Surfertomate: Read Between the Lines
Interview with Andrew Bartholomew aka @surfistatomato by Leisa D.
L: Leisa A: Andrew
L: Hi Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with us. Firstly, can you give us a hint as to the origin of your username on IG & how you pronounce it @surfistatomato? I always pronounce it as “surf is tomato” even though I know that’s not correct
A: I started out on IG simply as ‘surfertomato’……. It was a name I’ve used for various online things over the years and is comprised of an old business name, (Tomato Tomato Graphic Design) and ….. I’d like to be a really good surfer… but sadly aren’t I changed it to the Portuguese version of the two words (Surfista-tomate) in an attempt to make it a little more interesting …. I’m not sure it achieved that purpose, but it sure confused people! I then made one more change to bring it back to Tomato because no one quite knew what to do with Tomate! So it’s pronounced Surfista-Tomato. I’m not saying I’m happy with it yet!
L: Well I wasn’t too far off the mark – I like it , don’t change it …. Now I’ve been following you on IG for quite some time and I’m always delighted in the images you present to us, it’s always a treat to see what comes up on your stream with each post as it’s a mixture of beach scenes / family moments / architecture and the everyday obscurities of your surroundings! What is it that makes you first get your phone out and click a particular scene?
A: Sometimes for fun or relaxation I will go an intentional walk or bike ride – exploring a new part of the city or hoping to stumble upon a visually stunning scene. But often it’s just seeing something beautiful in everyday life and quickly pulling my phone out to capture it. I like to shoot scenes that I find inspiring or move me in someway. As a graphic artist I do see things quite graphically so I always notice interesting shapes, angles or light within existing structures or nature. I always find being at the beach inspiring, so you can always tell when I’ve been there!
L: Being at the beach has the same effects on me too!! So if you had to, what style category would you class your IG stream as?
A: Some people say I just shoot buildings, but it’s more than that. It’s kind of hard to define it down to one category …….. Abstract architecture would describe most of my work, but as I said above, being at the beach really makes me come alive!
L: I just think, whatever you shoot goes automatically in the ‘awesome’ category Now for some that don’t already know, you are a working photographer/videographer here in Australia, based in Brisbane, can you tells us a little about your professional works?
A: I’m actually a graphic artist / art director, but these days my wife (@haileybe) and I run a film/photography production company called ‘You Can’t Be Serious’. We are doing some very exciting work at the moment, working on TV commercials and corporate video/photography. We have a pretty unique style and approach that emphasises colour, vibrancy and positivity. I think people are really relating to that. We’ve also just published a kids book ‘Ruby Who?’ which goes along with a short film of the same name that we made a few years ago (www.rubywho.com). It’s all about helping kids to feel good about themselves and find their identity in who they are, not what they have. We’re also in the process of having a book published by Penguin, USA, comprising 365 stories of how an attitude of gratefulness had made a difference to people’s lives (365grateful.com). So we have a few things on at the moment!
L: Wow, just a few things alright, so clever and accomplished the pair of you, well done. We see on IG that you use your phone for all your postings, even though you would have a million pics to choose from your slr sessions, can you tell us what it is that you love about mobile photography and only choose to post using your phone?
A: I’m sure it’s been said a thousand times over, but there’s nothing like the immediacy of pulling an iPhone out of your pocket and quickly snapping something amazing. It means that even when you don’t go out intentionally to take photos, you’re never at a loss because you’ve almost always got your phone in your pocket! I think it’s a great equiliser as well – meaning you don’t have to be a professional photographer to be a part of what is essentially a photographic community.
L: So very true and I especially like the last bit, I went on a little tour through your stream over the weekend and I noticed your appreciation for clean lines, in particular your architectural pieces! Can you elaborate a little on how you go about creating these images? Is all the preparation done before you shoot them (ie: the lines we see are the lines you shot) or do you accentuate them further during the editing process?
A: Yes! I love stripping an image back to the absolute essentials. I love simple strong images where there’s not a lot of elements competing for your attention, or cluttering up the layout. I love strong repeating shapes, symmetry, curves and clean lines. Sometimes, these images just jump out at you and you just have to hold your phone up and BAM, a masterpiece! But sometimes you have to look between the lines, so to speak, and the strength of the image only becomes apparent after clever cropping. And there’s other times when an amazing image emerges from what seemed like a thoroughly ordinary picture, taking me completely by surprise!
