Patrick F. Tobin

Interview 004 • Dec 6th 2012


Photographs, very simply, capture moments in time. A place, a person; an event immortalized in the resulting image. As we look back through the last 100 years, certain combinations of camera and film have created iconic images whose aesthetic is burned into our collective memory. Nostalgia is a powerful tool.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.


How long have you been taking photos?

I’ve always been very visual and artistically inclined. I had sketchbooks filled with illustrations. Drawing was a big chunk of my personality growing up.

In high school I took a 35mm film photography class. That’s when I really fell in love with photography. I didn’t start pursuing other formats until after college. I got a basic Polaroid 600, one of those plastic body cameras. Flickr led me to the SX-70, with its manual focus and glass lens. I saw what people were achieving with it, and the SLR 680. I was just blown away. The manual focus was a big deal. I was able to have so much more control over what I was doing.

I think in the last couple years in particular I’ve really focused on instant films. I most identify with that frame of mind. The SX-70 turned out to be one of the loves of my life.

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal

Are you mainly shooting Impossible stuff or are you still scouring the web for original Polaroid stock?

Mostly Impossible now. I’m loving the new color film. There was a time where I was always buying stuff on eBay, whether it was the integral stuff like type 600, or type 779, or even time-zero. It’s gotten harder to find and just more expensive because of just what little is left.

I do still have a very small quantity in my mini fridge, though I’m holding off using some of that. My cousin lives in Arizona. I’ve been down there to visit him and his family a few times. I’m saving a couple of the packs I have for the next time I go out there. I feel like instant film is just perfect for the southwest.

You took a road trip down to Arizona a few years back that I remember seeing?

Yeah, that was in August of 2008. My wife and I went to visit my cousin in Scottsdale. Before we even left I mailed a giant box of film to my cousin. I wanted to avoid dealing with X-Ray machine at the airport.

My cousin was nice enough to let us borrow his car. We trekked down to close to the Mexican border, past Tucson. There was this one ghost town I really wanted to check out. We hit Flagstaff, Route 66, Four Corners National Monument and the Grand Canyon. It was definitely a loaded trip but it was great.

What was your turning point with photography?

At some point in 2008-2009 I really started to feel like photography was just something that fit me. It helped define who I was, a way for me to speak visually.

As I’d mentioned before I’d always been very visual. My eye is never at rest. I’m always framing up things; I generally have a camera with me at all times.

I’m not alone in this sentiment but I really feel at times that I was born in the wrong era. This really speaks more to who I am. I’m a very nostalgic person, very sentimental. Growing up I saw a lot of photos of my parents as kids, and I always wished that I had been part of that time. I love classic cars and generally just have a soft spot for that retro feel.

I think that’s conveyed very clearly in your photos. It’s probably one of the reasons you’re so drawn to the southwest…

Yeah. In a lot of cases, things haven’t moved on in the southwest. On the east coast everything is new. You don’t see vintage signs, classic soda fountains, retro items…

On our road trip, you would see little markets that still had old Dr. Peppervending machines — it’s almost like it was in another time. I think you’re right, that’s why I’m drawn to that area. It helps that I also love warm weather.

I feel like the Polaroid and instant films in general fit that nostalgic part of my eye. I’ve gone through phases; my tastes have changed as I’ve gotten older. I try to capture that nostalgic feel and I’m shooting different things now than I did a year, or even two years ago.

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal


Aside from camera or film, what else has had an affect on your photography?

For me to make changes, it’s kind of a big deal. My personality does not like change. I always talked about moving to New York — always talked about doing it. For years we put it off, but then, we just did it…

I don’t think I had as much confidence in my photography before we moved to New York City. I’ve been able to make a lot of contacts. There’s always so much happening. Being in New York has lead to meeting far more people I might not have met otherwise.

My job at The Impossible Project has had an effect. I knew the people I work with now at Impossible for years beforehand online. We became real life friends the summer before I started working there. That community has provided a lot of good friends and given my photography more notice. But I’m always mindful not to use Impossible as a platform just to get my stuff seen.

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal

There seems to be a connective thread with the photographers we’ve spoken with: As they open up and meet others, there’s a certain epiphany; a sense of community.

I feel comfortable with a lot people online. Talking to them, seeing their photography, their updates…

The internet has really been amazing because I have this window into other people’s lives that I didn’t have in the past. The instant nature of being able to shoot something and then share it online is mind blowing.

My wife and I walked to Central Park yesterday. It was a nice day and I had a couple cameras with me so we shot a bunch of stuff. I scanned and edited the stuff last night. I could put it up online and get instant feedback on it right now.

I think that’s really helped those sharing stuff online. You get a feel for what works, and the stuff no one responds to. I feel like it has shaped my perspective, what I end up shooting, and even what I end up sharing.

There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t put out there, because I don’t think it’s good enough. I shoot a lot of 35mm point and shoot stuff. Maybe a small percentage ends up online. They always say you are your own worst critic.

Your portrait work with your wife acts as that “window” you mentioned. The connection is very apparent.

I think a lot of photographers have their muse. It’s fair to say that she’s mine. We’ve been together almost 7 years; it’s very easy at this point getting great shots of her.

