From Celluloid To Pixels: DoP and Photographer Thomas Moke is Impolite AF
Thomas Moke is a Barcelona based photographer and DoP. He didn’t start shooting on a boring Nikon D90 or a Canon 5D, as pretty much everybody else on the scene did, instead he started playing around with good old film cameras. Large format and celluloid at first, then onto the digital world. Fortunately, I had the pleasure to interview him on a sunny terrace in Gracia (BCN).
So let’s start with the classic, boring introductory question and then we shall get on with the fun stuff. You have a very specific background; you come from that nice and physical analogue world — lights and films — the real ones. Can you sum up your career ‘till now?
I love boring introductions, and yes, I come from the old world of acid and film stuff.
Back in Italy, where I come from, I took my first steps in architecture photography and a little advertising. Once I landed in Barcelona, back in 2007, I jumped straight into film school, learning the craft of cinematography and since then, I have embraced both cine and stills. Quite a journey I’d say..
So nowadays, I mainly do fashion and advertising, as a photographer as well as a DP and I create content in a similar way to that of a director. But with less bullshit.
Another boring question please.
Define bullshit :D
Lol. Let’s say that when I create, I try to go straight to the point in terms of building up a story which I strictly believe in. It has to be effective, defining a message which is understandable at first glance but can also be read in multiple layers depending on the audience. I’m a bit of a sociologist. I pitch my personality and follow my instinct in order to build something powerful. Do I have to say that I looove to create feelings through visuals??? But I’m not a hipster anymore, I cut my beard already.
Ahaha! You knew what I was gonna say next! You cut your beard yes, but you are still the wild DoP/ photographer on the black motorbike doing the coolest sets!
Haha, yeah that sounds really hipster indeed. Once I heard “Be strict and methodic in your life so you can be a rebel in your art.” Kinda works for me, Yin & Yang, I think this David Lynch guy said that. Oh, and the bike is rusty, not black. I like textures.
Can you tell me how you learned your craft as a photographer and when you decided to switch to the moving images?
Sure. Well the thing is that I never had the chance to do one of those fancy photography schools but I have a clear memory of myself at 14 looking through the lens of my father’s film camera, I guess that was the snap in my head. I’ve been in Fine Art Schools ’til I was 22, I learned the darkroom stuff from an old-school photographer and mentor in my shitty town and after I got my grades, I assisted an advertising photographer for a few months. At the same time I met a young architect who gave me the chance to work with her, so that was my first real commissioned job as a photographer. But I wanted to move to Spain, where I studied a bit in Valencia and moved to Barcelona. My father collected movies on VHS and I spent my whole teenage years watching and re-watching those tapes, again and again, since I was 6. I just fell in love with motion picture and at some point, almost 20 years later, I discovered that I could be that guy in the final credits that nobody knows what he really does: the director of photography. So I was 29 when I started DPing, also I knew very little of the big commercial world, and by then I had also shifted my interest to fashion, which was something that I had never done before.
Some people define themselves in a category or a job for life, but I always felt like an outsider, living in that uncomfortable and undefined zone between straight line. I just get bored really quickly and I can’t do the same shit over and over. So for me staying in between means consistent motivation, learning and creativity. And this possibly gives birth to your own style or mark.
I find it fascinating to understand the difference between the approach to a photo set as a Photographer and a video set as a DoP or Cinematographer. What can you say about that?
That’s interesting. I struggled quite a lot at the beginning, I just couldn’t see a flow between both for a long time, maybe because I was always worried about the technical side. I guess that with the experience, the losses and the wins, I just interiorized the tech and focussed on the story, the message and what ideally I wanted in the scene. So focusing on that first really helped me to have no trouble with the media. In my opinion, the real difference is about the tools, the physical gears used to film or shoot a photograph. Ethically or philosophically talking, yeah, it’s true that a picture has to capture the essence of a story in a single take, which is something that could be done with different frames in a motion picture. It’s the sinthesis against the elaboration of a larger message. We go back to the Yin & Yang thing, I guess.
Can you tell me the project that you enjoyed working on the most?
Uhmm.. that’s hard to say but I surely have a couple of favourites.
The most challenging was a commissioned job as cinematographer and photographer in 2013 for a big fashion brand here in Spain. I was in charge of delivering a big campaign using some new technology at that time. They put me in a team with 3D artists and tech geeks, we had no clue on how to make it work on time and it took one month to prepare the actual shooting — the largest amount of people and gear I have ever seen in my life for a single commercial. I had tons of lights everywhere. We basically lived in a huge studio outside Madrid, 3 sets, 65 cameras and a crazy, 60 year old, old rockstar director who yelled out directions only in german with a megaphone. Fat bastard, she drained the budget. We hated her but we fucking nailed it. And after that the production had to close for good.
Besides that, I can say that my funniest shootings were 3 music clips for MTV. I had the chance to shoot them with 2 Directors that I met at film school. We are best friends now, as we were back then, even if we all live in different cities.
One of the buzzwords of the moment is “decentralized”. Pretty much everything can be decentralized right now. This is also something that we want to do with Impolite for example. What do you think about it related to the creation and production of whatever film/advertising/video project?
Ok that’s interesting, we could talk all day about this subject and never get bored, I guess. I’d like to approach it this way. Let’s say that being decentralized really depends on your role in your business. So in my case, as a freelancer that has no specific geographical restrictions, it is a positive thing because I have possibilities that were just a dream before. I live in Spain but I have a lot of connections abroad which kinda opens your mind as a creator and learner and traveler also. I love different cultures so having the chance to get clients here and abroad is just awesome. I’m not only looking at the local aesthetic, trend or marketing, I’m trying to learn what’s happening in general as a global trend. I told you I was a bit of a sociologist. I just like to observe human behaviour on different scales. That helps when it comes to creating a message. I’m stoned, does it make sense?
It makes perfect sense, if you are stoned it must be something good.
I just had a rough morning and didn’t have time for my siesta. This is my actual siesta now.
If you could choose a brand for the production of a branded film, which one would you choose and why?
Well, I’m actually really involved at a personal level to anything related with the word “sustainable”, just because I really care about our impact on our planet, as individuals but also as advertising and fashion workers. I embrace this idea as a lifestyle, and recently I’ve been looking for clothing brands for myself with an ethical business practice, producing high-end clothing on a sustainable basis which utilizes new, affordable and amazing technology. So, I got a few names on the list for this week that I’d like to check out, starting from some sneakers brands, like Veja. I love technology but I’m also astonished by nature, so I think the fashion business should go in this direction. I see an amazing future and profit in design mixed with sustainability.
As a content producer, how do you see your role changing in the next 2 years?
I’m excited! Really! I’m way more in the present day than in the near future; I’m working on something personal related to my passion, my job, and I just got a good feeling about it… So I just wanna run now, like… I’m ready for the race! Roles in cinema and the photography industry are changing and shifting so fast, along with the advance of the technology, so I guess we should all be ready to kinda constantly evolve a bit, embrace the change as a life and creative condition.
I was thinking of something stupid to ask you right now but I’m just amazed and am feeling a nice positive rush in this moment so we should probably leave the interview here. Just one last sentence, for SEO, just drop a couple of names, a statement, whatever you feel like writing!
Ok. Let’s see what I can do. Ok I got it. Ehm…I always liked this one and it’s taken from a Morrison song and it goes like: “…This is the Strangest Life I’ve ever known…”. Couldn’t agree more.
Ending this interview with a Morrison quote is going to make us lose a couple of followers for sure, but I couldn’t agree with it more!
Impolite: an agency with (actual) personality
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