M.S. Rau Antique photographer, Thom Bennett
Years ago, through her informative column in the Hinds County Gazette, Jane Brent helped the citizens of Raymond, Mississippi keep up with what was going on in the area.
“It was the kind of paper that reported on whose cow got out or who was visiting that week from the big city,” says Brent’s grandson, photographer Thom Bennett. “She’d walk around the city with her pencil, pad and camera documenting it all.”
When Bennett’s bachelor uncle finally married at the age of 50, his grandmother handed over her camera to 11-year-old Thom and told him to take a picture of everyone. He did, and he was hooked.
A New Orleans-based photographer, Bennett’s portraits of artists, musicians and extraordinary New Orleanians have appeared in New Orleans Magazine, Biz New Orleans Magazine, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles, Restaurateur, ByFaith, Homes & Land, Kingfish, and City Business. His fine art photographs have been exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans Museum of Art and The New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery, to name just a few.
Bennett has spent a career doing commercial photography, making the products he shoots —from a copper kettle to a can of Coca-Cola— look like works of art.
For the past 14 years, he’s worked in the marketing department of M.S. Rau Antiques, shooting pieces from Tiffany & Co., Paul Revere and Fabergé.
“We have extremely high standards for our catalogs,” Bennett says. “It’s fast-paced because we get a wide range of products in daily — everything from jewelry to antique walking canes. Lighting is the key. It has to be really tight. For example, jewelry is really hard to shoot because sometimes a ring is no bigger than an inch. It’s almost like doing macro-photography. You have to make sure not to blow it out with too much light. You have to finesse the light to bring out the ring’s many facets, depth and brilliance. And each item needs to be approached on its own terms.”
Bennett loves the technological challenge of it all.
For his fine art images, he primarily works with large format cameras which use sheet film sized 4-inch by 5-inch or larger. According to Bennett, the bigger the film size the better the quality. A larger negative produces better quality prints because it requires less magnification than a smaller negative. It also offers a much greater range of tonal values and less apparent graininess. Think Ansel Adams and the amazing photographs he shot for the National Park Service in the ’40s.
“I have an 8-inch by 10-inch camera and I’ve had a 7-inch by 17-inch panoramic camera for a couple of years and I’m finally feeling like I’m getting the images I want with it.”
Currently, he’s working on an exhibition that will open in December at Hubbell Library on Algiers Point. The work is inspired by Michael Allen Zell’s novel, “Run Baby Run.”
“In many ways, New Orleans is the central theme of the book as his characters navigate through the city,” he says. “His scenes don’t take place in the tourists’ traps, but look at the whole landscape of the city, places like Poland Avenue in the Lower Nine. I’m not illustrating the book, just using it as a jumping off point.”
One thing is certain, as a career, self-expression or just as a hobby, Bennett loves finessing light, and it’s all because Grandma Jane put a camera in his hands all those many years ago.