Welcome to another new series of interviews and insights that we are running on theappwhisperer.com. This new section, entitled, “Extension of the I,” goes deeper into the photographic aspects of mobile photography. It delves into the lives, thoughts and influences that our artists experience from their photography. No other mobile photography website reaches the depths and emotions of the mobile photographers as we do in this new series of interviews. If you’ve missed our previous interviews of this series, you can read them here.
We think you’re going to enjoy this, a lot. Today we are featuring Tommy Vohs. We recently interviewed Tommy in our “A Day in the Life” interview series. And if you missed that, you can read it here. Tommy is originally from the Channel Island of Jersey and has been living in Canada most of her life. She has worked as a train conductor at Canadian National and VIA Rail out of Toronto for 25 years and will soon be working solely at VIA as an engineer, driving the passenger trains along the Quebec, Toronto, Windsor corridor. When she’s not working you’ll find Tommy playing ice hockey, guitar or with spending time with her girlfriend Erin’s two kids; Max and Phoebe. The iPhone has a very important place in her life and she’s constantly in the ” iPhone position”; shooting, editing, squinting.
Tommy is honored to have had her work exhibited at the Red Church Gallery, coeval, Ontario; the MJG Gallery, Parliament Street, Toronto; LA MAF, Santa Monica, California; the Kiernan Gallery, Lexington, Virginia and Akasha Art Projects, Church St, Toronto.
Read more about Tommy in the following interview. You also find all the links to the apps mentioned at the end of this article.
(If you would like to be interviewed for our new “A Day in the Life of…” section, just send an email to Joanne@theappwhisperer.com, and we’ll get it set up.”
First Things First
© Tommy Vohs – “Crossing College” – Apps Used: Leme Camera
Joanne – How did you get started in photography?
Tommy – I’d like to think I’ve come by it naturally….My father was an excellent portrait photographer, but it was just a hobby to him. I was completely captivated when he’d develop photos in his own small primitive dark room. I saw what he could create and was especially wowed by a double exposure he shot of my Mother in 1969, both sitting in the chair and standing next to herself lighting her own cigarette. I was 3 when he shot that and I’ve never forgotten it.
Flash forward to November 2010. I am a train conductor in Toronto. I was driving a massive 2 mile long, 11,000 ton freight train when I hit a fully loaded transport truck, dead centre on the cab of the truck. I’d had many accidents before, most resulting in fatalities; a boy, several men, a suicidal woman. I couldn’t return to work without finally dealing with all of those deaths. Part of my recovery process was getting a hobby….. Power up the iPhone..
One week after the accident a friend made me purchase an iPhone and not long after I discovered photography apps. I started shooting photos of myself on-board transit to calm down as I’d travel to the workplace trauma clinic. Then I found iPhoneArt.com and it opened up a whole world of possibilities to me.
© Tommy Vohs – “Glow Stick” – Apps Used: PhotoPower, PhotoTropedelic and Image Blender
Joanne – Who and what are your influences?
Who: My Father is at the top of the list. His ability to capture mood in photos is, in my opinion, second to none.
Next are the women who have influenced my attitude toward not only photography but living life. Unapologetic, and moving against the grain of so-called normalcy, they used their cameras to break down the barriers of sexism, and male dominance in their art form.
Who – Margaret Bourke-White, who was a brave pioneer to the letter of the word. She was the first foreign photographer permitted into the Soviet Union, the first female war correspondent allowed into a combat zone and shot the very first cover of Life Magazine. It doesn’t end there. If you have the desire to hear more, her life was one courageous moment after another. She was nicknamed “Maggie, the indestructible”. Her general attitude to life was either you are with me or get out of the way.
Who – Frances Benjamin Johnston who was called a bohemian for her nervy intrusions into the male-dominated world of photography and more specifically her shots of the female nude. Rising up against adversity, she remained true to her creative urges; not an easy task in the time of her life.
Who – Diane Arbus; shooting marginalized people and calling them Aristocrats, she stood out among photographers of her time. I know what it is like to be so passionate about your vision yet be surrounded by the harsh sounds of dissent. She would not balk, she would not be deterred. I remember when her death was announced on the news in 1972, I was only 6 but feeling like a stranger myself.
My friends on IPA; Sonya Sanchez Arias and Cat Peck. Their dedication to color moves me in indescribable ways. On my path to recovery, I chose to use color as my prescription drug and resist the many attempts by health professionals to dull my grief with meds. When I discovered Sonya and Cats work, I was thrilled beyond words to let the brilliance of their work move through me and calm my anxiety with undeniable success. Art therapy works!
