10 Questions with...Thomas Hawk


This is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and it is now coming to fruition.  This will be an ongoing series of posts done with various photographers that will be sort of a combination of an interview and a guest blog post.  The format is - as the title implies - just 10 questions that I ask, and my hope is that it gives us all a little insight into the person and their craft.  

I am reaching out to folks that I consider inspirational and/or influential (either to me, or to the masses) and asking them for a little of their time.  I get so much inspiration from so many places, and I want to do my little part in sharing that with anyone that takes the time to visit Nomadic Pursuits.  Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy!!



I first came across the work of Thomas Hawk on Flickr, several years ago.  His photos always attracted a lot of attention (deservingly so!) and I was curious about this gent who has a plan to publish 1,000,000 photos in his lifetime.  I find that fascinating.  Fast forward to last year, and thanks to Google+ it turned out that Thomas Hawk was coming to Austin and hosting a photowalk.  I got the chance to meet him and chat for a while, and had the good fortune of also meeting with him a couple of months ago when I was in San Francisco on business.  In addition to being a great photographer, he’s a huge proponent of photographer’s rights, an almost encyclopedic historian of photography, and an all-around nice guy.  He is well-known and his work is seen a lot (over 25 million views on Flickr alone, for instance).  I hope you too get the chance to meet and shoot with him some day.  It's an inspiration, for sure.

You can connect with Thomas Hawk on various sites - here are a few:

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/104987932455782713675/posts

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/

His blog, Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection: http://thomashawk.com/

I have sprinkled in a few of his photos throughout this post, in no particular order.  He has so many that I like that it is hard to choose favorites!  

So, on with it!

1) How did you pick Thomas Hawk as a pseudonym?

I just made it up at 16 and that it is the primary name I'm known as and use as a working photographer. 

2) Tell us about your photographic journey - one in which you are both documenting the 100 largest U.S. cities, and working your way towards having 1 million published photographs.  How did this all start?

I started taking photographs prolifically when I was 8.  My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic and I spent all of my extra money buying film for it and getting the images developed at KMart.  So I've been fascinated with photography since a young age.

When I was 15 I rode my bicycle across America, from Lincoln City, Oregon to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  My parents bought me my first SLR for this trip.  It was a Sigma with a zoom lens.  I took my only photography course the following summer at Glendale Community College in Los Angeles.  

I edited my high school yearbook and my college yearbook and newspaper.  So for many years I had access to a dark room.  Back then I mostly shot in black and white and bulk rolled lots of film and printed all my own work.  The bulk film and self printing allowed me to shoot a lot of film as cheaply as possible.

I've always shot a lot, but it wasn't until digital came along that I really took it to a new level.  Once the cost of film went away I could really shoot as much and as often as I wanted. 

I decided to publish 1,000,000 photographs mostly as discipline.  I wanted a lofty goal that would require me to work on my photography almost every single day for the rest of my life.  I want a goal which would ensure that photography would become a dominant part of my life.  By having this structured goal I can break it down into sub goals and I'm constantly reminded that I need to be working more and harder on my art.

I decided to photograph the 100 largest American cities I think shortly after seeing Robert Frank's The Americans at SF MOMA a few years back.  Frank is a big influence of mine and although I don't have the ability to photograph America non-stop like he did, I do have the ability to take more time and touch every major city in America.  My hope is in the end to have one of the best collections of photographs of America from my era.  I love America and consider myself an American Photographer.  

William Eggleston is another big influence of mine and when I consider his work I can't help but see America in his photographs.  It's something that I'm drawn too. 

I'll shoot other parts of America as well beyond the 100 largest cities.  I do think that probably 90% or more of my work during my lifetime will be done in America.

3)  Which is your favorite photograph that you have published so far?  

Joni Mitchell says "songs are like children."  How can one play favorites with children?  I see my photographs similarly.  I could never choose a favorite.  In fact, I really don't like editing my work or building collections beyond keyword oriented collections or collections by subject matter.  I don't even really like talking a lot about any one individual photograph at any given time beyond very basic factual or technical information about it.  For me I view my work more as a collection of photographs than any single photo or group of photos.  I like to de-emphasize individual photographs.

