Tom Bright

“When I photograph people, I try to capture what they genuinely look like, without recreating a vision of them.”

Tom Bright is Photographer & Content Coordinator working at Stride Treglown. He told us how photography helps architectural practices evaluating their designs.

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background?

Initially I studied Photography at Manchester School of Art however it was only during my studies on the MA in Photography & Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths my interest in buildings and people grew. During my MA, I explored the narrative that architecture is the relationship between those two and I have been fascinated by this ever since. After graduation architectural photography as a job was a natural next step. 

Not many architectural practices employ in-house photographers. You also have the content coordinator title there. Can you tell us how it all started and about what you do at Stride Treglown?

I had been doing a lot of freelance architectural photography work and I was beginning to find it frustrating. The fast turn around that the commissions dictated only allowed me to capture each building on a superficial level. I found myself always wanting to spend more time in each building striving to communicate what it feels like to be there.

I started talking to Stride Treglown and my current director about the idea of marketing the user’s experience rather than just focusing purely on how their buildings look. This suitedStride Treglown as it played to their strengths. The user experience is at the heart of their design rather than how they look.

My job title atStride Treglown is Photographer & Content Coordinator. My role is basically to produce content that communicates our designs with a focus on the user experience. The content we produce depends on the narrative we want to communicate, it could be podcasts, photography or video or even a mix. I normally take the pictures and interview people, for other mediums we commission freelancers.

Marketing the user’s experience I would say is a shift in the industry as it has been ‘how a building looks’ for so long. I think Stride Treglown is now the pioneer in this area. Over the last couple of years we have been running a campaign called inhabitant where I have been photographing and interviewing our users on their experiences with our designs. This has made great marketing for us but has also fed into our Post Occupancy Evaluation to improve our future designs. During the lockdowns I continued to interview our users to find out how our designs are working for them in those circumstances. That particular piece on our Paintworks design got a mention in the BDOnline

You don’t seem to have a website where we can see your photographs. Are all the project photographs of Stride Treglown taken by you or are there any other photographers involved?

The majority of the pictures are taken by me but in some instances we commission other photographers. We commission them when I don’t have time or we are collaborating with another marketing team and we joint commission another photographer. Working for Stride Treglown has taken a lot of my energy so I don’t currently have a website, this will change soon through! You can see my work on my Instagram profile @tombright_

Are you also working as a freelance photographer for other practices and designers?

Over the last four years, I’ve really dedicated myself to Stride Treglown and working on telling the stories of the buildings. So that hasn’t given me the time or headspace to focus on freelance work. But now I feel more comfortable in my role, I am starting to work with other architecture practices.

It has always been the freelance photographers’ concern to be in relation to a few productive architectural practices to pursue their profession. You have a rare experience of working on both sides. What would be your recommendations for freelance photographers to be able to be shortlisted in practices’ preferred photographers list. 

I would recommend that they should really understand architecture practices’ marketing core messages. For example, with Stride Treglown we really focus on people’s experiences of the building and do portraits of them, whereas another practice might be much more focused on the design detail. Speaking to people on the phone is the best way of doing this, just having a conversation with them will give you a real feel for what they’re about and how to sell your work / services to them.

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to shoot a building or space as it was rendered due to impossible viewpoint locations without any obstructions. Do you think advanced visualisation techniques create dissatisfaction in clients, since an actual photograph is rarely faultless as a render?

I think it creates surprise. When I photographed the Royal Holloway University, there were some Japanese students sitting on the floor with their backs to the sofa which was unexpected. They said in their culture this just feels more natural. You can never predict how users interpret design and interact with a space. Architecture should be adaptable. A building should be able to be used in different ways, and spaces should allow that, to make it feel home to anyone. 

Photography by Tom Bright

How do you define a successful architectural photograph? 

It’s when you capture a behaviour that highlights the purpose of its design. The image below was taken in the painting studio of the Prince Phillip Maritime Collection Centre. The room has these giant windows which are north facing providing an even light, perfect for painting.

Photography by Tom Bright

What was the most challenging shooting of your career and why?

Schools are always really hard. Sometimes you feel like you’re in a boxing match. You get shown around for half an hour or so then wait for someone else to show you around. It is hard to get into rhythm. You have to use the waiting time, mentally to prepare for when you’re next in the ring so you get the shots you need. Also the editing process is a lengthy one. The school may get back to you to say you need to blur a student’s face because they managed to sneak into shot with a knowing cheeky smirk on their face.

What typology of building or space do you want to photograph most but did not have a chance yet?

I would love to photograph a public library. I love watching people working deep in concentration. It’s beautiful and calming behaviour to witness. Also, in libraries the natural light is always really good and mixed with those study lamps it makes great imagery. There’s a stillness in those spaces that I’d love to experience and capture too.

Which other photographers inspire you most?  

Iwan Baan is my favourite architectural photographer and has been a big influence on how I take pictures. He breaks away from photographing buildings to just make them look pretty, he captures what it feels like to be there which is really rare! This is unlike a lot of architecture photographers who try to recreate architectural visualisations, rather than what it actually feels like to be there. 

Gymnasium Natal Mãe Luiza, Brazil – Herzog & de Meuron (Photography: Iwan Baan)

Do you have personal photography projects other than the commissioned ones? Or what other subjects trigger you to pick up your camera?

With all photography, there’s a balance between commerce and art, and over the years I’ve felt like I’ve focused more on commerce. Recently I’ve been taking my camera with me more on a regular basis, rediscovering my own personal voice. You can see these on my personal Instagram @_tombright I’ve been exploring how light and shadows appear in urban spaces and meeting people and capturing how they look. For example, I recently took this picture of my neighbour Dani when she came round to my flat. When you have the camera, you see things differently and see beauty in moments you wouldn’t normally see. 

Dani (Photography by Tom Bright)

What was the most inspiring photograph (doesn’t need to be an architectural one) you have come across recently and why?

Ahmad (from Sneakers like Jay-Z series of photographer Ambroise Tézenas)

Ambroise Tézenas, Sneakers like Jay-z, Ahmad. The setting, person and pose in the photo feel timeless. The story behind the image, how Ahmad is wearing the gifted clothes is a fusion of cultures that reminds me of our relationship with architecture. I equally enjoy the way it is shot. When I photograph people, I try to capture what they genuinely look like, without recreating a vision of them. This photo is shot from a neutral angle, documentary style, which makes it feel that you’re experiencing the moment for yourself and can interpret it however you want. My architectural photography is similar to that in presenting a space for you to look at and allowing you to experience it in your own unique way.