Tom Parker is a passionate world traveller, who has worked in nearly 90 countries, in constant pursuit of both grand landscapes and hidden beauty.
Parker grew up in the UK’s Cotswolds region, but over the past 20 years, he has lived in places such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. A commercial and editorial photographer he has contributed to Conde Nast Traveller, Departures and AD, among other publications.
Tell us about this image.
This image was taken at the end of a week-long shoot in Kolkata last year. I’d been attempting to capture something that summed up the unique energy and environment of the city. Nowhere else in India comes close; none have the same authenticity as Kolkata. The crowds, the noise and the gentle Bengali charm make this such a perfect location for a photographer. In this long exposure shot, the challenge was to illustrate movement while including the immense, graphic detail of the market. I’ve got a very large print of this hanging on my kitchen wall.
What did you have to do to get this shot?
With all travel assignments, particularly those in cities, it’s usually a question of trawling the streets for hours and trying to stay alert. The problem I find is that the more you travel, the more visually “normal” everything becomes. I try and shoot frantically when I first arrive somewhere, while one’s eye for the exotic is still much more focused.
By the time I took this, I’d finished the shoot I was on, but I knew that I was still missing that hero shot – the one shot which sums up the story succinctly. This is what a photographer is always looking for. Once you’ve got that in the bag, then the rest are simply extras. Sometimes I’ll get the hero shot on the first day, but sometimes, it takes me the entire duration.
It’s often a question of luck and timing, and it can be frustrating when you know you haven’t got it yet. But if you work hard and don’t give up, you’ll always find it. If it’s not obvious what it is, then you have to be creative, particularly if the odds are stacked against you – for example, if it’s raining all the time, or if you’re on a safari and the animals aren’t playing along.
What was the most memorable moment of this assignment?
Crossing the Hooghly River on a boat with afternoon commuters – it was beautiful and friendly car-free chaos.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
In Kolkata, the biggest problem is logistics – the traffic can be so bad that you spend a few hours stuck in a vehicle trying to get to your next location. I plan quite meticulously, so if I have to travel far, it’s done when the roads are clearest. The other thing in India, and a lot of Asia, is that if you are shooting outside, your window for shooting is so short. The sun rises and sets so quickly.
What’s your one piece of advice for budding photographers?
Work hard and get up early in the morning. See what the best people in the industry are doing, yet try and be original, which is not easy given how many photographers are out there. Be nice and help each other out – making decent contacts in the industry is the key to success.
What’s your favourite place to photograph in the world?
I love shooting in both India and America. They both have such strong visual identities that my eye is naturally drawn to their idiosyncrasies. I also love the people in both countries – they are very hospitable and curious, which makes shooting them very interesting.
Where would you love to photograph that you haven’t yet?
There are loads of places I would love to go, and interestingly the Covid-19 lockdown has really got me focused on where. I would love to shoot in Iran, Russia, Brazil and Madagascar to name a few. I want to explore more of America and western China as well.
What are your three travel essentials?
I only have two. A multi-plug is the most useful and easily forgotten friend for a photographer. A decent hat is also essential, as I am often wandering around in very hot countries during the day.
Where do you dream of travelling next?
I’m torn between somewhere really remote, like Baffin Island in northern Canada, or somewhere really cosmopolitan like Seoul. Both preferably!
See more of Tom’s photography here.