4) According to my most recent peek at your Flickr photostream, you have published just north of 65,000 photos.  That leaves 935,000 to go to reach your goal.  Assuming you do this for 50 more years, that is 18,700 photos per year, or 51 per day left to publish.  Do you plan to sleep any?  ;)   

I do plan to sleep.  Sometimes.  Actually I'm way behind in my goal.  You are correct that I'd need to publish 51 per day if I lived another 50 years.  I'm 43 though and not so sure I'll live to 93.  Right now I'm publishing about 50 a day to flickr.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  But right now I have both a day job that takes time and attention and four young children.  At some point my kids will be off in college and hopefully I'll be able to quit the day job eventually and I'll be able to make up for lost time in terms of escalating the production of photographs.

I do push myself hard.  Working hard is important to me.  

5) You and Trey Ratcliff are friends, and both of you are tireless flag-wavers for Google+, as well as huge advocates for photography in general.  Seems Trey has 846k followers there, and you have 835k followers.  If you pass Trey, do you think he will freak out?

Haha, Trey is the king of Google+, I would never dare attempt such a ridiculous feat.  Actually I think Trey's work is a lot more popular than mine.  Trey is also a good friend and someone who I admire quite a bit.  I don't think either of us really care about any sort of numbers race.  Britney Spears already broke the 1,000,000 follower mark on G+ first, does anyone else really matter anymore (JOKING!)

6) Tell us briefly why you think Google+ is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  

The web in general has been an amazing thing for photography.  Mostly because it allows us to publish our work and broadcast our work inexpensively.  Using the web we can go directly to the public and bypass the traditional gatekeepers.  In the past I think probably less than 100 gatekeepers in the world decided which photographers would be seen and which would not.  A handful of important museum curators, editors, gallery owners, etc. quite literally decided who would get distribution and who would not.

The web changes all of that.  It allows us to get around this former limitation.

Google+ just happens to be the best site out there right now for presenting and promoting photography on the web.  Flickr was the best place, but Flickr had stagnated for years and Google+ came along presenting us a better platform.

I want to see the best platform possible for photographers to present their work.  Google+ is that platform today.  Even more significantly though it turns up the heat in the form of competition.  I love it when websites compete.  I think one of the reasons that flickr never innovated or improved was because they didn't have to.  Now they do if they hope to stay relevant.  In the end the photographers win as better and better platforms are built to share our work.

EDITOR’s NOTE:  You can read more on Thomas’s blog: 


7) When did your popularity begin to rise, and how do you think it happened?  

I've been involved with the web since pretty early on.  I think I've been blogging since 2004 and I think I got involved early with photography on the web.  I got involved with Flickr back before Yahoo bought them shortly after they started. 

I've been very active over the years in the photo community.  I've probably hosted at least 100 photowalks over the past decade.  I've been very social.  I've gotten to know lots and lots of people.  I've embraced almost every social outlet available to photographers out there, and I've embraced them early.  I was on Google+ the very first day it was open to the public as a beta.  I think being early helps.

I watch a lot of people bash new things that come out.  It takes them months to finally get around to embracing something new that comes out.  Then these same people complain about not being popular on the big new thing.  I try to keep a pretty open mind about new technology and like to jump onboard something that looks promising as early as possible.

8) What do you do when you are away from photography?

I work on photography pretty much every single day.  If I'm not shooting, I'm processing.  I'm two years behind on my processing right now.  When I'm not shooting or processing I'm often working on the web publishing or interacting about photography.  I do take some time for my kids and job.

I like music a lot, but that goes with photography too.  Other than photography and the web (and my job and family) though, that's pretty much all I do.  I stopped reading books (except photography photo books) years ago.  I don't watch many movies anymore.  Sometimes I fall asleep to TV shows at the end of the day if I'm not on the web.  I don't do sports though or watch sports or really have any other hobby or interests in my life beyond photography.

9) What is your most viewed photo?  

hmmmm…. I have no idea what my most viewed photo is.  According to Flickr, this photograph has been viewed over 267,000 times. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/161990986/) It's a photo of a guy who I had an altercation with about my photography on a public sidewalk.  He claimed to be a cop and literally pushed me into the street off the sidewalk but wouldn't provide identification as a cop.  I did a write up on the incident after the altercation.  I think he probably worked for Bechtel who was in the building I was shooting.  Bechtel later sent me a letter of apology over the incident.  

10) What is the best advice you ever got about photography?

Probably to take lots of photos.  I think it was Cartier-Bresson who said your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.  Digital's probably pushed that to a new level.  Maybe now your first 100,000 photographs are your worst.  I think you make a lot of mistakes and learn a lot simply by shooting.  The sooner you get the early photos out of the way the sooner you can get on with later ones.


Thanks Thomas Hawk for participating, and I hope everyone enjoyed this as much as I did!!