a collection of classic cocktails inspired by the exodus of master bartenders to foreign lands during America’s prohibition and the exotic new tastes they discovered and incorporated into the American cocktail tradition upon their return. ⠀