From the moment he could walk, Tom Barrows was fiddling with a camera.
Barrows’ father, George, was instrumental in piquing his son’s interest in photography. George, a reporter for the Washington Post in the 1920s and ‘30s and an early member of the National Press Club, always was holding a camera as he covered everything from transportation to the White House.
“He had an old Crown Graphic for press work,” says Barrows. “Eventually (my parents) bought me a Brownie camera, and I started taking pictures from there.”
Barrows, 69, largely followed in his father’s footsteps through high school in Minnesota and college at Colorado State University, taking photos for the yearbook and newspaper. He would continue photographing off and on until retiring from FedEx in 2014, switching from film to digital cameras along the way. Since then, he’s made more of the opportunity to photograph Evansville through the lens of his trusty Fujifilm mirrorless cameras.
Barrows spends much of his time now managing the Evansville Photography Group page on Facebook and mentoring enthusiasts on the art of photography and Photoshop, but he never misses an opportunity to capture the area’s unique scenery and people.
“I’ve always wanted to do something creative, and I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” he says. “I couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow. I can’t even do the cowbell. (Photography is) the one thing that I can do. I can’t do anything else, but I can take a picture.”
How has photography evolved since you first picked up a camera?
It’s become more democratic. Back in the film days, you had to be a chemist. You had to love the smell of the chemicals and the feel of it and be able to mix it in time.
I don’t know why, but it seemed limited to mainly male photographers back then — not that there weren’t some excellent female photographers, but the gender roles have changed since then, because now it’s the inverse. It’s just a different environment, and digital photography has made it for the masses. Everything is done using software now instead of a chemical bath.
Describe your process and style.
I generally shoot with a plan to shoot. If I’m going out to Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area to shoot a sunset, I kind of know what I’m going to do, and it just becomes the process of figuring out where I’m going to do it. And then what happens when things don’t quite work out, like when a sunset doesn’t become a beautiful orange, pink sky, but just turns gray and dull, what do you shoot then? Sometimes, I’ll turn around and go home. You don’t always have to take a photo. I’ve always got a plan as to what I want to do, shooting with intent, and then try and get it as right as I can. I don’t want to spend hours and hours in software trying to fix something that I could have gotten right in the camera.
As far as my style, I think I look at it more with a journalistic eye. I’m trying to get the emphasis on the thing in the photo that I think is the most important and reduce things to the lowest common denominator. If there’s extra junk around the outsides, I crop it out. With what I take, I’m trying to tell a story. Not every picture has a story. It may just be a texture or an interesting image, but I much prefer going for something that makes people think a little bit.
Tell us about Evansville Photography Group.
Jason Massey was the creator. He created it in 2014 and I joined shortly after, and between the two of us, we just built it up. I remember us having trouble getting to 200 members, and now we’re at almost 6,000. It has grown substantially, and we’re kind of proud that it is all local — not just Evansville, but the Tri-State. (Editor’s note: Massey, a former Evansville resident, has since undertaken traveling full time; see “Hit The Road,” July/August 2019 Evansville Living.)
About 95 percent of the people are living within this area. We have a few expatriates who have moved on and want to keep up. Some of them are photographers, and some of them just want to look at the pretty pictures or remember what home looks like.
You’ve mentored several photograpy enthusiasts. What’s behind your willingness to collaborate with other photographers?
I like to involve people if I go out. We have meetups where I teach Milky Way photography and astro photography. We’ll go out at two in the morning around this time of year, or eight or nine in the evening later in the year as the stars align themselves. I really love to collaborate on things. When Jason Massey was here, we started what we called garage sessions. We would meet at Jason’s garage and get three or four photographers, find a couple of models, and then work on learning a certain type of lighting or do a certain theme for a photo shoot, and we’d bounce ideas back and forth. It’s just so much more enjoyable to do it that way with somebody and share the results, see what everyone will come out with that’s something unique and different. It’s not like we’re in competition with one another. It’s about getting out and doing what’s fun. I really enjoy it when everyone comes in to do their shoots, and I always make myself available and I get just as much enjoyment out of seeing their results.