Tom Oldham’s first solo exhibition takes place this week at the White Space gallery on Great Newport Street, featuring Lesotho’s herder boys in an array of arresting portraits.
Typically, Tom Oldham spends his days photographing internationally acclaimed musicians and world class athletes, such as Usain Bolt, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Lewis Hamilton, Damon Albarn, Janelle Monae and Ed Sheeran – to name a few. But while working with NGO “Riders for Health” in Africa during 2009, Tom became enchanted by a community of distant shadowy figures wrapped in large blankets living in the hilltops that his convoy repeatedly drove past. Those figures belonged to the “Herder Boys” a community of livestock farmers who live and work in the highlands of South Africa and the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho, specifically. Although he didn’t have time on that initial trip to meet with and explore the culture of the herders, Tom vowed to return one day to learn more about their daily lives, their hopes, their experiences and fears. And ultimately, to produce a photographic project with them.
Speaking about the moment he discovered the herder boys, Tom said: “I was shooting a motorcycle tour, rallying through this incredible mountain kingdom. I spent the whole trip in the back of a four wheel drive shooting and staring across these mountain views.
On the landscape I would see these wonderful silhouettes wrapped in blankets, who I later discovered belonged to the herder boys. They’re very much symbolic icons of Lesotho and it stuck in my brain, I had to comeback to learn more and hopefully engage with and to create a project about them.”
Fortunately, Tom had connections with a local health worker called Mr Moleko, who knew the region and agreed to tour the area with Tom so he could meet the community and develop the project with them. Using a Hasselblad H6D digital medium format camera to capture the portraits, Tom wanted to include the harsh environments that his subjects live in. But he also used each individual’s personalised protective blanket as the backdrop or key prop in each portrait. The resulting project delivered a series of arresting and intimate portraits of a largely isolated rural community.
Tom shares his thoughts on tackling personal projects, as well as his motivations for creating the herder boys series that was seven years in the making in the video above. In conjunction with Hasselblad and the skilled hands at Metro Imaging, Tom Oldham will be displaying hand-framed large format prints of his herder boys images at The White Space Gallery, Great Newport Street, London from the 26th of June until July 1st. Having previewed a few of the images, we would strongly recommend this short show if you have time to make it down to London.
Who and what: Tom Oldham – Herder Boys exhibition
When: June 26 – July 1
Where: White Space, 5 Great Newport St, London WC2H 7JB
How much: Free