She’s very patient with me, accommodating, and supportive of what I’m trying to do. For the most part, she just rolls with it. She’s done modeling before, so she’s very natural in front of the camera and is very confident in that way.

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal

You proposed to your wife using an Impossible photo. How did that come about?

It seemed natural to incorporate photography in the proposal. It was the month before we moved to New York. At the time, the Impossible films were much less stable than they are now. Amy was used to me having to hide away photos because the films were so sensitive to light.

The night I proposed, Amy thought we were going on a double-date with her sister and her husband Scott. Really, both sides of our families were going to be there to surprise her at this restaurant in Boston.

She got dressed up and looked really nice. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to take a picture of her. I shot a picture of her using The Impossible ProjectB&W 600 film. I tucked it away to let it develop. I called a cab and she went on continuing to get ready.

A couple minutes went by. “Hey, do you want to take a look at the photo I just took of you?”

I handed her a photo of the engagement ring I’d taken earlier that day. It didn’t make sense to her. She didn’t understand; she was expecting to see herself — instead the photo was of a ring. In that confusion I traditionally got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.

We were married this past June, and just celebrated our 5-month anniversary. Maybe it’s goofy but every once in a while we’ll look at each other and I’ll be like “Whoah, you’re my wife!”

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal

Are your family and friends as supportive of your photography as Amy?

I definitely have a great support system from both sides of our family and friends. I think it’s tough with parents. They’re so protective. They want the best for you.

I was a teacher in Massachusetts for about five years. I had a great experience and I got a lot out of it. I loved my students and miss them, but it wasn’t for me.

There was no creative outlet. I was always shooting and taking pictures, but it was more of a pastime, a hobby. I felt kind of trapped there, honestly. I wanted something different; I wanted to get back into the creative side. After college I shot and edited videos and films. I missed that while I was teaching.

The idea to move to New York was to have a big change. To try something new. My parents, at first, thought I was crazy and foolish to give up a job where I was paid well, with security, and benefits. I had actually just gotten tenure.

My mom in particular was not thrilled about having me so far away from home and giving up that security. But I’m 32. It was time to make a change.

I’m super happy where I am now. I’m thrilled to be working for Impossible in a great city, but getting to this place was tough, I won’t lie. When we moved here I didn’t have a job. There were three or four months where I was just kicking around trying to get work. The cost of living is very different here than it was in Boston. But we’ve made it work. We’ve been a really good team together.

What have you been shooting lately?

This year has been difficult. I’ve suffered with Crohn’s Disease since I was 14 or 15. I’ve had my ups and downs with it but my body has always been receptive to medication. It’s nothing that’s defined me. Complications this past year led to two semi-major surgeries. I’m very thankful for the GI department at Mount Sinai. I’m glad to say that I’m feeling completely normal again.

The surgery left me recovering for decent portions of the year, The Impossible Project has never had me busier, and I’ve found myself less and less inspired to shoot in New York City. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the city, but it hasn’t made me want to take photos lately.

I’ve felt very drawn to shooting trees and skies. In the city you just don’t get stuff like that. I used to live on property outside Boston that was a farm. Trips have been fueling my inspiration. We’ve gone to upstate New York and a few trips to Massachusetts recently.

I think the bigger point might be the strict routine I’ve made living in Brooklyn. I wake up, go to work, come home, spend time with my wife. I see and experience the same things everyday. It doesn’t always breed the inspiration to shoot.

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal

What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken?

Wow. Honestly, the first photo I thought of was this photo I took of Amy’s sister. I took it with my Polaroid Square Shooter camera with Type 88 film. I’m in love with Type 88 film. I’m heartbroken it was discontinued. I have one pack left in my mini fridge and I don’t know what I’m going to use it for.

I have to mention my last Type 600 film shot as well. I’m sure this is true for a lot of photographers but I really just shoot for myself. If there’s something that catches my eye, that I’m really drawn to, then I’ll take a photo for myself so I can look at it again.

There are many times where we’ll be walking around and I see something and make Amy stop in her tracks to get the photo. That last 600 shot is that. She had just happened to roll out of bed and was talking to one of the cats in the window across from her. I was up already and came into the room and told her not to move while I grabbed a bunch of cameras.

You work at The Impossible Project in New York. What’s it like being part of photographic history?

Our office is smaller than people would expect. Impossible worldwide has maybe 80 employees. In the US, our team is 14 or 15.

We all have really great synergy. So many different minds coming together to make something. Everyone’s workload can be pretty high. We all work multiple positions and pitch in as much as we can. We are very passionate about what we do everyday. I love going to work everyday.

I work in the promo, marketing, and online marketing department. We’re responsible for compiling the photos and info that will be used in the newsletters. We’ve expanded the US blog to be more of a superblog, focusing on recurring editorial content.

If there’s something special coming up, my manager will give me a couple boxes of film and tell me to shoot for that theme or product. In some cases it’s a photo I took on my own. Other times, I’m shooting as an assignment at work. It’s awesome because in the newsletters they will often share a link to my blog. I’m grateful for the exposure.

I’m excited about the newest Impossible color film. It’s barely sensitive to light and is the closest product we’ve been able to make to the original Polaroid stock. There’s also a new B&W film that will be coming out next year.

Interview 004: Patrick F. Tobin for The Photographic Journal