I visited Tom Vooght’s ‘Wild Wonders of Norway’ exhibition when he brought it to the Centrespace Gallery, Bristol, in May. Tom’s been on my periphery for many years – our dads both studied Theology at Oxford, and while my dad went on to become a social worker as Tom’s dad ascended through the church, they’ve remained close friend. Our mums are creative forces in their own rights, and, along with our dads, have instilled in each of us a passion for the world’s wild places.
I was blown away by the splendour of Tom’s Norway photographs, collected over a series of years. But before asking about these, I wanted to know what got him started along the route to becoming a photographer.
“When I was a child, both my parents worked full time, so I used to get farmed out to one of three older ladies, who looked after me,” Tom says. “All three, Dawsie, Jummy (Jilly Jennings) and Beatrice, have had a significant influence upon my life’s passions. Dawsie (Mrs Dawson) introduced me to photography, wildlife, and cooking. I used to love going to her house, as I would always learn something new. She’d lived in Kenya for most of her life, and had the most amazing pictures, and photographs, of African fauna. I learnt a lot.”
He adds: “Beatrice was 6ft tall, with short hair, and a glass eye. She had been an architect, and was a keen gardener with the best water garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in. She fostered creativity, and told me great stories of how, she had visited Mexico on her own in the 1930s, which would have been a brave move for a young man at that time, but unheard of for a woman then. She had cut her hair short, and as she was tall, had worn bandages to change her figure.”
Last, but by no means least, he says, was Jummy. “Jummy had grandchildren about my age, so when they were staying, I would go and stay too, even though she was our next door neighbour. We used to play in Box Woods (between Minchinhampton and Nailsworth), and have fun.”
When Tom was eight or nine years old, his parents gave him their old Kodak Instamatic camera, “a good 35mm film camera to learn on.” From then, Tom’s had a variety of different cameras, and has always taken photographs throughout a 20-year career in telecoms.
About five years ago, Tom decided to make the move from keen amateur to pro. “I’d managed to get better shots than several pro photographers at weddings, and had lots of encouragement from friends. So I tried it.” At the end of 2014, Tom felt ready to go full time. “I ditched telecoms in favour of a better, if somewhat financially poorer, life.”
Tom has an enduring fascination with Norway’s dramatic vistas, its culture and its people. “Northern Norway has so much to offer – it’s not just fjords, and aurora,” The people are warm, friendly, and helpful. The air is crystal clear, light pollution is minimal, and the colours of the skies, day and night, are phenomenal.”
He’s so keen on the Arctic that he’s also set up travel company Phor to arrange for you to go there too, either on holiday, or a photography trip with tuition, along with insights on the best places.
Tom’s first trip to Norway was the opportunity to visit a country “which I had dreamt of as a child fed on Norse and Viking myths and legends.”
Among Tom’s images are several that capture the Norwegian pink hour.
“They call it Rosatimen,” he says. “The closer you get to the poles, the shallower the angle of the sun is, so the light in the Arctic will have always travelled through more of the earth’s atmosphere than light seen closer to the equator. As light travels through the atmosphere, more of the blue, and green, wavelengths are scattered. This leaves more red. When the days are relatively short, the sunset is really stretched into hours. Rosatimen starts as the sun has almost set, and will last until blåtimen (the blue time) begins and it gradually gets dark.”
Tom explains that he carries out much of his work in an effort “to remove an image from my imagination. Some images are the result of having dreams, and wanting to realise the shots. Once taken, I can start to work out how to do the next one. Other shots are of landscapes which I want other people to see how I saw them. This isn’t always what my eyes are telling me, but what my brain suggests could be possible. It’s quite hard to explain!” He adds: “I also like to document as an impartial onlooker, be that people, or wildlife. Then the last factor is when I have to take shots to record my arty moments.”
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