What: As I’ve reiterated, Color is a huge influence. It reaches deep inside me and turns all of my switches to the on position. My home is painted in orange and peanut butter brown and yellow. I can’t imagine living in a place with white walls…
Transit, shiny metal, speedy vehicles and deep woods tweak my inner core and open up my eyes like a high voltage shock. I know they seem to be contradictions but I am not a one dimensional being.
© Tommy Vohs – “Mowat” – Apps Used: Lomora and Jazz!
Joanne – What draws you to the subjects you seek?
Tommy – I guess as far as my propensity for transit, my job of 25 years is responsible for that attraction. I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the power and capabilities of trains, planes and other forms of mass transit. The speed and shiny metal really draw me in.
The strength and fragility of nature combined with all of its intense colors is a complete draw for me too. Nothing takes my breath away like a nature shot lit by the rising sun.
© Tommy Vohs – “Queen Street Crossover” – Apps Used: PhotoPower, Leme Camera and Dynamic Light
Joanne – What is it about these subjects that you want to capture/communicate and ultimately convey in your images?
Tommy – I prefer to shoot lots of double exposures because there are always hidden or semi-visible parts, and stories, past and present within the photo . I try to create photos that are like a table of food, not just a plate, meaning I want there to be lots and lots to chew on or look at. I love a good story and like to offer many possibilities in my shots.
What draws me to shoot platforms, busses, trams and street scenes of people especially with a DX camera is the 2 perspectives it gives us. I see people coming towards me but there is a whole world missing out of that picture so I turn around and shoot the next shot of what is behind me.
© Tommy Vohs – “Rocket Launch” – Apps Used: Leme Camera and Dynamic Light
Joanne – How did you settle on this subject?
Tommy – It settled on me, I didn’t make a choice. The opportunity presented itself and I didn’t wait for a second invite.
© Tommy Vohs – “South Waterfall” – Apps Used: Lomora, PhotoViva and iPhoto
Joanne – Is there another area/subject that you would like to explore, if so, what and why?
Tommy – Yes, planes and airports.. I’d love to be able to capture the energy and surround it in color. The dynamic there is very intriguing to me. There are lots of emotions present; relatives arriving, lovers leaving, the elation of vacation, all nestled into a high adrenaline setting of anti-terrorist measures and average joes in their work-place.
© Tommy Vohs – “Spadina Bus Flow” – Apps Used: Leme Camera, Jazz! and Dynamic Light
Joanne – Which photographers (not necessarily mobile photographers) do you most admire and why?
Tommy – I love Elliot Erwitts photos of dogs. His work reminds me of my fathers. Raw and emotional and celebrating the wonderful spirit of our loving companions.
There are many iPhoneographers that I admire, too many to mention but I’m pretty sure they know it. They are mostly color geeks like me. I’ll take this opportunity to give a shout out to some of them: Kata, Ash and Carol, Mary, Beka, Marie, Wendell and McFly. The women I previously mentioned; I get lost in their photos of faraway places, weirdos, forbidden fruit, retina burning colors. I have to very present, as far as focus, in my job. Their Photography takes me to another plane where I can breathe and relax.
© Tommy Vohs – “St. Andrew” – Apps Used: Lomora and PictureShow
Joanne – Henri Cartier-Bresson is in many ways, the Godfather of street photography, even in the 1930’s he enjoyed using a small camera for discretion in order to capture people and tell a story – do you feel this way regarding mobile photography?
Tommy – Absolutely! I try to be very stealth if I’m taking shots with people in them. If I know the folks (rare) I won’t hide their faces, otherwise I blur their features. I try to be invisible but respectful. I value my personal space so much. I want people to know I value and respect their space too and I promise to represent their forms with integrity.
© Tommy Vohs – “The 4041” – Apps Used: Leme Camera and Jazz!
Joanne – Tell us about your photographic technique – do you rely on intuition or do you believe in a more formal/trained approach?
Tommy – Intuition all the way. I do a quick assessment of the scene and then shoot immediately, leaving some things to chance. I’m not looking for the perfect composition as much as I’m looking for the perfect moment in time. So, I’m willing to take a risk with perhaps not the most optimal lighting or vantage point. It is part of my process; nervy and ‘unapologetic’ as the amazing Liz Grilli once called my art.
© Tommy Vohs – “St Cloud Lake” – Apps Used: Lomora and PhotoViva
Joanne – How has your photography evolved?
