West of the Sun – Essay by Jim Shannon
Written by Jim Shannon for the introduction to ‘West of the Sun’:
Great art has always been about taking great risks, so we should celebrate those like Toby who are willing to defy convention, whatever the fashion.
Toby turned his back on a promising career as a documentary photographer to concentrate on landscape work. A risk that most, having found artistic security, wouldn’t take.
To really understand what his work is about its important to see both sides of the story. Long influenced by Koudelka and similarly fascinated by nomads, a strong sense of itinerancy spans all his images – and the manner in which he works. He’ll spend weeks in remote locations, studying whatever maps he can find for clues, then driving as far as the roads will take him before heading off on foot to find what he’s looking for. As this collection shows, he avoids the obvious locations – and the spectacular anomalies – to show us a far more representative view of nature.
Critically though, he hasn’t abandoned his documentary skills – continuing to perfect them, despite the change of subject. He found he could photograph the landscape in the same instinctive way.
I’ve watched him a few times. He moves quickly through the environment and works surprisingly fast, constantly experimenting with framings and compositions. There’s a great sense of ‘Toby’ in everything he produces. He mischievously plays with your own notions of how the landscape should look by drawing you into visual dead ends that, as your eyes retreat, cleverly reveal the real subject. He’ll make your eyes linger longer by creating both large-scale drama and subtle dialogue in the same frame. All this in complete contrast to the traditional landscape photographer, weighed down with equipment and waiting long hours for pleasing light. Its elements like these that make his work stand apart – and give us a unique and uniquely accurate view of the world’s wild places.
Unusually, but not uncharacteristically, Toby photographs on 35mm film using an old manual camera and still prints all his images by hand in a darkroom. He spends hours creating his stunning prints which, due to the limitations of lithographic printing, this book can only hint at.
There’s little romance in his images, but there is a genuine love of nature. Beyond literal representation, they tell stories and suggest myths and magic beyond their four corners. In Toby’s hands we are forced to reconsider landscape photography and learn to disregard that which is instantly appealing. His images challenge the viewer to see the world and the medium in a different way.
If you ever needed proof that risks – of any kind – are worth taking, its here in these pages…
Always on the outside of whatever side there was – Bob Dylan
I just wanted to find out where the boundaries were. I’ve found out there aren’t any. I wanted to be stopped but no one will stop me. – Damien Hirst