L: Yes, your stream definitely provides those lovely surprises often, so please share some of your favourite IG images with us:
I’ve chosen three images that represent some of the main ways I love to use Instagram. This beach shot above was just one of those perfect moments where everything comes into alignment. The sunset, the hazy horizion, the shining sand and of course the surfer we’d just walked past contemplating the waves. His profile was so perfect my hand was shaking with excitement as I turned around after a respectful distance and snapped the shot. For editing I just tightened up the contrast and detail a little then applied Valencia in IG to give it a nice even tone.
This is one of my all time favourite IG shots, even though I was pretty new to IG when I took it. We were in Chennai (Madras), India and I was waiting for the girls to finish in one of the many shops we were visiting. I took a little a stroll down an alleyway and came across this absolutely beautifully framed window. The detail is elaborate but not overpowering and the gorgeous ochre colour and texture of the wall represent some of the things that I love about India. Also it framed up really well as a square. I don’t think I had to do much to this to edit it as it was pretty perfect straight away. Great memories.
This third picture is one where I deliberately went out of my way to capture a shot for IG. We kind of stumbled on the Walt Disney Music Hall in downtown LA by accident on our way home from shopping at an amazing Mexican market. I had seen pictures of it before and was a big fan of architect Frank Gehry. But I hadn’t thought I’d get time to see it for myself on this trip. As soon as I saw it after taking a wrong turn, I stopped in a bus stop, left the family in the car and sprinted across the road with my phone to try to take it all in. I fell in love with the curves and reflections and detail – it looks different from every angle! I could have stayed there for hours trying to do it justice, but was pretty happy with this shot. It captures some of the overlapping and intersecting shapes without being too cluttered. As always, I love pictures with a perfect blue sky background and I was very lucky on this particular day! I turned and cropped the image in Snapseed and then applied Brannan filter in IG.
L: All stunning images Andrew but of course if I had to choose a fav, it would be the surfer Big congrats on your upcoming IG anniversary – I read somewhere that you were hesitant in joining Instagram intitally, but once you decided to join, you fell in love with it, what is it do you think that makes IG so compelling and pleasurable?
A: It really is the only social media I enjoy. It encourages creativity and community. I feel like I’ve met some really amazing people that I never would have met were it not for IG. You find all these people who get excited about the same things you do and you can encourage and help each other. I love to see what they’re up to – what they’ve seen – things they’re going through even. One day early on in my IG life I mentioned that I was very sad about something that had just happened. Before long I had all these people I didn’t really know sympathising with me, and one friend in Paris simply said ‘whatever you’re going through, I’m with you friend’. It really touched me and I really believe he meant it. It meant a lot to me.
L: Amen my friend, there is a deep personal connection to these people that could never be replaced….. Having said that, we all have particular IGers works that we admire, are there any specific streams that you most enjoy and inspire you?
A: Oh yes, definitely. After I’d been on IG a little while I stumbled on the feed of Sebastian Weiss aka @le_blanc. His stream, based in Hamburg, Germany amazed me. It was so consistent and powerful. I could stare at his images for hours. A lot of people don’t get it and write comments like “what is it?” or “what’s so great about that’, but I really connected with it and he inspired a lot of the pictures I take. The day he followed me back I knew I was doing ok! Similar to Sebastian is Philip Khoury in Athens @philipkhoury. I’m also a big fan of Japanese archtecture and one of my all time favourites is @monjiro9. His quirky and colourful detail always makes me smile. Others who definitely inspired me early on are @pukis and @nicia812, but these two lovely ladies are sadly taking an extended break from IG!
L: It is indeed a great big beautiful world we live in when we share and see it through other people’s eyes. Finally Andrew, what key advice would you give someone who is just starting out in mobile photography?
A: Find others who share similar photographic passions as you and interact with them. Find out what type of picture quickens your pulse when you look at it, or evokes an emotion. If it’s cats, great! Be the best cat photographer on IG (Warning: you have lost of competition!) If it’s architecture, take some time to walk around interesting buildings seeing the way the light strikes it at different times of the day, or details you would have otherwise overlooked. Once you start taking pictures you’ll see photo opportunities wherever you go! Hopefully your family won’t mind you stopping the car unexpectedly so you can run across the road to ‘take a quick look at something’ !
L: Hahahaa I think ALL of OUR families could spill some colourful beans about our photo taking antics! But seriously, thank you so much Andrew, for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a chat with us. Your creativity and generosity within the mobile photography community is very much appreciated.