Tommy – When I got my iPhone I was deep into the throes of PTSD. I had completely isolated myself, I didn’t get out much and therefore I only really had myself and my pets to photograph. From there I started to photograph myself taking transit because I was terribly shy and couldn’t even think about turning the camera away from myself and ‘ intruding’ on others’ personal space. As it turns out i’d much rather be behind the camera than front of it so after a little while I bit the bullet and transitioned to street shots, beach walks, friends. Then I discovered double exposure camera apps…my whole world opened up it seemed. I figured out how to utilize the editing apps and blending/masking capabilities and off to the races I went!
I feel like I’ve come along way since a year and a half ago. When I look back at my first photos I have to say I don’t really like a lot of them but I think it’s important to have them to use as a benchmark really, in the evolution of my photography.
All For One
© Tommy Vohs – “St Cloud Rail” – Apps Used: Lomora and Jazz!
Joanne – Many of the great photographers, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Robert Frank , Henri Cartier-Bresson described only shooting images for themselves – do you see this attitude with mobile photographers?
Tommy – I know it is my attitude! It is a personal decision that one makes but I really do believe if you don’t do it for yourself, it won’t work out as well.
© Tommy Vohs – “Stigmata” – Apps Used: PhotoTropodelic and PhotoWizard
Joanne – Do you take risks with photographs, push boundaries? If yes, please give examples, if no, why not, would you like to?
Tommy – Being a color geek is a risk. When I look at the majority of IPhone art, I see lots of muted tones, hipstamatic-style, faded shots and black and whites. Then there is me with bold, in-your-face explosive colors. I’ve been told after posting the rare black and white shot to keep at it more,’ I like this new direction you’ve taken’ yada yada. Thank you! but it isn’t my passion. I want to go into a crowd of people down in the subway and shoot from the hip, lean out of locomotive windows on 250 foot high trestles at 60mph, use a two second delay double exposure camera and take a chance with a fleeting vision then super-saturate the results. I want to capture the energy, the solitude, the power of my subjects and I’m not willing to settle for the “norm”, the average or the expected.
© Tommy Vohs – “Street Cycle” – Apps Used: Lomora and Jazz!
Joanne – What is your favorite picture of your own and why?
Tommy – I took a picture on board a street car in Toronto called Rocket Launch. The glowing colors, shiny metal of the seats and street car roaring down the centre of the aisle towards me knocks my socks off. I keep finding things in it I hadn’t seen; a hand holding a newspaper sticking out of the floor, the emergence of previously hidden figures. It is the seamless coming together of two moments in time and I love it.
© Tommy Vohs – “The Late Peel” – Apps Used: Leme Camera, PhotoWizard and Dynamic Light
Joanne – Do you get emotionally involved with your photography?
Tommy – Yes and I’m okay with that. Photography holds a very important position in my life. It played a very integral role in my recovery process and I’m extremely serious about it.
© Tommy Vohs – “The Release” – Apps Used: PhotoTropedelic
Joanne – Does your life become entwined with your subjects?
Tommy – No, I have good firm boundaries and a strong hold on reality. I think it is necessary for me to maintain an ‘outside looking in’ perspective to achieve what I desire.
Post Production (Processing)
© Tommy Vohs – “The Underground Train” – Apps Used: Leme Camera, Decim8 and PhotoWizard
Joanne – Do you have a special post-processing style?
Tommy – Yes and it includes hitting the saturation button many times. If I can enhance the image by adding groovy lines, I’ll add them, I also like to play around with infrared color and light blooms or leaks, glimmer glass effects, gradients and contrast.
Tips for Processing
© Tommy Vohs – “Track Side” – Apps Used: Lomora
Joanne – Do you have any tips for post-processing?
Tommy – To each her own but I’d add sometimes creating two different versions of the same shot , blending them and drawing out the parts that appeal to you then running the shot through dynamic light or lens flare. It can yield some very satisfying results. ( don’t forget to super duper saturate!!!)
© Tommy Vohs – “Venice Beach Bowl” – Apps Used: Leme Camera, PhotoTropedelic, PictureShow and Image Blender
Joanne – Do you have a digital workflow system to sort your images, if so what is it?
Tommy – No it is complete and utter chaos. I have recently made an art folder to add important images to and I tag my photos generically. I need a secretary.
© Tommy Vohs – “Will See You Tonight” – Apps Used: Lomora and PhotoPower
Joanne – How do you think photography has changed over the years?
Tommy – Like a worm hole opening up, the possibilities are endless and the future looks so exciting. Now, effects which took lots of time to achieve take mere seconds.
35 mm Film Days
© Tommy Vohs – “Woodward” – Apps Used: PhotoViva and iPhoto
Joanne – As a mobile photographer you’re at the cutting edge of technology, do you ever hanker for the 35mm film days?
Tommy – I personally don’t have very much experience using 35mm cameras but I can appreciate their position in the evolution of photography.