Tobi Sobowale Q&A
Tobi Sobowale talks photography with TheBlkGaze.
The Black gaze to me is about unapologetically showing the world through your eyes. Whether it be capturing people, food or landscapes. It is an opportunity to tell your story, without narrowing its explanation in order to communicate its message to a particular audience.
Black people are often categorised, grouped into a box, however we each have a nuanced perspective that is moulded by our experiences. Its about taking control of the narrative, which means being able to share our personal narratives amongst others. It is about taking that power back and not having others share our stories for us and our perspective on how we see the world.
How does this relate to your photography practice?
This is difficult for me to answer because I am still trying to find my feet within photography, although it has been 6 years. So I don’t believe my work truly represents my thoughts in relation to the Black gaze just yet. So at the moment, I mainly shoot beauty and fashion, which is often communicated as a refined perspective. You know everything must be perfectly retouched, lit and presented. However it presents people in a false light and although I have not yet started, I hope to challenge this. To unapologetically say with my work, “Maybe we should do things differently…”.
What do you want to say or address with your photography?
So growing up I had acne from an early age. I remember being the only child in my class with it at age 10 and I always thought that because it came early, it would also disappear early and that has not been the case. For those who haven’t struggled with skin conditions, they might be unaware of the impact that this has on someone.
So with beauty photography, the automatic response is to edit out blemishes. And with every one I edit out, a voice in my head makes me question the choice. So I would like to create work that tells women that they are okay as they are. We live in a world, where there are so many images presented to us, telling us what we should look like. But how about if we just looked like ourselves?
Besides that, my main aim within photography which I believe has shown quite consistently, is to show the nuances of black women. Yes we are strong and powerful but we are also soft and vulnerable. We aren’t just one way and I think that this is so important to show.
What influences and inspires you? How is this reflected in your work?
The people around me. I mainly photograph Black women and that’s because I am a Black woman, I was raised by a Black woman and a lot of the people who make me laugh, who make me cry, who inspire me are also Black women. And as I said before we are often categorised but yet we are so different and I want to show that in my work.
Who are your favourite Black photographers from the past? Why?
This is very embarrassing but I am going to be completely honest. I do not know any and therefore I do not have a favourite. I have not taken the time to actually study photographers from the past and as soon as I have finished writing this, I will be doing my research.
Please describe the highs and lows of your experience as a Black photographer?
My highs would be the reaction I get when people see the photos I take of them. I believe the whole interaction is empowering for both me, who is behind the camera but also for the women who sit in front of it. The lows would be not seeing more of the people who look like me, showing the world through their eyes.
Being Black and a woman is difficult and there are many barriers that we face. I am grateful to groups such as UKBFTOG and Black Women Photographers who are putting in work to create more opportunities for Black Women Photographers.
What work are you producing and what more would you like to do?
At the moment I am doing a lot of beauty photography. However they look like the work that I am trying to challenge. So I hope to have a project or two, that looks at dismantling the core themes of beauty photography and the lens in which we show women.
I would also like to create more documentary photography. I think even if its just as a personal collection, it is so important to take control of your personal narrative. And as a photographer I have the opportunity to do this. But so does everyone, phones now mean that we can all document our lives and preserve our heritage.
About Tobi Sobowale
London-based Tobi Sobowale is a architectural designer and photographer who specialises in portrait, beauty and fashion photography. Her work has been published by Ellements Magazine, Malvie Magazine; featured in BBC News Midlands; and exhibited at the Harris Museum Preston and Blank Space in Walsall.
Tobi is the founder of The Walking in Purpose Blog which encourages open and transparent conversation, encouraging women to love and embrace themselves.
Take part in The Q&A
The Q&A is an ongoing discussion open to Black photographers of all ages, genders and genres.