As a small island community, we are always looking for ways to come together.
Today’s guest is no different. Tom Flipkowski, or Tom Flip, as we all know him, came to Key West 15 years ago, camera in hand, and built his career as a photographer.
He shot weddings, ad campaigns, creative projects…but in 2013, a new opportunity would give wings to an interest he’d had all his life, which was photographing people.
Heads Up Key West, as the series of photographs is referred, just celebrated its 5 year reunion with now a total of over 1100 portraits created of…you guessed it…the interesting, iconic, and intriguing people of Key West. But the interesting thing is, it’s about more than just a pretty picture.
Tom is very passionate about his work, his community, and the struggles faced by an island society, often caught in a constant balancing act between providing that sense of paradise that visitors so crave, and the needs of the population who keep it all running. His project was as much an insight into our culture, and how it has changed in 5 years, as it was about people.
I had the opportunity to be a part of this project, when I stood in the same long line with the rest of the community, this time at Mary Ellen’s Bar on Applerouth Lane in Old Town, and got to see what all the fuss was about. There they were, lines out the door, wrapped around the building, people standing for hours to have their approximately 5 minute photo shoot with Tom.
When I finally got to sit for my portrait, I was struck by this strange dichotomy between Tom’s comfortable manner and easy way of striking up meaningful conversation with complete strangers, set against the undertone of nervous energy that naturally comes from being photographed, the sense of inquietude that two giant and very bright lights beaming at you might have on a rational person, and of course, the vulnerability you feel giving permission to someone you barely know to not only see, but capture you, with the sole intention of sharing it with the world.
Or…at least…our world. The project culminated in a gallery opening at the iconic Studios of Key West on October 4th, 2018, greenlit by Executive Director Jed Dodds, the show organized and hung by Gallery Manager Lauren MAC-Loon, and in collaboration with Mary Pierson and his team at Wonderdog Studios,
And…complete with a screening of the documentary created for this project, spearheaded and filmed by Matthew Dockery of Docklight Productions,
So many people from the local community turned out in support.
Soon after, I had a chance to sit down with Tom, and together we flip back through the pages to get to not only the genesis of this project and the inspiration behind it, but also exploring what makes Key West the kind of community where a project like this is not only needed and appreciated, but why it means so much to the people who were involved. We touch on the humor one can find when trying to get a good picture of someone who’s mayyyyybe had too many, theorize over how some folks look BETTER now than they did 5 years ago, and we also get into some hard topics like economic disparities in what many otherwise assume is a perpetually sunshine-and-rainbows existence, and what it feels like to sometimes have the last true portrait of someone before they leave us for good.
One thing I want to say before we jump in…sigh…you know…when I started this podcast, my mission was really to bring you the real back story to events and businesses and people in Key West, and share conversations we have as locals, because I feel like there is so much more to the destination than what you find in a twenty minute TV segment about the top ten travel tips. Now, as someone who has made a career of destination marketing and does work for tourism boards and hospitality brands….with pretty pictures of sunsets and palm trees, pithy quips about hammocks and kayaks and long walks on the beach….I have to say, there are some conversations that I realize may blur the line a little.
If you’re more the vagabonding sort, keen to get into the nitty gritty of a destination and experience it on a more granular level, then you might find our more locally-focused issues we talk about to be that peek behind the curtain you crave. And if you’re a local listening to this, well, you ought to feel right at home.
If you’re listening to this show because you love the glossy Key West photo you send home on the postcard, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and we thank you and embrace you and invite you back again next year, but please understand that on the back side of that postcard are all the markings, ink smudges, postal stamps, bar codes, and instructions that get it where you want it to go, and just like that, there might be topics we sometimes get into that show more of the underbelly….and like that postcard, we hope you’ll appreciate the other side too.
Either way, I wanted to just say that no matter what brings you to the show, I hope you’ll appreciate that because these episodes are about real people, and real stories, sometimes we have to set down the colorful cocktail with the tiny umbrella and just speak plainly.
As always, I’ll have links to anything mentioned in the episode in the shownotes, and a few photos, including the amazing portraits *I* received from Tom, and you can enjoy that over at Key West Perspective dot come forward slash podcast forward slash tomflip, that’s tomflip, all one word.
I hope you enjoy the interview, and don’t forget when you’re done to head over to www.tomflip.com to check out all the portraits taken.
If you were photographed, your image will be in that gallery and available for purchase. I just bought mine, my husband’s my daughter’s, and we had a friend go with us and picked his up for him too…They arrived quickly, they look great, I can’t wait to have them on my wall…and no he did not ask me to say this and no I’m not getting anything for it…I’m reminding you because I think it’s important to support our local artists…guys they are like 20 dollars to 35 dollars….have you had a professional portrait done of yourself? No? Okay…to hell with your iPhone..yes it’s got portrait mode and all that on it now, but do you have two daylight-balanced kino-flow continuous light banks, a 50mm lens with a hair’s breath focal plane cued in tack sharp at a cellular level of your eyeball? No! Didn’t think so. Tom worked really hard on this project, you waited in line for hours….yes…I know I know, you’ve got “the diiiigital and everyone can see it on soooocial media”. Okay fine, so when one day he takes the gallery down, or Facebook goes away, or the Zombie apocalypse happens, your beautiful portrait will just be gone…(speaking of Zombies, will we see you at the Zombie bike ride on October 21st?....I digress)…anyway, just buy the dang portrait and hang it on your wall. Okay? Thank you.
Oh yeah and if you’re looking for the documentary, that’s over on Matthew Dockery’s Facebook page, you can see that at facebook.com/docklightproductions, click on Videos and you’ll see it there posted on October 5th, 2018. Or go to https://www.facebook.com/docklightproductions/videos/304275683722743/ to find the video directly.
Some additional shoutouts we had in the show, Marky Pierson from Wonderdog Studios, you can find him at MarkyPierson.com, Jed Dodds and his team at Studios of Key West, that’s at the corner of Eaton and Simonton Streets and you can find their schedule of art classes and galley openings at their website, http://tskw.org, a nod to Amigo’s Tortilla Bar, they’re at 425 Greene St across from Captain Tony’s that’s where Tom works when he’s not shooting, Blue Heaven Restaurant where Tom’s wife Lyndsey is a bartender, that’s at 729 Thomas St over in the colorful area known as Bahama Village, shoutout to the Greene Parrot, 601 Whitehead, just a few steps down from the Mile Zero sign, Mary Ellen’s Bar on Applerouth Lane.
Our show intro music is entitled “Always Home”
by the artist Hatch
you can find them at soundstripe.com/artists/250.
heck out their other music as well.
I hope you’re enjoying what you’ve heard so far. I’m really, really interested in your feedback and input. Let me know what you like, let me know what you want to hear. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram @Key West Perspective, You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can leave an audio comment on the website, that’s right you can actually record your question or comment as an audio file right from our website, on the right hand side you’ll see the option to create a recording. You can play it back, redo it if you don’t like it, and submit it when you’re ready, along with your name and email so we can let you know we got it, and if it’s something I can dive into, I’ll feature you on an episode.
That’s all I have for you now, and I’ll see you next week.