Some of us discover our passions in life at an early age, but being that timing is everything, not everyone is able to pursue them right away. This week’s Urban Beardsman is Tommy Cairns, a brilliant photographer based out of Kilmarnock, Scotland; and after over twenty-five years of mastering his corporate Software Sales and Management Consultancy role, he decided it was time to start a new chapter and pursue his passion for photography. Little did he know, that some of the projects he’d take on later would inspire him to grow his beard out as well.
Cairns states he’s always loved photography as far back as he could remember. After leaving his corporate gig, he mixed his previous business knowledge with his photography skills, and turned his favorite hobby into a customized lifestyle. “I was fortunate to have a successful career in my previous world that allowed me to retire and do something that I’ve always wanted to do,” he says.
Gifted with a natural talent for portraying the essence of each individual, Cairns is also well known for his clever use of natural light. He reveals his secret weapon integrates his strong beliefs of honesty to strengthen the connection in his work, sharing, “I aim to get the most out of every shoot I do with someone. Each individual has their own personality—so working to get that one shot that portrays them as they really are—that’s what drives me.”
Cairns’ work later began to receive worldwide recognition, resulting in an abundance of agencies reaching out for projects that allow him to travel the globe. However, one of the most rewarding highlights Cairns notes in his career came from his own daughter, revealing, “I had managed to convince her to sit for me as part of a recent project. When the shoot finished she had to leave straight for work. I edited an image I had chosen and sent it to her, and I didn’t hear back from her for a while which concerned me—then she replied with ‘OMG!’ And I heard nothing from her for about another thirty minutes. At that point I was even more concerned until she informed me she had to go away from her desk and cry. She told me she’d never seen herself like that before. It was extremely touching for me.”
As dedicated as he is to bringing out the best in his subjects, Cairns has also become an expert in the field shooting portraits of bearded gents. He explains how working with one model early on, opened the floodgate for more requests to come. ”It was never a plan to shoot so many bearded guys, it just kind of happened. I originally shot Chris Millington, who was pretty much at the start of his modeling career. He lived locally, so it was a logical step to ask him over for a shoot one day. We both were looking to just get some good images for both our portfolios. Then his career really took off, like big time, and after our second shoot, my images of him began to get noticed much more by a wider audience—resulting in more agencies calling—and the rest is history.”
Being a product of his own art, it’s no surprise that Cairns’ subjects have also inspired him to grow his own beard out, admitting, “photographing so many bearded guys has definitely had an influence on me deciding to grow mine out. Firstly, I didn’t know if I could, but always thought about it. I could never get past the first ten days though—so it was mainly for me to see if I could finally grow a full one—not in the sense to copy anyone, but getting ideas from others is always a good thing. Plus, I’ve not met anyone yet with a beard as grey as mine!”
The grey tones to his beard have also made him feel unique in the bearded culture. “I feel like it sets me out from the crowd a bit, and some of the younger bearded models I work with occasionally tell me they have beard envy,” laughs Cairns. He also shares that his bearded look helps affirm his own brand identity. “I do get recognized more, however I’m always taken back when people want to get their photograph taken with me. Getting recognized on the street can be a bit strange at times!”
As for the future, Cairns has no plans to shave off his extended accomplice, stating, “my own generation of friends often say it makes me look older and I should take it off—but that kind of attitude just makes me want to keep it more! I’ve had my corporate career and achieved many of my goals so that bit is done. Now I’m really doing what I love. It’s let me meet so many different people and opened new opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined when I started out—that combined with my love for travel put altogether, I feel extremely fortunate to have the life I live.”
Proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams, you can expect to see more of Cairn’s work displayed ahead. He states, “I want to continue to find challenging and interesting work, and try not to conform to a typical style of photography, and as long as I keep finding interesting people to work with, I’m happy.”