11 Questions: Tommy Calderon
by Brent Cole
I first moved to Bellingham in the summer of 1992 and began seeing shows in earnest that fall, so I’m coming up on 24 years in Bellingham seeing shows and being part of the music scene. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say Tommy Calderon is the best person I’ve had the pleasure of working with through all of those years. Aside from the fact he is an incredible photographer, great writer and videographer (the trifecta of coverage), he is also the most genuine person I’ve come across. In spite of his incredible talent, Tommy is somehow without ego, always willing to help and be involved just because he likes to help and be involved. Local music is his world and that’s where he wants to be – and we are all better off for it.
We rarely do interviews with people who work for the magazine, but Tommy is special circumstance – he’s not only a part of What’s Up!, but he’s part of all the corners of the scene. And his presence makes this town’s music scene better.
Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Tommy Calderon and I am a music photographer, journalist and music lover. Despite being a self declared Bellingham native, I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and moved to Bellingham in 1998 at 5-years-old. My venture into the local music scene began with my friend Clark in early high school and I’ve been enthralled ever since. Last year I graduated from Western with a degree in visual journalism. I’m going on my fifth year of photographing and writing for What’s Up! and started freelancing full time since my graduation.
You spent the last four years photographing bands in Bellingham. What initially compelled you to pick up a camera? Did you have an instant connection?
When I was in high school I took a visual communications class and my teacher inspired me to start taking pictures. Specifically, he showed the class a documentary called War Photographer and that’s when I really knew that this was something I wanted to do and spend my life doing. It was totally an instant connection. When I started, it felt natural and like it was a missing piece that I had always needed in my life.
Now that you’ve graduated from college, your goal is to tour with bands, photographing their life on the road and shows. What has drawn you to this type of career?
As a teenager, going to shows was one of the most important and fun things to me, apart from playing in the band I was in. Bellingham was an oyster beginning to open for me and shows were the best part of this town. Local musicians quickly became idols and role models to me. Going to shows turned into a full on addiction. It provided me with the best feelings I had ever felt. Naturally, going to shows and photographing overlapped because I would take my camera everywhere. I saw that the images that I took were positively impacting the bands, attendees and that feeling I helped provide for people also provided me with a sense of accomplishment as well as pride. I continue to do this because providing something for people to look back on, that tells a story, gives confidence and is positive for them is why I do it. It comes from simply being a fan and wanting to give something back.
In an ideal world, what will you be doing in five years as a career?
In an ideal world, I’d be still living in Bellingham, taking pictures locally, still making Bellingham SoundCheck, touring the country and rest of the world with bands and hopefully still writing and doing work for What’s Up! Magazine. Fingers crossed.
As a photographer, what gives you the greatest joy in the process?
Beyond what I mentioned, I think seeing that people get excited to see the photos or that people get excited to see me at shows because they know they’ll have something to remember the show by feels the best. Nothing feels better than making others feel good.
When you aren’t involved with photography and music, what are your hobbies?
That’s really tough because it takes up a good 90 percent of my life but I love spending time with friends and family, movies, video games, reading, watching Youtube and I’m going to include listening to music, I told you it was hard to avoid.
If you didn’t live in the US, what country would be your home and why?
I’ve thought about this a lot actually and ever since I visited Australia I thought that it would be a place I could live. I fell in love with Sydney when I was there. There is so much to love about that city, the food, the diversity in cultures that live there and it’s just plain gorgeous. The only thing that holds me back is that it’s expensive as hell and I’m not a fan of the 15-hour flight back to the U.S. So unless I become stupidly wealthy I’ll be in Bellingham.
What was the most influential book you’ve read and how did it influence you?
Probably Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It has absolutely nothing to do with photography but a lot to do with making mistakes and success. The book showed me that being passionate about your work even when it sucks will always be worth it in the end. I’m also a sucker for anything he is involved with. He is a brilliant author and I love his work. He writes how he speaks and makes it so great to read.
Who is your favorite band to photograph?
You’re killing me Brent. I love to photograph so many bands for so many different reasons but I will chose one for the sake of this question. I’ll say Bayside because they’re a favorite band and the first time I got to see them was the first time I got to photograph them. It was a sweaty moshy night. Photographing them is like Christmas.
Please list your desert island classics. Top five albums of all time?
Okay, now we’re talking. I’d say Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1&2, Signals Midwest’s Light on the Lake, Bayside’s The Walking Wounded, Green Day’s Insomniac, and if you don’t count extra songs The Palisades’ discography. I know I cheated but if you combine their songs it’s just about a full length. All of these in no particular order of course.
It’s a Sunday morning following a great night of music, what are you doing?
I’ll be on my computer finishing photos from the previous night and upload the mass of photos onto my various social media platforms. Then I prepare to send them either to you or upon the requests of the bands. I try to keep the hype going as long as I can.
What are your plans for 2016?
2016 is looking really great so far. I have a few tours lined up so far and upon the magazine’s release I’ll be on tour with Special Explosion. Apart from tour, I’ll be working with the team at Bellingham SoundCheck to put out the best videos we can, photographing locally, and going to The FEST for my third time. I’m still making plans though and there is still room for more so I’m filling it as tight as possible.
Any last thoughts?
Thank you for the questions and the opportunity to work for the magazine. 16-year-old me remembers flipping through it looking for the next show and next great band in excitement. If I could go tell him that I’d be where I am right now he’d flip and nerd out like the quiet nerd he is.
I’m also going to take this opportunity to tell The Palisades that they’re due for another last show.
Published in the February 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine