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Photography Tom Blesch, styling Jamie-Maree Shipton, make-up Lynn Weiscz, model Roz Sharpe

Tom Blesch’s unedited ‘harsh soft’ photography changes how we view beauty

The German-born photographer wants fashion to follow in his footsteps and embrace the allure of unretouched beauty shots

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Tom Blesch’s photography is instantly recognisable. Lo-fi, yet polished, with a distinct banality that feels like you stumbled upon a private blog from the early-00s, it prompts you to stop your endless scrolling on Instagram and really take it in. 

Since he started out, the German-born photographer rarely creates images without teaming up with a host of friends and collaborators. “I love working in teams, getting inspired by other people’s visions and seeing our collaboration come to life,” Tom tells us.

The variety of creatives he works with create an array of captivating images, whether it’s glossy iridescent skin that is a kaleidoscope of colours or still life shots of balloon flowers dripping in slime. “I like the idea of painting on a blank canvas, that’s why hair colouring and body painting play such an important role in my photography,” he explains. His close-up shots give the viewer the opportunity to view the beauty in all its glory, though he’s clear that perfection is never something that he strives for, leaving the pictures raw and unretouched. 

Here, we speak to Tom about his photography heroes, relating to Spirited Away’s Chihiro, and why he wants to change the idea of perfection being beautiful.

What is it you do and how did you get into it?  

Tom Blesch: I’m a photographer. My obsession with photography started in my early teenage years when I saw photos from famous photographers like David LaChapelle, Guy Bourdin, and Steven Meisel. Being exposed to their work changed my life and my only goal from then on was to inspire other people the same way they inspired me. At the age of 16, I moved out of my parent’s place to assist photographers and to study photography. 

What are you trying to communicate through your work and why?  

Tom Blesch: I often let the camera decide what look the image is going to have. Often, I do not even retouch the images – even if I create a more ‘extreme’ look, it still remains ‘natural’.  

Who or what inspires you? 

Tom Blesch: Colours, Google Images, and wood, but mostly things from East European culture. 

Also, I’m very much inspired by real life and taking things out of their original context – e.g. working with nails that reflect like traffic signs, sticking on metal dots inspired by video game scans, or learning about colour studies through A Dictionary of Color Combinations for body paintings.  

What are you working on at the moment?  

Tom Blesch: Finding out what colour schemes are a no-go. 

What does beauty mean to you?  

Tom Blesch: Beauty is in everyone and everywhere it takes time to understand it. 

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.  

Tom Blesch: Natural, harsh, soft. 

How do you assert your identity and experiences through your beauty?  

Tom Blesch: I have always been criticised and treated differently by others. In consequence, I started taking pictures of people who experienced the same and trying to change that ’one’ beauty image the general public has. 

What’s your favourite smell and why?  

Tom Blesch: Beach Walk by Margiela. The smell of the beach always reminds me of something I didn't know I needed. 

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?  

Tom Blesch: Chihiro from Spirited Away – trying to understand the world without losing your mind  

When do you feel most beautiful?  

Tom Blesch: Being surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to express themselves and be themselves. 

How do you want to change the world?  

Tom Blesch: Working in fashion, you set trends for the mainstream. So always having a diverse cast and showing unedited images are steps in the right direction. 

You’re the editor of a time-travelling beauty journal 100 years from now, what  beauty trends are you reporting on?  

Tom Blesch: 2000s Euromix. 

If you had to choose one surgical enhancement, what would it be and why?  

Tom Blesch: A Google Maps chip because I get lost so easily when I need to be somewhere for the first time. 

What is the future of beauty?  

Tom Blesch: All body types, realistic skin, and always diverse casting.