Industry Interviews

Tobi Wilkinson
Photographer

November 05, 2014

Describe your vocational job/role?

I am a fine art photographer specialising in hand printed black and white images shot on traditional film and developed on fibre based photographic paper. That’s my first love. But I do also shoot digital and I enjoy the medium and the added flexibility it gives. Traditional film is a far more intuitive process because you don’t see the results of your shooting until several days later when contact sheets are developed. It suits my personality much more, whereas with digital, the feedback is immediate.

How did you first become a photographer? At what stage did you know that this is what you wanted to do?

My husband completely surprised me and gave me a camera for my birthday long ago when I was still an instructor in the fitness industry. I couldn’t put it down.

What other type of work have you done in your life and did this other work lead you to where you are today?

I started in the fitness industry when I was 16. I was an instructor, in the days of high impact aerobics and then I became a personal trainer. I was in the industry for 18 years and although I was ready, it was very hard to leave it, particularly with the certainty of a consistent income. Moving into photography, especially black and white photography, was a leap of faith.

Did your childhood impact your career choice in any way? And if so, how?

I was a very independent child from a single parent family and I think that shaped my determination to work for myself. Even in fitness, you are essentially a sole practitioner so moving into photography, which can be a very solo profession, was not a difficult step in that respect. I’m sure someone who has come from a very collegiate environment may find the isolation hard, but I enjoy disappearing into a dark room for hours on end.

What has been your greatest career achievement to date?

For my last exhibition, called “Buddha’s Robes”, I had a strong pre-visualisation of how I wanted it to look and it was the first time that the finished product matched my own creative expectations. That was a stunning achievement for me.

Who and what influences and inspires you most?

Mostly past photographic masters – I have hundreds of books and I pore over the images.

What does the word ‘creativity’ mean to you?

I think it is the moment where you let go and surrender to the other side of yourself, the intuitive, the non-thinking side. Anything that is produced in that moment is something that is generated by creativity.

Are you inspired by any other photographers or artists, past or present?

It’s a pretty mixed bag  – Ralph Gibson, Anne Lynham, Vivienne Westwood, Salvador Dali and the surrealists, Bill Brandt, David Moore, Jeanloup Sieff, many of the aboriginal artists. It’s often more a particular image or piece of art rather than an entire body of work.

Do you ever mix artistic mediums?

I don’t, not that I’m not open to it. Within photography, I’m beginning to experiment with different development mediums, styles and techniques and these can create a mixed medium feel, but strictly speaking no.

What are your thoughts and feelings about fashion?

I struggle with my own fashion identity, or voice I guess you could say. I think this is because I feel like I mop up influences around me and sometimes these colliding concepts rattle me and I get lost in my own fashion crisis – but that said, I do love clothes.

What does style mean to you?

Style means comfort in your own skin  – it carries a grace and elegance to it. So it’s a particularly personal thing and I appreciate anyone’s style if they really live it.

Would you ever consider fashion photography?

Never. I’m an observer of fashion rather than wanting to make it my business.

Do you consider fashion design to be a form of art?

I do, I consider anything creative to be art.

What are your thoughts about social media?

Good and bad I guess – where it’s helpful and enabling, it’s very good, where it’s negative and destructive, well, I just steer clear of it. I have thought about a blog myself with my fellow shooters, but we are still getting our heads around it.

How do you juggle raising a young family and working?

Its hell of course. A friend of mine described motherhood, especially working motherhood, as giving birth to a life of guilt. There’s never the right balance. I actually think there’s no such thing as the right balance; it’s an unattainable concept that we working mums have set for ourselves just so that we can never quite achieve it. Deliciously perverse. But again, in saying all this, I wouldn’t want to be without my family and I wouldn’t want to be without my photography, so somehow the juggle works.

What would be your best advice to offer a point of difference to other artists starting their own careers? 

Get started, making a small step will turn into something and listen to your own voice.

If you could go back and start your career again, would you do anything differently?

I’d definitely have wanted to start everything earlier – family, photography, everything. I think fear holds so many of us back and we call it being responsible, being diligent or building a career when it’s most often rooted in a fear of doing something different, being judged for that and possibly failing. Fear is so crippling because it comes in so many guises and is often not fully unmasked until you’re older or the opportunity has passed.

What is next? Where do you hope to be in 10 years from now and what will you be doing?

Immersed in my photography, pushing out my boundaries, fearlessly living and surprising myself everyday.

You can find Tobi on Instagram @tobiwilksonphotography

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