Thomas McCarty How the photographer broke out of the Midwest

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Thomas McCarty was chosen by Hello Mr. as one of the up-and-coming talents shaping the creative worlds of today and tomorrow, as part of our collaboration with creative network The Dots. See the whole set here.

Sometimes it takes another person to broaden your perspective. For young photographer Thomas McCarty, who grew up in Ohio, it was a teacher from New York who introduced him to the wondrous worlds of photography beyond his tiny town.

“My perception of photography at that time was pretty landlocked within the mid-west; I didn’t really know what was going on outside of that,” Thomas says. ‘”I was taking a lot of really awful cheesy fashion photographs of my friends in parks or woods – very cliched pictures that everyone makes when they are really young.”

He’d started experimenting with a simple camera at just 14, but spurred on by his teacher’s tales of New York, he moved there to study at the School of Visual Arts when he was 18.

Obviously, moving to NYC had a huge impact on him, but it also brought a lot of pressure too. “In New York you have to know what you want, put that out into the universe and constantly work at it. It’s a tough field and you have to be going non-stop,” Thomas explains.

“I’m only 23, and sometimes I feel like I’m almost old or dusty and there’s a younger crop of people. But it’s also very important to be involved with the photo community and be supporting the people within that community. That’s how everyone can move forward together. It’s a weird dynamic – I’m still trying to figure it out.”

The pressure might be on, but Thomas seems to fare pretty well, having worked for Vogue, Eckhaus Latta and Thom Browne.

“When I started, I had a very surface understanding of what fashion photography meant,” he says. “I am now more educated about the fashion world and the inner workings of the industry – what certain brands are doing and what their work is about. I like making references about specific photographers that have shot for a publication or have a part of that history. I think that’s really interesting, to be constantly referencing the past.”

But Thomas baulks at being pigeonholed as an image-maker. “I try not to consider myself as a fashion photographer, but I think it’s a really interesting space for my work to live,” he says. And interestingly, his work does not have the stylized aesthetic we are so used to seeing in fashion magazines. His models don’t look smoothed in Photoshop, instead they look raw and natural.

Thomas’ preference for shooting with film adds to this distinct look. “For me, the process is a lot more intuitive and the camera makes a lot more sense to me. It’s more intimate. It gives me a little bit more control over the image and it really helps me to slow down and consider when I’m photographing, rather than shooting things off.”

Sometimes he has to cover the cost of shooting on film himself, but he sees it as a good investment in his craft. “Like a painter buying paint and canvases, that’s how I try to see it,” he says.