Thomas Butler

1st class BA(Hons) Photographic Communication, 1998 to 2001

BA(Hons) Photography graduate Thomas Butler talks about his time at Falmouth.

Why Photographic Communication and Why Falmouth?

I first became interested in photography while I was doing a BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design after high school. The course covered all areas of art and design, some of which I wasn't all that good at; drawing for example. So I found a way of taking photos of the things I needed to draw and then copying the photos. Pretty soon the drawing part disappeared but the photography continued. There are lots of creative and intellectual reasons why I enjoy photography but if I'm honest, the primary reason is the access it offers, which makes the job exciting. You have the best seat in the house at football matches and gigs. Also you get to work with and meet so many amazing people. No day is ever the same and each job presents a new challenge.

I had heard about Falmouth College of Art but never thought I would get in. I was worried I'd wasted my first choice option on the UCAS form! When I came down for the interview it took about eight hours to get all the way down from the North of England, so I had to stay overnight. It was wet, cold, overcast and amazing. I walked to my interview along the sea front, it was drizzling but there were no cars and the air was really cold and fresh. I decided there and then I really wanted to spend my university years there.

What are you up to now?

I live in South East London and work as a freelance photographer; specialising in portraiture and documentary work, with an emphasis on sport. I'm not what you would call a ‘conventional' sports photographer though. I receive commissions from Ad Agencies, Publishing Companies, Record Labels and Magazines. This includes a regular commission I have for a Formula One magazine called The Red Bulletin. Yesterday I came back from Valencia in Spain, next week I go to Spa in Belgium and in two weeks I'll be in Japan. It's an amazing job, but very hard work.

How did your course help you get where you are today?

I was by no means a model student. In fact in the first two years I had about nine referrals and on two occasions was given one more chance to work harder or leave. About three weeks into my third year I looked at how much debt I was in and decided, did I really want to spend that much money on failure? So I started to get into my work and focus more. The more I worked the better my work became, the better my work became the more I wanted to do.

By the third year of our course, we were given the opportunity to focus on the area we were most interested in; creating our own projects and briefs for course work and the final degree show. I decided to focus on my career after college and with the support of tutors and visiting lecturers, spent the year compiling work in a portfolio, which I hoped would enable me to get editorial work once I graduated. In fact, I did one better than that and received my first commission for The Face while I was still completing the course! This gave me the confidence to move straight up to London and begin showing my portfolio around to the people I wanted to work for. I'd been in London for three weeks and been commissioned by the NME and got an eight-page fashion story for Mixmag.

Being such a small University and town you are able to absorb influences from everything around you. You have friends from all different courses and the location itself helps to inspire creativity. But with all this influence bouncing around, you need to be able focus and control these ideas. Falmouth helped me to develop my own style of photography but also and more importantly gave me the ability to continue to develop years after leaving University.