Sunday Focus: Tom Darin Liskey
A few years ago, I used to run a feature called Sunday Focus. Here, I would “interview” photographers whose work I was interested in, or worked with. I’d email them a few questions, they answer them and email them back to me. And I’d run some of my favorite photos of there.
Now, in 2022, I’m hoping to resurrect that feature. One of blog resolutions for the new year.
Kicking it off today with a double threat – Tom Darin Liskey is a writer and a photographer. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. I think I first learned of him through his books (This Side Of The River is a favorite of mine), and then found out about his photography. We’ve been friends on Facebook for awhile now, and I love to see what he posts. He’s taken the “on-the-street” portrait to another level. By his count, he’s done nearly 700 of these. Wow. That said, he did spend nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil, so that probably helped give him the instincts, and courage, to walk up to strangers and get them comfortable enough to let him take their photos.
Tom was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and now resides in near Charleston, South Carolina. By day, Tom is a Latin American Energy Expert (which explains why he travels a lot). Here’s more about this talented photographer and writer.
Q: So, film or digital?
A: While I love digital, I am a sucker for film. There is something magical—and nostalgic—about walking around with an old film camera dangling around your neck. I like film because it is finite—like life. You’ve only got so many exposures, so you need to make everyone count. Unlike digital, there is little room for excess. It is minimalist magic.
Q: Canon, Nikon or Other?
A: I love Nikon film cameras. The F3 and the latter autofocus cameras like the F100 and F4 are beautiful beasts. As for digital, I went the Leica route for a bit, but I’m pretty happy exploring the world with Fuji. I’m too lazy to learn Photoshop, so I like Fuji’s in-camera color system.
Q: Camera eye? (Which eye to look through the viewfinder with)
A: The right eye, even with digital. I don’t feel like I’m taking a picture unless I’m looking through the viewfinder.
Q: What draws you to photography? Do you come from a photographic background?
A: I was a print journalist for most of my career. That was before I went into data analysis and energy intelligence last decade. Back when I worked as a news correspondent, I’d have to take my own pictures. At some point, photography just became part of the narrative of the stories I was writing.
While I am no longer a professional journalist, I continue to write fiction and poetry and (thank God) get published. If I am writing a piece of fiction (or even non-fiction) the themes in my photos are often linked to the piece I’m working on. Photography helps to keep my writing tethered.
Q: A scan of your website shows you enjoy on-the-street portrait photography and also photojournalism. Tell me about your method for selecting people for your street portraiture. Any tips to get strangers to relax in a short period of time like that?
A: People are walking stories, and I’m usually drawn to something unique about the person I eventually stop to talk to for a street portrait. The trigger could by anything. A piece of apparel (I am an unabashed hat man), or a book tucked under the arm. Almost anything. If I stop someone, I offer a respectful compliment. That’s how I strike up a conversation. Talking goes a long way.
According to my back-of-the-envelope math, I’ve stopped about 700 people over the last few years. I am still surprised I’ve been able to take that many pictures of complete strangers. Some of the people I’ve met in Mexico, Port of Spain and London, have become friends.
Q: In addition to regular shooting, you have a couple of personal projects on-going. What are your goals with these? How do these projects influence your photography?
A: I have a photo project exploring faith using both 35mm film and digital images. I am working on a black and while film project exploring Charleston, SC. I joke that I am ‘gleefully toiling in obscurity” as both a writer and photographer. While I am not a prodigious or prolific writer, I do manage to eke out a bit of short fiction every once in a while.
Right now, I am trying to market a collection of short stories that have been published over the past decade, as well as a hybrid poetry-photography project with the Maine-based poet Kelly Belmonte. We call it, In Transit. It is a collaboration of our “When and Where” in that last glimmer of normalcy before Covid-19 changed the world.
Q: Who are three photographers you admire? Three writers?
A: I love Kristin Capp’s take on Americana and her work on the communal living Hutterite communities in America and Canada. Another photographer is the late Bill Doyle. He’s sometimes called ‘Ireland’s Cartier-Bresson,’ but I think that’s an unfair comparison. Tom Wood is another Irish photographer whose work I love.
As for writers, I constantly find myself going back to these books: Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, Walker Percy’s Love In The Ruins and (a three-way tie) between Melville’s Moby Dick, T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Nathanial Hawthorn’s Twice-Told Tales.
Q: Where can people find you on the web?
A: My website is TomDarinPhoto.com and I’m on Instagram at tomdarin.l
Q: What’s next for Tom Darin Liskey??
A: I was hoping you could tell me that!
Ah, sorry Tom! That’s up to you! Can’t wait to see what new portraits you put up on your IG and your next written collection of stories!
Folks, please check out Tom online – both his photos and his book!
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