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Art&Seek Q&A: Photographer Tom Hanson

by Stephen Becker 1 Oct 2009 7:06 AM

American Airlines pilot Tom Hanson discusses On My Own Time art contest, his approach to photography, and what it’s like to see the world from miles above as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:


The Getty Center, Los Angeles

For a photographer, the ability to jump on a plane and fly around the country to shoot is one of the three wishes you’d probably ask from a genie.

Welcome to the life of Tom Hanson.


The American Airlines pilot has been flying for nearly 40 years and taking pictures for almost as long. Whether he’s flying to Jackson Hole, Wyo., as he is this month, or anywhere else on the map, he always takes his camera with him.

And his travels have produced a slew of award-winning photographs. Some of those awards have come from the On My Own Time art contest, which he has entered again this year. On My Own Time is an employee art competition organized by North Texas Business for Culture and the Arts that allows people to show off the creative lives they lead outside of the office. An exhibition of some of the best submissions is on display at NorthPark Center through Sunday.

During a recent phone conversation, the Southlake resident discussed how he makes time for his art, his approach to photography, and what it’s like to see the world from miles above as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:

Art&Seek: I would imagine that being a pilot has given you the opportunity to shoot all around the world?

Tom Hanson: It has. In fact sometimes I bid my trips to go to different things, sometimes for shooting, sometimes just to go to New York to see the museums and exhibits. Or if there is an exhibit in San Francisco, I’ll try to take it in if I’m going there.

A&S: Do you bring your camera on every trip?

T.H.: I take my camera with me all the time. I have several different cameras. The ones that I take with me on my trip used to be a Cannon digital Rebel, and now I’ve got a little [Panasonic] LX3 that I take.


A&S: How would you describe your approach to photography?

T.H.: I have a degree in architecture, so when I entered the On My Own Time contest, I thought, gee, what do I have that I can bring to the party that is kind of unique? And I thought back to the architectural photography that I did in college. So I thought, let me concentrate on that for a while, so I did these ones of the Getty Center (above) and entered them. … You might not recognize it. It’s kind of surreal, almost abstract. It’s actually turned 90 degrees from the way I saw it, but it creates its own composition, like a sculpture.

A&S: It’s interesting you say that, because looking at these pictures, it looks as if you are almost more interested in capturing shapes and forms over, say, the whole building.

T.H.: In the architectural ones, that’s exactly right – trying to capture the feel of the architecture more than the overall view of the whole building.

A&S: It also looks as if you enjoy bringing together your science and engineering background with your artistic side.

T.H.: I noticed something interesting after I finished architecture school. There were some people who were extremely creative, and it took them an extra two years to get through architecture school. And there were people who were extremely engineering oriented, and their designs were always kinda crappy looking. Photography is a lot like that, too. You have to blend the logical and the artistic; the technical and the aesthetic, and you kind of shuffle along between the two of them to create architecture or a photograph.

A&S: You seem to be equally comfortable in color and black and white. Do you have a preference?

T.H.: I like to go back and forth. They both have their own unique aesthetics. The color photographs, you use the color to enhance and make the photograph more interesting. In the black and white, it’s all composition and tone and texture.

A&S: Do you shoot everything digitally?

T.H. I do. I like both art and technology, and the digital technology was very interesting to me, but at first it didn’t seem to have the quality necessary to do anything like this. But as it came of age, I jumped right in there, and I’ve been having a great time exploring the digital avenue.

A&S: So to what degree do you use computer editing to manipulate the image?

T.H.: Well, I usually do whatever I think is necessary to really make it expressive.

A&S: Right now you pursue photography around your work schedule. Do you have any plans to transition into doing it full time?

T.H.: Yeah, the plan is to transition from being a full-time dad and airline pilot to, as the kids are moving out and going to college … Not quite full time, but almost full time. In the meantime, I do commercial architectural photography for Realtors and different commercial properties that need good architectural photographs. Just enough to keep me in new cameras and printers and supplies and stuff like that.

A&S: So when you are flying, do you ever look out the window of the cockpit and see something you wished you could shoot from up above?

T.H.: Oh sure. Especially flying into Jackson Hole, Wyo., as you’re flying by the Grand Tetons at sunset. That’s quite a view.

A&S: And I would imagine it’s frowned upon to pull out your camera and shoot while flying?

T.H.: Yeah, I think you’d get in a little trouble for that. So we’ll just say I never do that.

The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.

Bank of America building, Dallas

  • Jim Uhl

    Very impressive. You have a great eye.

  • Andrea Overman

    Individuals who can blend the right/left brain seem to do some of the most interesting things, don’t they? Beautiful photos, Tom.

  • Selma

    Thanks for that interview and pictures – what an interesting perspective!

  • You are very talented and have a great eye. I love to see this passion you have for photography. Nice job Tom.