< Back to News

The Kiwi Creative Who Conquered New York

As director Tom Gould heads home to New Zealand, he talks to The Stable's Candide McDonald about his unusual journey.

Tom Gould was born and raised in New Zealand and has done the almost impossible as a creative. He has conquered New York. As well as accumulating a remarkable list of advertising clients, he has found fame by documenting New York pop culture and is very much in with the in-crowd there.

Gould’s films and photography have been exhibited in MoMA, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the British Film Institute. He is the co-creator of Viceland TV show, F*ck that’s Delicious, with Action Bronson (currently available on demand on SBS). His client list is the who’s who of culture and includes The New York Times, the NBA, Nike, New Balance, British Vogue, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Reebok, Universal Records, Dazed and Confused Huffer, Vice, Viceland and MTV.

“New Zealand is home and always will be,” he told The Stable, “but New York became another home and really allowed me to experience parts of life that were unattainable in New Zealand.”

Here is what else he said about his unusual journey as a creative and the unique work that came of it:

The Stable
: A lot has been written about your work, Tom, but not about you. So, let’s start with a little history – how and why did you become a photographer and director?

Tom Gould:
Being a kid growing up in Aotearoa I was exposed to art at a young age and was actively encouraged to embrace the creative things in life. As I got older, I would seek out the visual things that interested me. This went from comic books to cartoons and then to graffiti – which occupied my teenage years.

Once I found photography and started taking pictures of my surroundings, I started to realise that documentation had real purpose. I was taught that the only way you can preserve anything is through documentation and that really stuck with me. From then on it became something I focused all my attention on.

It was always the stories and personalities behind the pictures I was taking that caught my interest, so once I realised what you could do with film, the stories you could tell and the emotion you could evoke, filmmaking became my love. I felt I was now able to tell stories with a deeper emotional connection to an audience as opposed to a single frame.

TS: You are based between New Zealand and New York, what attracts you to those two very different places?

I think because of the fact that they are truly opposites – I feel blessed to have the best of both worlds.

Overall, I feel life and work are about balance. These two places have totally different paces of life and it’s nice to be able to go back and forth to remind yourself that your energy is the most valuable thing and keeping that balance is important.

TS: What triggers your interest in documenting street or pop culture? How did that turn into an impressive portfolio of brand work?

I was always fascinated by subcultures and youth movements since I was a teenager – especially the subcultures that were birthed in New York. Even though I was a kid who grew up thousands of miles away in the South Pacific, it made us even more eager to be a part of what was going on. The sounds and visuals coming out of New York were so captivating and the whole energy around those movements made me want to document them for myself.

I was lucky enough to move to New York in my early 20s and I started making music videos for people I had met in my early years. Some of my first videos were for my friend, Action Bronson, at the very beginning of his career.

As time went on, I would continually document aspects of culture that I felt were important or overlooked – to me these personal projects were what I really cared about and the more I released these projects, the more I was getting approached by brands to tell stories and to create visuals for their campaigns.

I always encourage any young director to pursue their passion projects and to just go out and tell stories that need to be told. As a director these early years of finding your style and voice are crucial.

TS: What are your other passions?

Collecting books. There is something satisfying about finding an old first edition book that you have been searching for. It’s something that brings me a lot of joy – or maybe I’m just getting old?

: What was the first work that made you say, “I’ve arrived” (in your profession)?

It would have to be the Action Bronson Easy Rider video. It was the first video that Action and I made that actually had a budget and we could do all the things we wanted for the video. Although an oldie, it’s a goodie.

TS: What makes you stand out as a director?

TG: feel it’s the way I can relate to people and develop trust between my subjects, allowing honesty to be felt. I began making documentary films and telling stories about real people and I feel that has aided me tremendously in working with actors. Overall, I feel filmmaking is about having respect and if you approach the work with the right intentions the outcome will be honest and authentic.

TS: What are the three favourite works that mean the most to you?

Brownsville Born. This was a passion project that lasted many years and created a strong bond with an amazing family. The story is about Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington, a young champion boxer from Brooklyn and his road to the Golden Gloves – paralleled with his family’s path to justice after the murder of Bruce’s brother. I met the family in a park one day in Brooklyn and we started talking, Bruce was just 16 years old at the time and his brother Mike was still alive. Three years passed until the family were ready to tell their story and to share the emotions they were going through. I see it as a meditation on grief and the power of a family unit amidst an America plagued by gun violence.

Bury Me With The Lo On. This was a project 6 years in the making. It began with a book of the same title, the short film came along with the second edition of the book. The story focuses on a gang that was formed in Brooklyn in 1988 called the Lo Lifes. The Lo Lifes were known for their obsession with all things Polo Ralph Lauren and for taking the “American Dream” that was personified by Ralph Lauren and making it their own reality. It was a special project as their stories and style of dress became a subculture in its own right – one that I had followed since I was a teenager. After the release, Ralph Lauren himself wrote me a letter expressing his gratitude for the book and film, this in turn led me to shooting multiple campaigns for the brand over the last few years. Life came full circle!

Reebok – Heart Over Hype. This was a special commercial project as it involved real people in an inspiring community. The spot was cast through personal connections and to me it showed the depth of ambition and hustle within the city of Philadelphia. It was also humbling to create something that honoured the legacy of Allen Iverson while welcoming the latest recruit to the 76ers, Josh Richardson.

TS: Tell me about the music video you have made recently?

I heard Teeks’ music a couple of years ago and was amazed by his voice and the timeless sound of his music. For the video I wanted to mirror his sound as much as possible with the visuals and create something that was iconic and timeless. Black and white film does that for me – it’s a medium that brings a timeless and unique quality to the screen, so having these moments immortalised on celluloid was our intention.

We wanted to reflect the themes expressed in the music – but without it being too literal. I like when the audience can make their own assumptions and are guided in their own way by the song and visuals. The video was shot in the Hokianga. It was a special place to shoot as that’s where Teeks is from and is a place that provides such natural beauty and history. It’s also a place I hold dear to my heart and have had a connection to for many years.

This article was first published by The Stable on October 6 2020.