Tom Anderson, the founder of MySpace, dabbles in surf photography. No, seriously, he does.
If the name Tom Anderson doesn’t ring a bell, surely you’ll recognize his face. Before Facebook, Anderson founded the social media site MySpace and was the automatic first friend of anyone who joined. In 2008, he cashed out, stepped down as president, and in his semi-retired years since, he’s picked up a passion for photography. As of late, he’s been pointing his lens toward the lineup. We recently reached out to our old friend Tom for the details.
So how did you go from starting MySpace to shooting photos?
It seems strange, I know. But I’ve always done creative things. Before MySpace, I was a musician. I’ve also done a lot of writing. I worked in architecture and design. But photography makes the most sense if you know me personally. If we were only friends on MySpace, then it probably seems pretty weird. I mean, I’m the guy who never even changed his default photo, right?
Can you talk about the first photo you shot that really sparked your interest in photography?
Yes, in fact, it really was a specific photo. I was at Burning Man and had just got a DSLR camera. I really had no idea what I was doing, but the awesome setting, the interesting people, and the whole vibe of the place…it was like you were in a fantasy world. It was magical. I got several good shots walking around on my first day. But one in particular, I thought “Wow. That came out of my camera?” It just put the idea in my head that I could really get into this. If that photo on the first day came out OK, who knew where it would lead? I was hooked immediately.
A lot of your photos are shot in Hawaii. Are you living there part time?
Yes, I live in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I’m traveling a lot now, and trying to add a place in Asia somewhere. I like having a home base in different parts of the world. Another benefit of being retired is that I don’t have to stay in one place.
What is it about Hawaii that you like to shoot?
So far I’ve focused on the natural environment. The ocean, the mountains, the incredible trees and plants. Recently, I’ve started to shoot people. I don’t share those online as much, but the people of Hawaii are beautiful. There are so many ethnic influences and mixed people. You pass interesting faces on the street here every day.
It looks like you’ve been hanging with some of the local photographers like Zak Noyle and John Hook. Have they given you any advice on shooting surfing, or photos in general?
John Hook and I have become close friends, real fast. We hang out together almost every day when I’m in Hawaii. Everyone is so relaxed in Hawaii that I can just go along with him even when he’s got work and learn from him while he’s on the job. His approach is so different from mine, it’s nice. He sees things I wouldn’t even think to shoot. I wish I could say I hang out with Zak more, but I’m not man enough to be out there at Pipe. “The Office” as he calls it. That said, I have tried to get into the water in places where I won’t die. I’m trying to become a better swimmer so I can get comfortable out there and try my hand in the water more, but honestly I don’t think I’ll ever be a good enough swimmer to get those kind of shots. Zak’s work really impresses me. I don’t think a lot of people know it, but he’s got non-surf shots—more landscape-type work—that are just spectacular.
What would it take to get you to like SURFER Mag on Facebook?
Haha. I actually have a Facebook.com/myspacetom. Zuckerberg personally set up an account for me back in the early days when Facebook was college only. So it’s all good.