Thom Elliott, a Cutler Bay resident who has lived in South Florida since 1973, is a photographer whose celebrity photos are featured in an exhibition, which continues through Mar. 2 at Pyramid Photographic Studios in the warehouse district of the Falls.
Images of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers and other stars reveal a different approach to photography.
“They’re not portraits,” Elliott said. “I call them ‘super candids.’”
The 10 featured photos and others in smaller frames in the main room were taken when he was the film production manager of a daytime television show in the 1960s, called Dateline: Hollywood on ABC-TV, starring Rona Barrett and Joanna Barnes. Mastering the job in about a week, Elliott sought to add some interest to his routine through photography.
“I picked up my camera and took casual snapshots of celebrities,” Elliott said. “The unique thing is that the stars did know I was taking their pictures because nine out of 10 times I asked their permission. One of them was George Raft, and the lighting was so low that his face was lit up by the match he was lighting his cigarette with.”
Elliott’s interest in photography began in the seventh grade in junior high. An afterschool program allowed students to process their own negatives and make contact prints.
“Then when I went into the Air Force I had a top-secret job I couldn’t talk about and my father had sent me a $10 box camera so I started taking pictures with that,” Elliott said. “I wanted to get a better camera so I bought a Rolleicord that was a version of a Rolleiflex, and I started taking pictures around Germany and Europe during the four years I was stationed over there.”
After Dateline went off the air, Elliott returned to the advertising field and moved to New York, doing freelance work for a number of clients. After he moved to South Florida, a chance encounter gave him new insights into the kind of work that was important to him. “
I took pictures of the artist Christo when he was here at the Lowe Art Museum for three days,” Elliott said. “He said that he never used corporate sponsorship because there are too many strings attached to it, and he didn’t allow anybody to put strings on his heart, and he did this from his heart. I turned away and started to cry, and his wife came over and said, ‘Thom, what’s wrong?’ and I said I just realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures from my heart.”
Since then he has tried to devote as much time as possible to creative photography, although he still does it as a business locally and keeps his New York clients by commuting monthly. He and his wife, Irene, also work as a team — she as a court reporter and he as the videographer. Elliott has taken part in Career Day at Southwood Middle School in Palmetto Bay, talking about photography to Jenifer Berse’s art students.
“I love the process of photography and I’ve met a lot of fine people through photography,” Elliott said.
When asked what’s next, Elliott said that a friend of his who lives in Las Vegas has broached the idea of him coming there with the same show of his celebrity pictures.
Pyramid Studios is located at 8890 SW 129 Terr. Its hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., or by appointment at 305-256-6944.
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