Tom Craig chose a kingfisher. (Photograph by Koen Cuppens)
Tom Craig chose a kingfisher. (Photograph by Koen Cuppens)

Tom Craig, photographer, on a kingfisher

GB Why did you choose the kingfisher?

TC I think the porous nature of our own memories means that beauty is often better held in the mind than scrutinised in reality. That is one of the many magical things about the kingfisher, he rarely shows you more than a fleeting sideways glance, the moment you know he’s on the scene and he’s gone again, leaving just a precious peep and streak of electric blue across your retina. The mind does the rest, fills in the blanks and gives you that modest, magical perfect bird.

GB Can you remember the first time you saw one?

TC As a child I spent my days by a river, I raided my fathers fishing kit and over the years caught every species of fresh water fish the river had to offer. My concentration on the water was occasionally and abruptly punctuated by the flash of a kingfisher. There’s an unforgettable scene at the end of ‘Empire of the Sun’ when a young Christian Bale shouts “P-51 Cadillac of the skies,” at the low flying fighter-bombers, it describes perfectly how I felt when I first watched a kingfisher at work and indeed how I still feel today.

GB Do you think it has a universal beauty? That anyone from any culture would find it beautiful?

TC I spent four years studying Biology at university and there is no question in my mind that all the closest things to perfection come straight from nature. Evolution is a singular force that drives any object to improve and over millions of years it becomes astonishing. A person that could not find beauty in a kingfisher is someone I would actually feel sorry for.

GB You cross the fashion and the art worlds. Do you think about or discuss beauty a lot in your work?

TC I rarely discuss it whenever I am photographing but I spend my life looking for it. It’s a bit like looking for your car keys on a beach. Even in the rare moments it presents itself to me I struggle to describe it and it amazes me how hard it is to recreate. I do believe there is an inner beauty and as rare as the flash of that little blue bird, sometimes it appears in a photograph and when it does it’s mesmerizing.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

TC Something you want to keep, I can look through hundreds of images where my subjects have only made tiny changes to their posture, gaze or expression, yet there are always frames that stand out. That’s what makes it so precious that special beauty can be so fleeting, so fickle and always so impossible to keep hold of.

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