Pushing the boundaries of photography — Advice from Hasselblad Master Ben Thomas

Pushing the boundaries of photography

Advice from Hasselblad Master Ben Thomas

Since moving to Melbourne, Australia, photographer Ben Thomas has been using his camera as a tool to explore and deconstruct urban spaces, a journey that, most recently, saw him named a 2018 Hasselblad Master.

We caught up with Ben ahead of his live talk show to find out more about his work, his style and why it’s important to push boundaries.

Image by Ben Thomas
© Ben Thomas

From miniaturising cities using tilt-shift effect to turning our world upside down using mirroring, self-taught photographer Ben Thomas is always looking for new ways to challenge our perception of urban spaces and deconstruct our relationships with our surroundings.

Ben, who started out filming bands in Adelaide before moving south and switching to stills, believes in continuously pushing the boundaries of this visual medium.

“I think as a photographer you are given the opportunity to help people to see things differently and if you can, it's worth exploring,” he said.

    Image by Ben Thomas
    © Ben Thomas

    His experimental techniques in works such as Cityshrinker, Accession and Chroma have seen Ben garner international attention and work alongside global brands such as Apple, Sony and McLaren, but Ben, who describes his work as hyperreal, said it was his early works that really had an impact.

    “Shooting tilt-shift miniaturisation was a real challenge early on, but ultimately greatly rewarding, and being early to the party helped me to get a name for myself and kick start my career.

    “These techniques really helped just to get me thinking outside of the box and also really helped me in dealing with being pigeon-holed early in my career, forcing me to re-invent myself as a photographer.”

    Taking inspiration from artists such as Jeffrey Smart and David Hockney, Ben said a key part of his growth was through finding “great people to learn from”.

    “To start with it was other photographers, but over time it’s been through spending time with artists from multiple disciplines.”

      Image by Ben Thomas
      © Ben Thomas
      Image by Ben Thomas
      © Ben Thomas

      Ben’s willingness to take on criticism (whether valid or not) is another way that’s helped him grow as a photographer. In fact, it’s the advice he’d give to any photographer wanting to improve.

      “Ask for advice” and “keep tinkering” were his other two points, though he said the best piece of advice he’d received was to keep the love of photography alive.

      “It’s going to sound super obvious but… It’s super easy to get bogged down with either technique issues or admin — all sorts of things that can take away from the love of taking pictures. Knowing how to deal with all of this to keep the fire burning is one of the most important things you can do.”

        Image by Ben Thomas
        © Ben Thomas

        This is something Ben’s certainly managed to do as he’s continued to focus on the varying relationships between people and places. His latest series — Chroma I, Chroma II and Chroma III — have again seen him exploring urban spaces, this time by using colour as a way of deconstructing our relationships with them.

        It was this technique, of extreme processing of colour, that caught the attention of the Hasselblad Masters’ judges. Photographers from around the world were invited to submit three images that fit the 2018 theme of ‘Innovate’. Ben’s Masters series, shot in Spain, earned him first place in the Street / Urban category, an achievement “right at the top” of his career.

        “It is a huge honour to be associated with this group and a fantastic company,” he said.

          Image by Ben Thomas
          © Ben Thomas

          But Ben’s also enjoyed a number of other successes throughout his career, including being invited by the Villa Lena Foundation to undertake a two month residency, an offer which he says was pivotal in setting him on his current path. He also won the 125LIVE Olympus Vision award in 2015, along with the Desktop Create Awards - Photography Category. The following year he also won the LensCulture Emerging Talents 2016 Jurors’ Pick.

          His recent work at the Australian GP with McLaren’s Formula 1 team is also “up there” as one of the best projects he’s worked on.

          “It was absolutely the most challenging situation I have been in to shoot."

            Image by Ben Thomas
            © Ben Thomas
            Image by Ben Thomas
            © Ben Thomas

            “I'm used to having a lot of space and time to shoot but in this scenario, being in the garage on race day in Melbourne, there was no room for error. If you got in the way you were going to get pushed out while stuffing things up for everyone else. Having the right level of awareness to let the team do what they needed to do in a small space while getting the shots was intense.”

            Next, Ben is looking forward to showing some of his latest work at the upcoming Photo London with Duran Mashaal Gallery — something he’s been looking forward to for quite some time.

              Ben will also be on our live talk show on 21st May 2019 at 18:00 BST / 13:00 EDT, where he’ll be talking to Karl and answering questions from members. To find out more about Ben and his work, click here.

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                To find out more about Ben Thomas, his live talk show or his work, the following content may be of interest:

                To learn more about some of the techniques Ben uses, here's a selection of classes you may find useful. You'll find additional classes covering street photography in our Essentials section too.

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