Sometimes resembling abstract paintings, other times painting a postcard-perfect scene of seaside leisure, Tommy Clarke’s photography is often a bird’s-eye view snapped while dangling out the side of a helicopter. Based in London, Tommy has taken photographs from helicopters and light planes around the world — from San Francisco to Mexico, Western Australia to Iceland. His resulting images are striking pieces of art, highlighting the textures, patterns and various hues of the scenes below him. 

Starting his photography career in fashion — launched with a lingerie shoot for GQ — Tommy soon took to the skies and swapped photographic avenues after saving his money to take a helicopter flight over Australia’s famous Bondi Beach. That first aerial shoot led to a photographic series Shore, in 2014 — the first showcasing his newfound love of aerial landscape photography. 

Tommy Clarke

Some of his other explorations have included Salt, a vibrant series captured flying over salt lakes in San Francisco and Utah; Industry, a different view of our built, industrial world; and most recently Useless Loop, a series of stunning blue photographs that capture the curious loops and shapes of a salt mine in Western Australia. This most recent series was the subject of Tommy’s first solo exhibition at The Old Truman Brewery in London in late 2016. It was an experience that Tommy admitted was stressful but worth it to see people buy his work to hang alongside their Damien Hirsts, he said. 

The CEO Magazine: How did you get into photography?

Tommy Clarke: I first got into photography after breaking my back snowboarding. I couldn’t play sport for a while, so ended up photographing the teams I played in instead. It snowballed from there, really.

You originally worked in fashion. What inspired your move across to aerial photography, and how do the two compare? 

I was growing tired of the shallowness of the fashion industry and was becoming increasingly less creative, so I went back to shooting what I’ve always loved — beaches — and started thinking of new ways and angles to capture them. There are definitely similarities, as aesthetics are vital for both; but hanging out of a helicopter certainly beats a 12-hour day shooting commercial fashion in a studio without windows!

In your images, you can clearly see how people connect with nature. You also often capture the intersection of the built and natural environments.

Tommy Clarke

Is this intentional, or are you more attracted to the colours and patterns created in such landscapes?

That started when I first shot beaches. I loved the fact that we, as a species, descend on this narrow strip of sand by the water’s edge and then display all our most colourful belongings around us, from umbrellas to towels. That interaction really grabbed me. That’s now evolving in my work: exploring humans’ interaction with landscapes farther afield. 

What do you hope people take away from your images; is there a message you want to convey? 

Not so much a message but more a realisation of the beauty that is all around us. From industrial areas to beaches, there are colours and textures in everything. I get to show people this from my viewpoint.

What is it you love most about what you do?  

Showing people a new perspective on places they think they know.

What’s involved in a typical shoot for you? How do you get the shot? 

We take the doors off the helicopter or plane, I get harnessed in, then we go exploring!

Tommy Clarke

Is there somewhere you haven’t had the chance to shoot yet but would like to?  

I’ve recently returned from Iceland doing a reconnaissance for a big shoot next year. The landscape there is like no other on earth; at times it felt like I’d landed on another planet.

Has there been a photoshoot or an experience getting the shot that stands out as being particularly memorable? 

We had a few tail-rotor problems on a flight (I won’t mention where!) where the helicopter decided to do a few spins without warning, which was interesting. But the most memorable was shooting Shark Bay in Australia, where there were gigantic tiger sharks swimming around under the plane I was hanging out of.

What do you photograph when you’re not in the air?

I love to use my vintage Polaroid cameras to capture landscapes and portraits.

You recently held your first solo exhibition in London, Up in the Air. Can we expect more exhibitions from you coming up, and what else is on the horizon? 

At the moment, I am looking into opening my own gallery in London. And there may be a coffee table book on the way.  

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