Tom Hegen is one of those photographers’ work whom I instantly fell in love with. I’ve been drooling over his breathtaking series since I discovered his work while browsing Behance for new inspiration. I’m excited to share this Photographer of the Month interview and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to do this. Could you tell us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography?
I first came into contact with photography back in 2010 when I spent a year in New Zealand, doing community service. I started off with classic landscape photography. Today I focus on aerial photography and on telling visual stories of human intervention in natural environments.
You say that you want to ‘show the impact of human presence on earth’ through your photography. What inspired you to take this approach and how do you direct your art in order to do exactly that?
It all started when I visited an exhibition in Munich back in 2015 to the suggested term “Anthropocene”. It’s a proposed term by a board of scientists for a new human area. Scientists around the world are recognizing, that we as humans have such a strong impact on the geological, ecological and atmospheric processes on earth that we became the most impacting force on our planet.
I wanted to access this topic with my own visual language and to start drawing attention to environmental relevant issues to hopefully inspire people and to make a positive difference to our planet.
I also started to question the term “landscape” as known from “landscape photography”. “Land” is actually a word of Germanic origin and the roots of the suffix “-scape”, refers to the verb “shaping”. So landscape in a sense of landscaping refers to an activity that modifies the visible features of an area by man. As a consequence of that, I started seeing landscape photography of documenting places influenced by human rather than landscape photography as showing pure, unspoiled nature.
You mainly publish images in series, what is your reason behind this and do you see any benefits of publishing series rather than individual images?
Working in a series allows me to go deeper into one specific theme. Most of my work is based on a story of the relationship between human and nature. The single image is of great importance to me but working with a set of images let me show different aspects of one scenery. I am convinced that a series allows expressing the art of the photographer much better than a single image, as a series is more personalized.
Can you take us through some of the processes in creating a series; Are they pre-planned projects or more impulsive? How much time is typically involved in developing one series?
A lot of my projects include an enormous amount of research on the subject, the area and the technical requirements. Before getting up in the air, I have quite an exact idea in mind of what I would like to photograph.
My photography projects are very much research driven. I do a lot of research on the subject before taking the actual photos. I am always planning my projects a good time before the actual production. Preparation is really important when it comes to aerial photography. It helps for a safe and successful aerial production.
I basically work with a four-step-method of research, concept, execution and evaluation. It’s hard to tell how much time I need for one series. Sometimes, the idea sits around for a couple of months until I get the opportunity to realize it.
What tools do you use for your aerial photography? Is it mostly drone photography or do you also photograph from aircraft?
I use various techniques to create my work like from small airplanes, helicopters, with drones or photographing from hot air balloons. I have even done projects from the top of a bridge. For me, it doesn’t make a big difference shooting from an airplane, helicopter or working with a drone. I focus on the single image, the series and the concept rather than technique.
You’ve received several awards and held/participated in many; how important has this been for your photography career?
Awards are good for reputation and that your work is getting seen by a professional jury that judges with certain quality criteria. Even when applying for awards, you need to step back from your own work and try to describe it in a very compact way so that everyone understands it. However, I don’t give to much on those awards, they are more like a reference to me.
You also work with design, how has this impacted your photography and vice versa?
I actually studied Communication Design in Germany and the United Kingdom from 2011 – 2017. I guess it really influenced the way I take photos today since my photos are often based on design principles like working with grids, patterns, contrast or composition. I think that in some photos my background as a graphic designer is clearly visible.
Can you tell us a little about your ‘Habitat’ project and what went into creating it?
Habitat is a fine art photo book that deals with human intervention in natural environments. It raises the question of when man’s influence on Earth began and how our civilization has developed since that.
The book HABITAT documents the relationship between man and nature by aerial photography. Five chapters and 95 photographs show the traces of human presence on Earth. Each chapter is supplemented by some representative facts and infographics that illustrate to which extent we claim our environment in order to meet our needs. The photos look pleasing at first sight but reveal an irritation of man-made landscapes at second glance.
The project invites viewers to discover their environment from a new perspective, to comprehend the dimensions of human interventions on our earth’s surface, and, ultimately, to assume responsibility. The book HABITAT was published in November 2018 by the German Kerber Verlag, an internationally oriented art book publisher.
How important is post-processing in your work? What are some crucial steps in your workflow
It’s an important part of my creation. First of all, there is the selection of the right photographs. I often have several hundred images to choose from for a set of around 12 to 18 images. After that, I really care about color development, lights and contrast. But I have some principles: Don’t add what hasn’t been there, don’t remove what has been there (part of technical errors like lens dust).
What’s your best tip to someone who’s just getting started with aerial photography?
Do it with passion or don’t do it at all. There is so much visual content out there that everyone really needs to ask themselves what to add to this visual pool. If you intend to work with passion on whatever project you are planning, you will start creating something meaningful.