Where are they now: catching up with Alan Thompson

Soon, the 2016 Sigma D-Photo Amateur Photographer of the Year (APOTY) competition will be coming to a close, and we'll be catching up with our final category winners from the 2015 competition. In this instalment, we talk to the winner of the 2015 People category, Alan Thompson, about what he's been working on since his win last year.

Alan Thompson

D-Photo: What made you decide to enter the 2015 Sigma D-Photo Amateur Photographer of the Year competition?
Alan Thomspon: Essentially, D-Photo is a New Zealand magazine and how relatively easy it was to enter. There were hoops to jump through, but they were not difficult. We had talked about copyright grabs in one of our lectures in 2011, and D-Photo was not doing a rights grab. It was a genuine competition.

What was it like to have such a positive outcome in winning your category of the competition?
It did feel good! It was nice to have some ideas confirmed, that there was artistic merit in what I was doing. It feels, sometimes, you need to just go with the fashion of the moment.

Alan Thompson

Can you tell us the story behind your winning image?
The winning image is part of a 365 project. I decided to do 365 portraitures in a year! I made it halfway. This winning D-Photo image came towards the end when I was running out of people. The situation of doing one portrait a day was pressuring me to just ‘do it’, to find a photo. The time for the ‘artistic considered pose’ of someone was gone as I had worked through all the people I actually knew and now was approaching strangers … the need to get anything to keep up had arrived. I had not expected this. My desire is to craft images of people, but now I could not, and this was the point where it got interesting; my desire to craft versus the quick snap to keep going day by day. My response was to question: well, what is a portrait? Obviously it’s an image of someone, but do they need to be there? And that lead to, do they need to be alive? And lastly, what is a face? What is a ‘someone’?

Alan Thompson

What gear did you use to capture your image? Are you using the same gear now or have you changed your preferred equipment?
I use a Sony A900 with Zeiss 35–70mm zoom lens, but I did most of this project with a Sony DSC-R1 (which has an even more amazing Zeiss lens), and a Canon G1x for when I needed to be discreet. I still have these cameras, but I am concluding, or you could say learning, that it’s all about the glass — and for Alan, it’s Carl Zeiss glass. It just has the colours, sharpness, and look that I love. So I have just purchased the Sony Carl Zeiss 24–70mm f/2.8, almost 1kg of Zeiss glass. I am looking forward to using it.

What projects are you currently working on at the moment? Can you provide a bit of an explanation about what inspired you to work on this or these?
This year I am aiming to finish two projects. 365 Portraits, which I have done exactly half of, and a longer term one called Auckland Alone. I am from the South Island and found Auckland hard to get used to — just so busy. At university I did a bit of this project for my final year, but felt I had not ‘got it’ — there was something missing. In the end it was two things I wanted to do with it; it is a surrealism and realism project. I wanted to take photos of all the bridges in Auckland and remove all the cars. To make it quiet, how I like it, and avoid the post-apocalyptic look these projects usually end up at. I also want the photos to be pixel perfect, to show no Photoshop artifacts or even that Photoshop was used. To have it look like someone has just pointed the camera and taken one photo. To do this, I took many photos that I can layer in Photoshop. It's very time consuming to get perfect, the new ‘Auckland Alone Onewa Bridge South’ needed 202 photos to work from (and the police showed up and told me move on). There are 59 bridge-view photos in this series. But I hope this year to get it done. I think this will lead to a lifetime project in other cities.

Alan Thompson

What inspired you to pick up a camera for the first time, and how long have you been shooting?
I started photography using film in the 1990s and gave up. I felt trapped by film. I wanted to alter my photos and could not as I did not have the skills or darkroom. But when digital arrived I returned to it as I could now modify images to what I saw. I got a Kodak DX3900 3.2-megapixel camera and Photoshop LE in 2001. This resulted with images I mostly now hide! But I was on the right track. Ironically, my goal is to produce images that look like amazing quality film — unaltered — even though I use Photoshop extensively. But late at night ... I do wonder why we say film is right!

What would you say to someone considering entering the competition, but who are a little hesitant in clicking the ‘submit’ button?
When entering, chose your best images, the one’s you go “Yeah!” about. As you learn photography you find yourself being able to reproduce others' styles, and to copy what the ‘in’ style is. You will see online lots of articles on how to win competitions. I don’t like them, as it seems to me they are changing your work to the fashion. No, show me your images that excite you, as in the end that’s what matters: your style, your body of work.

Alan Thompson