Northern Irish photographer Tony Moore has had a keen eye for landscapes and a fascination with natural light from as far back as he can remember. Recently we spoke with him about his passion for his profession.
What are your own roots?
I was born and reared in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Aside from a few spells in London I have spent the most of my life here. Both of my parents, and their parents all are from here in Ireland also, so I guess I am full Irish.
When and why did you first become interested in photography?
When I was younger, I loved art, mainly drawing, in pencil and charcoal. I was really into landscapes and streetscapes but never pursued this love as a line of work – I studied to become a plumber and worked hard to build a successful plumbing business which progressed well, and I employed other staff. It wasn’t until 12 years ago when my life changed direction that I started upon my photography path. I had always wanted to become a photographer, so I closed my plumbing and heating business. My Fellowship statement of intent summed it up… I was at the top of my mountain and then found myself at the bottom of that mountain – when I was ready to climb again, I climbed a very different mountain path. Life-changing events can make us re-evaluate and move forward in a different direction. I phased out the plumbing business, relocated and threw myself into learning photography.
Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
Partly. Of course, I do it for the love of it, but I also have to pay the bills so there is a dual motivation there. I could also add that when I decided to get into this, if I was going to bother at all, that I would try to push the existing boundaries within the industry, and I still do so in my work today. I didn’t enter into the Fine Art Photography business to enter competitions, however given that I had gained 2 fellowships with 2 photographic societies, I entered my latest commissions to their competitions, and they kept winning awards. It was nice to see my efforts being recognised and help obtain international recognition.
How has your work evolved over the years?
At the beginning I started out mainly creating fine art landscapes however, I gradually moved into creating wall art for commercial premises and homes. Through sheer trial and error over a long period of time, I have managed to create a technique to replicate visually (photographically) what would have normally taken a very elaborate and expensive lighting set up to achieve, but with zero disruption to the street/building/premises or its occupants. This is mostly done in the digital darkroom so to speak, but also during capture I sometimes use a technique called ‘lightpainting’ or ‘light sculpting’ in order to bring out more dimension in the image. After first capturing the scene on-site, starting at dusk through to dark with a succession of incremental photographic exposures, capturing both the natural and artificial light then ‘blending’ them together after in post process. I continually strive to see if my method can be improved upon with each project.
What are the challenges of the vocation?
Justifying prices! Particularly in what I do, I’m not saying I’m any better than anyone else, but with the volume of time and effort my work takes, it can be difficult to justify the price to those who don’t understand what it is that I actually do to achieve that unique look. It would be easy to go bankrupt if you make the most excellent work, but don’t work out your prices to enable you to earn a living. Also, keeping ahead of your game, continually learning and improving on techniques can be an ongoing challenge, every day is a school day!
What are the rewards?
The freedom to create what is in my mind for the commissioned subject and print it on a large format, with today’s technology allowing the opportunity to do that in a bigger, grander and more complex way in my 5ft x 2ft pictures. When you see my images on the internet you are viewing a mere thumbnail of the finished product, when they are displayed on a large format every little detail and texture that I have worked on is there to see. Just seeing my finished commissioned work permanently on a wall in a public space showing every little detail is very much rewarding.
What have been some career highlights to date?
Aside from some notable commissions and winning approximately eighty awards to date in the photographic industry, including the Master Photographers Association’s “UK Master Photographer of the year 2018” at their Birmingham awards night, I have gained two Fellowships, one with the Societies of Photographers (FSICIP), and the other with the Master Photographers Association (FMPA). Also, winning “Advertising and Commercial Photographer of the Year” on three occasions with the Societies of Photographers at their London awards night in 2016,2017 and 2020 has been a great highlight. Both “Commercial Photographer of the Year 2018” and “Advertising Photographer of the Year 2018” with the MPA and winning both categories again in 2019, two Judges choice awards (SWPP), more than 50 Gold Awards and my adjudicating in the 2019 Societies of Photographers 20×16 print competition finals in London are just among some of my career highlights to date.
Is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
A bit of both really given that each image, after being captured goes through a complicated digital darkroom process, rather like painting, and this takes quite a few hours to complete. I would also recon the project several times beforehand, taking notes, seeing how the lights fall on the subject and spend time working out the most interesting way to display the final piece as well as figuring out a narrative to tell a story in the scene.
What makes your work unique?
I suppose it’s the style I strive to bring out, with emphasis in texture, light and three dimensionality. A sort of realism (or hyper realism) and depth. I like to give the effect that you are looking through a window and that you could almost throw a ball into through the scene, this has gained my work recognition both nationally and internationally.
What makes a good photo?
Many things make up a good photo, proper exposure, good composition, interesting lighting, subject and narrative to mention a few. Personally, I think something that grabs your attention and holds it in this day and age is what truly makes a good photo, as the world is awash with so much imagery.
What is it about the Northern Irish landscape that is so inspiring?
Personally, where I live in west Tyrone, sure it’s nice, but we don’t have much dramatic scenery. However, when the right light conditions hit, there are so many vistas that come alive and are worth capturing. I have always preferred taking intimate landscapes in smaller areas with more narrative in the scene, and sometimes even ‘lightpainting’ them using slow shutter speeds like in my nigh time waterfall images.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the visual arts in Northern Ireland and how can it be improved?
To be honest, I am not too aware of what is happening out there with other artists however, I do know we are awash with talent here but being an economic backwater, and due to recent events, it is much harder for both established and upcoming artists to move up the ladder. Much more should be done to help, promote and support the arts here as really it reflects the soul of any society.
What’s on your creative agenda for the rest of 2021?
I have more interesting commissions coming up locally, I have recently finished imagery for our local Railway Transport Authority of the newly refurbished Northwest Transport hub in Derry City and I have a commission in the pipeline for a recently completed project in a well-known Belfast establishment. I also have a few of my own projects that I hope to find the time to get started on and look forward to, perhaps try to push the boundaries some more.