Stephen Tobin’s Whitmanesque Eye

Pill Time, Photography36 x 48
When Newfoundlander Stephen Tobin, widely known as “The Wandering Photographer,” decided to call his solo exhibition “The Natural Instincts of Nature,” it is clear that he meant human nature, as well as the less animate elements of landscape.
    “Each of my photographs is a memory,” he says, remembering how, growing up in rural Canada, his  father, a teacher, would take him out into the wilderness, pointing out the wonders of the world.
    He endeavors to do the same for viewers of his work, saying “I would like my art to help people learn to stop and look around. There is so much beauty and wonderment  surrounding us all whether we live in Sydney, New York, or Timbuktu. We just have to enjoy it... If only people could learn to appreciate nature and their role in it, I think everyone would be happier.”
    Tobin’s point about the interrelationship between people and nature is well made in his photographs, which treat the human image, as seen in his picture of a frail elderly woman refreshing herself at a water fountain, as well as delicate yellow flowers growing  beside a rugged rock formation, with similar reverence. Indeed, the title of the second image, “Persistent Life,” could serve to describe both.
    Although his subject matter is almost always intimate, Tobin prints his pictures on metal on a large scale (often measuring at their widest point anywhere from 48 to 60 inches) to bring attention to the small moments and supposedly minor elements of our lives. in this way, he hopes to make us stop and notice the special significance of everyday events.
    Compare his remarkable color picture of a majestic eagle in flight against a backdrop of verdant foliage to “What Happened,” the equally noble and defiant headshot of a white-bearded homeless man, his sparse hair tousled forward on his head like that of a Roman senator. Both images have an enduring quality which makes them appear carved in stone.
    This eternal feeling has as much to do with Tobin’s technical finesse and the sharp focus of his pictures (except when a more blurred effect enhances their pastoral atmosphere, as in “Hidden Glen,” with its breeze-blown trees  almost appearing as though caressed by the supple brush of Corot) as with the particular subjects that catch his perceptive eye.
    Although he has “dabbled in sculpture and painting, Tobin says, “I always come back to photography...”
    That photography is obviously Tobin’s true calling is made splendidly clear in “Italian Accordian,” a splendid character study of a street musician seated on a folding seat in front of a wrought-iron fence. Obviously, he would appreciate alms from pedestrians passing by. Yet the serene smile dividing the man’s craggy face makes clear that his main satisfaction comes from the sheer joy of making music.
    Stephen Tobin understands such simple delight, which mirrors his own joy in capturing memorable images on the move, blowing them up to larger-than-life-size, and preserving them on metal for all the world to savor: a curious squirrel stopping in mid-scrurry to return the artist’s interest, staring back from the bough of a tree; a womb-like opening in a black cave to the dewy freshness of the green forest outside; a similarly symbolic flooded tunnel with a small square of light glowing at its farthest end (perhaps encapsulating in these two successive prints the entrance into and the passage out of life); and the absolute bliss of two tiny birds bathing in a shallow stream.
    A world of wonders indeed.
                                                                                                                                                                –– Marie R. Pagano

Stephen Tobin, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th St., May 11 - 31,  2013. Reception: Thursday, May 16, 6 -8 pm.

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