Interview: Photographer Tom Brychta, Documentarist To a Changing City

Photo: Tom Brychta. Credit: Fernando Galindo.

As the second largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno is a place full of stories and artists narrating them. Thanks to its plural, cosmopolitan nature, Brno also attracts people from all over the globe and awakens in them the desire to create. One of these people is photographer and artist Tom Brychta; Brno Daily sat down with Tom to learn more about him, and in consequence, about the city itself. 

BD: First off, who are you?

R: My history is a bit complicated. I was born to Czech parents in Brno, but I grew up in a city called Limerick in Ireland, and I only decided to return to Brno in 2019. I wanted to study at university and explore this whole other side to me. Explore my origins, I would say. I used to consider myself Czech, but now I know that I’m not quite like Czech people, so I would call myself half Czech, half Irish. 

BD: Could you tell us more about your work as a concept?

R: In terms of my work, it all comes out of some creative and artistic drive that I have always felt. I think I was always very observant and emotional and that has led me to make music, photography and film.., but I’m also something of an extrovert, I love talking to people and that pretty much led me to studying marketing and working on some entrepreneurial projects including my own record label/media agency. Lately I’ve been focusing a lot of my time on photography though.

“Czech California”, from Rozvoj X. Credit: Tom Brychta.

BD: What does your photography focus on?

R: Well, I currently have two main photography projects. The first one, called Rozvoj X, started in 2020 and documents the impacts of socialism on Czech culture. I realised that I have a pretty unique view, I can see things from both the outside and the inside and I wanted to share this view with people. I’m pretty far from finishing this project though, even if I’ve taken hundreds of photos for it at this point. I’m in no rush to finish it, I think that the longer I spend at it, the more valuable the insights I will be able to capture. 

My other project on the other hand is pretty close to complete. It’s called Neon Wind and I basically document local independent stores… you know those corner shops, sometimes owned by Vietnamese people… I discovered that Czechs know very little about them, despite how common they are, and what’s more, they seem to be changing, modernising, and so I felt this was a unique time to capture that whole visual style and document their existence.

BD: How does Brno influence you as a creator?

R: I think Brno really influences me visually. There’s so many places that are different to what I’m used to, and all of my photography concepts are tied to me seeing something around me in Brno, like shops, buildings, trams, people… I also love public transport; I even shot a short film in it, which I’m also working on releasing, called N98 after one of the night lines. I would ride around for ages, taking notes of different places and ideas that would come to mind. Giving me a sense of purpose and creative flow. Something I would never get in the same way back in Limerick. 

On the other hand though, it also feels like Brno is still a pretty tough place. I’ve had to work really hard to make ends meet. Sometimes I almost think of myself as a magician, with what I’m able to do with so little money and support. I know that has also definitely made me a better creator. But I’m sure things will start to even out with time.

“Guest”, from Neon Wind. Credit: Tom Brychta.

BD: What would you like to accomplish with these projects?

R: Well, both projects have different goals. Rozvoj is more about the commentary, I really want to write about what I see around me, how Czech people think and act. I want the project to act like a mirror, reflect back what is hard to see, in a way, if you know what I mean. I want it to be positive and inspirational, I want it to help people make the most out of my knowledge. Maybe it can help both people coming to Brno or Czech Republic and the people who already live here. 

With Neon Wind, I want to create a sort of window in time, documenting all the shops as they are. I also want to document the stories of the owners, help them communicate with the public. I have noticed that a lot of them are foreigners, something I can really relate to, and I would like this project to give them a voice. For both projects however my final goal is to publish them as physical books. I have thought about it and I think that it’s the best form. I struggle to communicate the entire complexity and depth of these projects through classic channels like social media. I’ve never published a book though so I’ll need to do my research, other than finding a publisher and doing a good marketing campaign, I have no real clue.

“Commissar”, from Rozvoj X. Credit: Tom Brychta.

BD: What equipment do you use in your craft?

R: I shoot on 35mm film using a Soviet-made Zenit-E from the 70s that I got from a family relative. The decision to shoot on film was made partly because I was fed up with the digital world, I thought it was just a sterile and uninspiring medium, but also because of money. I figured I could take pretty good photos on film at a fraction of the price of a good full-frame DSLR. It has its disadvantages though, not only was film near impossible to get during Covid and now it’s painfully expensive, it’s also technically much more challenging. Artificial lighting in Neon Wind especially creates heavy color casts on film, making some shots unusable. I have learned what light works well on what film and have also finally been able to afford some filters recently that help balance colours. I would argue though that these downsides are also positive, I have had to think a lot about how to shoot, about each place and photo, and I’ve also decided to work with a lot of these artifacts like colour casts because they add to the desired atmosphere and character to my shots.

BD: Where can our readers see your photographs?

R: Right now I have two instagram accounts, one called @rozvoj_x and one called @post_neonism. I use them as a kind of public portfolio, but not everything is on there right now, I am trying to keep some material exclusive to the book. In fairness I have invested a lot of time and effort into all of it, so it would slightly pain me to just throw it all online for free. Definitely though, the instagram accounts are places to keep you in the loop about what’s going on, so check them out!

“Pearl”, from Neon Wind. Credit: Tom Brychta.

BD: What other projects are you currently working on?

R: Haha, that’s a tough question. In general all my projects tie together somehow, but my main two projects apart from photography are my alternative label Blowout Records, where I help a small group of artists release music, and my short film N98, a sort of artistic statement where a lot of interesting views will be explored. Photography is something I do all the time, but my serious ambitions lie in these projects, helping other artists and creating multimedia works of art. It’s hard having all that on me, but I take it in small steps and I hope that it will all come together. 

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