Imaginary Landscapes Eggs Urban Zen Stop Signs Cape Cod Spring in New York In the Loft With W. Eugene Smith Portraits


Tom Okada is a third-generation Japanese American photographer born in 1952, New York City. Tom holds a BFA from NY Tech and an MFA in Photography from Pratt Institute. He is also a NY State Certified art teacher.

Art. Photography and art is at the core of Tom’s life. He is grateful for the privilege of having learned from the best of the best. Master photographers who have provided him with a framework of creativity and excellence.

While influenced by photojournalism and portrait photography Tom found his voice in still life photography. Tom’s gift is his ability to see something in an object and even in the urban landscape. By lighting his subject and using printing as his tools, Tom transcends the ordinary into the universal.

Master Apprenticeships. While attending a lecture at the International Center of Photography (ICP), Tom met W. Eugene Smith, the legendary photojournalist renowned for his World War II and Life magazine photo-essays. The two hit it off and Smith hired Tom to be his studio assistant in 1975. Working with Smith as his mentor, Tom got an inside view of how Gene created master black and white prints in the darkroom, the editing process, cropping, and selecting images for exhibits and limited edition portfolios. The two became close, and Tom asked Gene if he could photograph him for his Master’s Thesis at Pratt. Gene agreed and gave Tom access to photographing him even at his most vulnerable moments. The two-year project resulted in a photo-essay entitled “In the Loft with W. Eugene Smith,” which was a solo exhibit at Pratt Institute.

When Gene moved to teach at the University of Arizona, Tom went to work for environmental-portrait photographer Arnold Newman, known for his iconic portraits of artists like Picasso, Stravinsky, Stieglitz, O’Keefe, Miro, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Frost, Eugene O’Neill, and many more. Included were political luminaries such as Nelson Rockefeller, Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton. In addition to assisting, Tom printed all of Newman’s black and white photographs including the London Times exhibit “The Great British,” which subsequently became a book.

Commercial Studio Photography. Tom opened his own studio in 1983 in the photo district in NYC specializing in still-life photography. Some of his clients included: American Express, Heineken Beer, Avon, Nintendo, and Dentsu Advertising. Tom transitioned to the corporate world by launching one of the first and largest digital photo studios in the New York area with 20,000 square feet of shooting and production space. Initially employing under ten people, Tom grew the studio and managed over 50 employees servicing clients such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Gump’s, Ralph Lauren, and many more.

Teaching. Today, Tom teaches Art, Black and White and Digital Photography on the high school level. His assignments draw upon his professional experience to help students understand how mastering the technical aspect of photography is intertwined with their artistic development. His classes are extremely popular because he challenges students to explore relevant subjects such as "The Problem with Trash – a Look at the Environment", and unusual topics like photographing "Dreams, or the "Invisible".