If you dream something in the morning, that dream will come true.
Most Londoners will, at some point, have stood opposite and scrutinized a 3 meter wide Lurpak ad on the tube. The one with the rainbow of food, so perfectly organized and coloured into the neatest captivating spectrum. And if you haven’t seen that, you will have seen the cover to The Blueprint 3, the best album cover of Jay Z’s The Blueprint trilogy. Dan Tobin-Smith is the photographer who created these masterpieces of advertising, but now he’s making something for himself. Collaborating with designer Rachel Thomas, the pair present Imaginary View, an exhibition of photographs and sculptures of a milky white wonderland, quite literally. Polystyrene models of deceptively huge fantasy landscapes float on lakes of milk reflecting an eerily calm, colourless city, and echoing Escher’s optical illusions or Piranesi’s staircases. Dan Tobin-Smith photographs his dream world using light, smoke and the idea of that heat haze you get when the scenery stretches so far into the background that the air starts to waver and its lines begin to blur. We get some perspective at Somerset House wondering around polystyrene arches and chatting to Dan the man himself.
What was the inspiration behind the polystyrene models? We had been using polystyrene for a while on other projects and were attracted to various things about it. It’s light and quite easy to sculpt with simple geometric shapes. The purity and texture is perfect. And we also like the fact that it used to be used in extravagant Hollywood sets (and still is). It also never decomposes which, considering the subject, is interesting.
What do you think photographing physical models brings to the image that a computer-generated image doesn’t have? There is a myriad of reasons, for a start, computer generated images would never have anywhere near the quality, especially to go to prints 2 metres wide. There is also light and its complexity, computers are a long way from getting near generating that complexity, like the slight translucence in the last 1mm edge of the polystyrene, or the way the light bounces off the haze, creating aerial perspective. I have been around photography for 25 odd years so that’s what I know and love, that’s where my culture is, it’s Rachel’s culture too. These images don’t just turn up by one person, they are a collaboration that happens when we all get together in a studio and set to make it happen after months of design and conversations. It’s a process I love.
Your work is generally very ordered with certain patterns running through it, are you a neat person? Yes pretty neat but I like making energetic compositions elegant.
You photographed The Blueprint 3 album cover, did you get to meet Jay Z? If so what was he like? He nearly came over and didn’t at the last minute, I guess he is a busy man, which was a shame as it would have been fun to meet him, he liked the work though so all good. They were very trusting and let us get on with it.
What’s been your career highlight to date? Too many different highlights for different reasons so hard to say. Sometimes the experience is better than the image, sometimes the image a is a pain to achieve but works so well that it makes it all good.
What are you working on next? An editorial for Another Man Magazine, some Louis Vuitton, and we will no doubt start designing the next part of Imaginary View soon. I’m also in pre production for a couple of letters for my Alphabet project, which I have been shooting for the last five years on and off.
Imaginary View is open at Somerset House now until 9th February.
Text: Felicity Kinsella
Photography: Dan Tobin-Smith
Installation: Rachel Thomas