Chad Tobin’s Street Photography

Chad Tobin has a day job. I suspect he’s very good at it. But this article is not about the CBRM resident’s job—it’s about his passion.

Chad Tobin

Chad Tobin, self portrait.

Tobin is a street photographer.

To take a really good street photograph, he says, you must ensure all the elements in the photo are separated. It’s a good analogy for his evolution as a photographer—all the individual elements that brought him where he is today stand out with unusual clarity in his recounting:


The Art

“I discovered photography probably 10, 15 years ago…I was living down south [in the Caribbean] and there wasn’t a lot to do except hike and take pictures. I picked up a digital camera…I just started taking pictures, and I really enjoyed it. It was just like I was a kid and it was…this thing of discovery.”

He eventually returned to Canada and began shooting weddings:

“…it was kind of like intense event photography, in the sense that you have to deal with weather and people, and so it taught me a lot but I noticed I wasn’t very happy and it didn’t really move me.”


The Mentor

“[T]here was one wedding photographer that I discovered… His images looked different and the way he approached things looked different… there was an intimate look to it. And because of the intimate look, I decided I had to find out who this guy is. His name is Riccis Valladares, he doesn’t do photography anymore. He does something else. He’s from Cuba originally, but he lives in Miami and he was a wedding photographer. And his images…there was something completely different about them.”


The Tools

“I started doing some research and I discovered he used something called a range-finder camera. He wasn’t using a camera that was gigantic and off-putting, he was using a Leica camera. And I saw the Leica camera and I’d kind of read about it a little bit but I didn’t know what it was like using one and then, John at Quality Camera had one and he…put it in my hands and it was…this eureka moment of, ‘Okay, this makes sense.’

“…I was still doing weddings and I…finished up with those and then…I sold everything and I…put it into this one camera, one lens and I started taking pictures. And things started to change. The type of pictures that you take, because there’s no auto focus and the lenses don’t zoom…if you want to make an interesting photo, you have to get close. …[T]here’s that famous quote by Robert Capa that says, ‘If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.'”


The Genre

“I…discovered that this wedding photographer [Valladares] did street photography…He had this whole philosophy that if you didn’t have personal work, you won’t be able to sustain yourself in the wedding industry.

“[I] fell in love with his work, contacted him and he was so gracious and mentored me and gave me advice, would kind of give me critiques and things. Just…through Facebook…And I started making images and things started to change and I felt like I was at the beginning again, with the happiness…They often say a beginner’s mind is very happy…I try to stay in a total flux of staying a beginner and just being hungry.”


The Place

“I did a photography workshop last year that really changed things…It really affected me because [the instructor] really was hard on us. There was no patting on the back. I think the first set of images I submitted he said to me, ‘Don’t ever send me pictures of somebody’s backs again. If you’re going to take this course, step out of your comfort zone.’ And right away, it was very inspirational to me to go, ‘Okay, I’ve got to step up,’ because I really want to.

“…I think you find what you’re passionate about, I think that’s the key. And for me, I have this fascination with Tokyo. I saw…’Lost in Translation,’ and I didn’t know what it was, but there was something about the city and the themes of loneliness and the neon color and I just remember in 2004 sitting on the end of a bed in a hotel room somewhere thinking, ‘I have to go there one day.’…[T]he photography teacher that I did my course with, he had lived in Japan for about seven years, so a lot of his work was Japanese work and I was like, ‘I gotta go there.'”


Walking & Waiting

In 2015, he did, traveling with a photographer friend. He spent a month in the city, eschewing the tourist attractions in favor of the streets; spending his days taking pictures—8,000, by his own reckoning.

“Japan is an amazing place to take pictures because it’s amazing what you can get away with because people are not going to challenge you…The key is to be respectful and I always try to be respectful.”

But people can respond negatively: “I try to be nice, but at the same time, people can be upset,” says Tobin. “Street photography is very hard. To take a good street photo, like a really good one, is very difficult.”

“There’s a street photographer, probably one of my favorites now, and he said, ‘What is street photography but walking, waiting, walking some more and simply hoping that something happens?’ I think that’s all it is—and 99.9% of it is failure.”

So why do it? Why risk annoying people? Why spend hours “simply hoping that something happens?” Why force yourself ‘out of your comfort zone?’

For the pictures. Which speak for themselves…

Tokyo: Color

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Tokyo: Black & White

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