We recently caught up with photographer Thom Corbishley to see how quarantine was treating him, and to also hand him a bunch of SS20 clothing and our latest loungewear pieces with the ambiguous instruction to 'shoot them'...
Can you tell us a bit about your photography - your style, influences, things you love shooting? And how you think you have evolved as a photographer?
I would say that my work falls into two disparate categories; fashion and social documentary. While they seem worlds apart from one another, my fashion-based work has been incredibly influential in the way I see and shoot my social documentary projects, and vice-versa. I’m very passionate about history and politics, which I studied at university and is what probably keeps drawing me back to social documentary work.
Photographers like Juergen Teller and Martin Parr have always been heavily influential, particularly in their style of shooting, the way they both use on-camera flashes as a means by which to transform scenes, as if to create an ad-hoc studio space for their subjects. In recent years I’ve been drawn to observations around Britishness and English culture, I frequently return to photograph the Norfolk coast where I spent a lot of my childhood, and in the last year I finished a project that looked to investigate the way we see and understand Millennials in Britain, and how they view themselves.
How do you view the medium as an art form?
I think photography is a truly fascinating medium, primarily because of how, relatively, new it is. In such a short, but well-documented space of time, it has evolved from a purely scientific tool to becoming one of the most accessible and democratic modes of artistic expression. It is a medium that is still in a state of flux, both practically and theoretically. On a daily basis, new answers to the question ‘what is a photograph’ arise. The ramifications of the advent of photography continue to unfold, and I find that addictively exciting.
How are you staying creative while on lockdown? Tell us a bit about the photos you’ve taken?
These photos I’ve taken for Oliver Spencer have been somewhat of a life raft in terms of keeping creative. So many people will be looking to their most immediate surroundings in the hopes of feeling inspired. That’s a large part of what I’ve tried to achieve in these photos, to try and illustrate the boredom, mischief and creativity that comes with being in lockdown. Asking oneself what is immediately to hand and how to produce something new from that, or see things from a new perspective. With these photos I’ve tried to take an instructional approach, presenting the idea of ‘how to make a look-book while on lockdown’. It’s somewhat of an homage Erwin Wurm’s Instructions for Idleness (2001), as well as the lockdown photography challenges currently being run by Max Siedentopf on Instagram.
Taking these photos was not as straight forward as I first expected. I don’t do much self-portraiture and I’ve certainly never modelled before. So photographing myself and being photographed has certainly been a novel challenge. Nevertheless, my housemates lent a hand, and were brilliantly patient when I turned the living room into a photo studio.
With all my work, I try to take a research-led approach, so while I’m unable able to get out and take photos for my current projects, it has given me the space to crack on with necessary research. I’ve taken to writing short essays in order to better understand what questions I’m asking of a certain subject matter and the answers I’m looking to find. Right now I’m researching the cultural and political relevance of Morris Dancing in 21st Century Britain. Please believe when I say that I’m not watching countless episodes of The Office in my pyjamas.
What books are you reading/music are you listening to?
I’m trying to take a good chunk out of Jeffrey White’s London in the 18th Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing and then taking respite in Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. But now is a good time to dust off some photobooks. Daido Moriyama’s In Colour: Now, and Never Again and Jamie Hawkesworth’s On Keeping a Notebook have made good viewing.
Music-wise, Baby Huey’s first and only album The Baby Huey Story is doing me a lot of favours. There’s something about a guy singing about being confined to a small space, eating Spam and Oreos that feels weirdly pertinent right now. Some other lockdown musical discoveries include Lead Belly, Portishead’s Roseland NYC Live album and Ramsey Lewis’ Mother Nature’s Son.
How do you expect life will be different on the whole after Coronavirus?
I think a lot of companies and individuals will potentially make a permanent move to working remotely, having invested so heavily in setting up the necessary structures so quickly. I can see Coronavirus really accelerating the ‘working from home’ phenomenon. It’ll be like a return to cottage industry but with high-speed broadband.
How do you think the creative arts will be different?
I think the art world is going to be incredibly oversaturated with quarantine and isolation related bodies of work, and I for one have every intention of being a part of that. But to be more sincere, I think anyone who appreciates or relies on the creative arts in all shapes, sizes and capacities, needs to support it as much as possible, both now and once things have blown over. There are so many projects and exhibitions which have been postponed or cancelled, on which many people will have worked incredibly hard towards and potentially staked so much. Fundamentally, this crisis has exposed a broad array of underlying issues, and for creatives it has publicised the volatility of the freelancing market. Once we are on the other side of Coronavirus, I would hope to see measures put in place that prevents freelance creatives from being so financially exposed and rediscovers the value of protecting and funding the arts on a national scale.
And fashion too?
I think people will become accustomed to working in their pyjamas, once people stop working from home, offices will begin to resemble student halls of residence!
How would you describe you own personal style? What informs it?
I would describe my own personal style as that of an Ivy League professor struggling to make tenure, who in an attempt to glean some meaning from life, has taken up woodworking. I like wearing clothes that age nicely and take a beating – I hate the thought of fragile clothes. It needs to be hard-wearing and well made. My wardrobe largely consists of wide-legged, high waisted trousers, drill cottons, old knitwear and lots of corduroy. I’ll die from heat exhaustion when summer comes around.
What are your favourite Oliver Spencer pieces from SS20?
I’ve really taken to the tailoring over the last couple of seasons. The corduroy suits saw me solidly through autumn and winter, so expect to find me in a seersucker suit for spring and summer. I’m still torn over which material, but I reckon I’ll be getting either the Hidcote Green or Cannock Charcoal suit. The pleat trousers are definitely the supreme Oliver Spencer cut of trousers at the moment too.