Photographer's Focus
“I am interested in people, how they connect and what makes them tick. As a photographer, you become a part of the community, you are more likely to be taken in when you have a camera, it’s like a passport.”
Photo by Laurien Jones ©
Tobi Asmoucha

Tobi Asmoucha's love of photography began when she was just seven years old and she started rearranging photo albums ("None of our family albums are in chronological order!" she says).

At 14 she started taking photos and borrowed a school camera for a contest, which she won. The prize was her very first camera, a Canon A1, which she still owns. "I knew then that I wanted to be a photographer," says Tobi. "It was just a question of how."

She studied photography at Ryerson University and worked in a photo studio and as a photographer's assistant before starting to shoot her own projects towards the end of her time at Ryerson.

"I started to show that work to art directors," says Tobi, "and within four years, I was starting to get work that I liked doing. I was shooting more community work; people, places, neighbourhoods."

A love of shooting communities remains with Tobi to this day. "I am interested in people, how they connect and what makes them tick. As a photographer, you become a part of the community, you are more likely to be taken in when you have a camera, it's like a passport."

Tobi also does a lot of corporate photography and architectural work. "With architecture, it's all about how to make it look the best that you can," she says. "I walk around the location before setting up, I scout it in advance to let it seep through. Then I throw it all away when the light changes! It's all about space and light, you have to be quick on your feet and decide what you have to do to make it look right."

Teaching at the Toronto School of Art and Humber College has provided Tobi with new challenges and benefits. "As a photographer, you're not often collaborating, so I enjoy that part of teaching, and it makes you a better photographer and person. It's a good way of giving back. I get a lot out of it so long as I still have time for shooting."

For Tobi, working with young people brings other advantages as well. "I love working with youth from different neighbourhoods," she says. "I took a group of inner-city students camping and got them back to nature. Many of them had never left the city. You could see them morphing in front of you."

Peter Bregg got Tobi involved with PhotoSensitive after she met with him at MacLean's Magazine, where Peter was a photo editor. Peter introduced her to Peter Robertson who in turn connected her with Andrew Stawicki.

"I think Andrew took me on as a project," says Tobi. "He was really good to me. I also started working for his magazines. I really liked the sense of collaboration that you get with PhotoSensitive projects. We photographers are usually lone wolves, so it was nice to have that group dynamic. I also got to work on projects that I wouldn't have done on my own."

Tobi's first PhotoSensitive project was Destination Toronto, but her favourite projects so far have been The Strength Within and Vibrant Communities in Focus.

"For the United Way exhibition I spent a lot of time with the women at a drop-in centre," Tobi recalls. "I got to build relationships with the people there and was surprised at the scope of people - they came from all backgrounds and ages. I felt like I got to know different communities.

"I got to spend a lot of time with a group of older Chinese women and although we couldn't speak a word to each other, I was taken into their group and they always made sure I had something to eat and a place to sit with them whenever I saw them. The camaraderie was really special."

Working on Vibrant Communities in Focus affected Tobi on a very personal level. "I spent a lot of time shooting at a home for pregnant teenagers," she says. "At the time I was pregnant, and they were all giving me advice on what to expect. Even though these were kids themselves, they had a baby to deal with. I could really relate to them."

As with most photographers, Tobi embraced digital photography some time ago and uses a Canon 5D mostly, but also likes to use a Hasselblad film camera on occasion. "I love the quality of film and how it's more of a mystery," she says. "I like it when you don't get to see the image right away."

For Tobi, the immediacy of digital cameras has forced her to change the way she now edits her photos. "I often find that my key photo is not the one that I would have chosen when shooting," she says. "For example, I was doing a project on the Jewish community in Zimbabwe and there was one photo that I completely ignored at the time of taking it, I didn't think anything of it.

"Later on, when I was editing the images I realized that it was the picture. I find that, as an artist, it's too personal, you need time and space to edit properly. I try not to erase any photos until I have seen them all later on."

As far as the future is concerned, Tobi is hopeful that she can continue to do the work she loves while juggling the responsibilities of being a new mother. "My fear when I had a kid was whether I would be able to continue doing my work," she says. "Initially I only took jobs where I could take her with me. I even took her into meetings and would breastfeed her in the boardroom afterwards!

"As long as the client was open to me being a new mom, it would be OK. I put her into daycare at 10 months and I now do a lot of jobs at weekends and in the evenings, but it's a hard thing to juggle successfully. It's hard on family life and I find I have to prioritize."

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