A conversation with Hot Shot Photographer: Tom Medvedich
At just 26 years old Tom Medvedich is tearing up the photography scene shooting magazine covers, multi-platinum selling album covers, the biggest names in Rap and for the biggest brands on the planet and has no intention of slowing down. Tom says he would rather "die of exhaustion than of boredom" and this becomes obvious when you look at the success that he has been able to achieve in a relatively short amount of time. I had the opportunity to chat with Tom about his work and his success.
How did you first decide you wanted to be a photographer?
I took a photography class as an easy class in high school. I ended up failing it as I did whatever I wanted and didn't really pay attention to the rules and assignments. I ended up having to retake the class and barely passed it. When I was in community college I kept getting brochures for Brooks Institute of Photography and I hated community college so I thought I would try to go to Photography School. I ended up going on a whim and loved it and now I take pictures.
I worked in California for a few years decided I didn't like it and moved back to Jersey. I assisted for a few years and I have been shooting on my own for a few years. My main thing is shooting still life. I really enjoy shooting portraiture. For the last few years I have been shooting a lot of Hip Hop celebrity portraiture.
Who are your biggest influences in life?
My favoriate photographer is Richard Avedon. He is just amazing and I really enjoy all of his portraiture work. Another big influence for me is Jonathan Mannion. He is more like a mentor to me at this point. I also really like Weegee (Arthur Fellig) and the griminess of his style. Lastly Glen Friedman shot a bunch of punk rock bands and rappers back in the 80s and 90s his style was something that I always gravitated towards. I really like the composition of how he does his shots.
What is the best part of your job?
I get to do what I want to do. I can shoot still life. If I want to go to LA, I can set up some jobs out there and then build a trip around that to go and see some friends or change the weather for the week. Ultimately I love the control I have over my own life and the fact that I answer to myself. That is something that people cannot take away from you.
You have had the opportunity to photograph a lot of famous people. Who did you enjoy photographing the most?
My favorite shoot has to be with the rapper Rick Ross. It was a 5 hour shoot and he was a super nice guy to work with. I am a big fan of his music. He was very professional, has a great sense of humor and was open to my suggestions like "Go stand in traffic over there so I can take your picture!"
Do you find celebrities are difficult to work with or are they easier as they are accustomed to the photographic process?
It has its pros and cons. Celebrities have crazy schedules so things get shifted around a lot. On the other hand they already know what looks good for them, things like they want to be shot from this side or they want to look like this. A guy like Rick Ross knows what works for him, so when we start, he can just snap into character for example. When you shoot people that don't hang out in front of a camera all day it is different as they need help and need to be told what looks good. When you tell a celebrity to "tilt your head down", they tilt it down an inch versus when you tell a regular person and they put their chin against their chest.
Can you talk a bit about your gorilla marketing campaign?
I have made up some stickers that say "Who the F*%K is Tom Medvedich?". I initially made them as a joke but my friends all started using them and they started to take off. Basically I am going to put them in strategic places around New York City near Photo and Ad agencies. I am going to try to meet with people and around that time. I'll also post up these stickers so they see my name on the way to and from work. Hopefully I don't go to jail and they see my name and hire me.
What was your most difficult shoot and how did you handle it?
I am not sure I would say this was difficult but one of the most stressful shoots I did was when I shot the rapper TI and everyone on this label in one day for one story. It wasn't because anyone was giving me a hard time or anything like that it was just because there were 9 rappers in one room. It can be challenging to orchestrate 9 people moving at their own speed. As good as it was, it was a challenge for me. It was one of the first bigger celebrity shoots I did and my third cover for The Source Magazine. It ended up being one of my favorite shoots and I ended up hanging out with them after the shoot at the club. The lighting was difficult with so many people, so I ended up having to do it in two shots. I had two groups and then just stripped them together so it was a small composite.
Another one of the most challenging shots I had to do was when I went to Italy with Resource Magazine. They asked me if I wanted to go to Italy and shoot landscapes, people, hotels, and restaurants and basically travel in Italy and take photos. It was a brutal week as we were in Sardegna for 6 days and although we were staying in 5 star hotels I slept 3 hours a night. I had to drive the van, location scout, shoot, deal with catering, shoot again and walk about with a 50 pound bag on my back. It was great to see what you can really accomplish when you put yourself into something 100%. It was amazing.
Can you talk a bit about the books you are working on?
The main project that I want to get done this year is called Friendly Fire. I am shooting people within my network and I want to show the diversity of the people that I know as being in photography it can really vary. I think it would be cool to capture their personalities through a portrait on the left page and still life photo of things that make them who they are on the right. I am shooting all of the portraits in black and white so some will be dark, light and some will be bright but all will be black and white. My father for example, he is a grumpy kind of guy so his portrait looks really really angry and not even on purpose. We drove all the way to Brooklyn from Jersey and two shots in he is saying "Did you get it yet?". I was trying to explain to him that it takes more than two shots but he just wants to go. He listened to talk radio his whole life and was a blue color worker so I will shoot his radio and the beat up boots he wore. I am going to try to finish it this year and try to get it published. I am not sure if people will give a shit since it isn't people they know but I hope so.
Is there anyone you would like to photograph that you haven't had the chance to?
Most of the people I'm inspired by are dead, so that's unfortunate. I would've loved to shoot Alfred Hitchcock, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, George Carlin, Charles Bukowski and a handful of others. I think at the moment, I'd love to get Boogie in front of my camera. I'm really inspired by his style and I think he's got an amazing eye. His work is really important to me and it would be an honor to photograph him.
What gear do you use mostly when shooting?
I shoot a Canon 5DMKII. Some of my favorite lenses are the Canon 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. I just picked up the 50mm prime. As far as lighting I shoot with ProFotos.
What message would you like to say to people starting out or thinking of getting into the photography profession?
You have to be willing to dedicate every second of your free time to your work. This is more than a full time job. You are doing five people's jobs, especially when you are starting out. When you are a big photographer and have a studio, staff, assistants, people scheduling your shoots, but I don't. I have to wake up after working 15 hours, start editing, sending out paper work, find new clients and start hustling all over again. I have to be everything to everyone at all times and continue to remain fresh. Everything has to come second to your art. The first few years are not very glamourous. People see you hanging out with celebrities and think that is the job but that is 5% of my job. People don't see you trying to find a parking space, lugging bags and bags of gear, the hours of post production, and all of the background work that gets you to that one fun part.
Thanks for a great interview Tom.