We spoke to Toronto-based photographer Anthony Gebrehiwot
(a.k.a. Tony Tones) about his work.
An interview with photoED Magazine
photoED: What is it about creating stories through photography that you love most?
Telling stories through photography is an opportunity to share a part of yourself with the world. I see this form of storytelling as a tool for healing, not only for the creator but for the audience as well. Photographs are also a way of capturing moments that can be passed onto the generations that come after you.
photoED: Whose work has influenced yours?
I’m most inspired by Gordon Parks. Capturing everyday moments and significant events in his life the way that he did moves me deeply. I’m also inspired by Jamel Shabazz, Tyler Mitchell, and Joshua Kissi.
These images are a part of my annual initiative called The Reciprocity Project.
Partnering with TO studio, I offer free studio portrait sessions to emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and creators. I started this initiative because I am aware that early-stage creators run up against many barriers as they try to launch their careers.
Visual branding is a key component of establishing yourself in the digital space.
photoED: What makes a good photograph?
There are so many elements that can make a good photograph. For me it starts with the idea. So much has already been done, so when I see something fresh I get really excited and inspired. I’m always looking at how compositions come together through set design, lighting arrangements, and the subject of the photograph.
photoED: What advice would you give an aspiring Canadian photographer?
The best advice that I’ve received from another artist was to make time and space to create work that’s meaningful to no one else but yourself. I think as photographers, we can get caught up in making other people’s visions come to life. But every year I try to make a personal project that’s close to my heart and soul. These projects ultimately attract the kind of work that I want to do and also get me the opportunities that I desire.
photoED: How has working in photography influenced you personally?
Photography and digital art have become such a huge part of my life that I’m not sure who or how I would be without it. On one level, it’s how I spend most of my time: in the studio, editing and working with clients. On another level, it makes me slow down to appreciate the day-to-day moments in my life. I don’t have the best memory so I use photos to help me document time.
photoED: What has been your favourite or most personally impactful project to work on?
My favourite projects to work on are my personal projects because they come from a very deep place within me. The From Boys to Men series has been my favourite project to work on. I knew it was needed and the response that it’s gotten confirmed my suspicions. I think there’s a lot of work to do around the ideas that society holds around masculinity. I also really enjoyed working on It Takes a Village. This portrait series documents a youth-led artist community called RISE Edutainment. Since I had deep ties in this community, it was a real joy capturing the people that helped make this community so special.
photoED: Any photography or adventures you can share? Any great shots by happy accident?
One of my favourite unplanned photos was taken at a live show of one of my favourite artists, Jay Electronica. I submitted my name for a radio contest and won two tickets. While he was on stage, he said, “Anyone that has the courage can come up on stage with me.” I hopped over a fence with my camera, and got a really great photo of him!
photoED: What photography projects are you most excited about right now?
I’m really looking forward to releasing the It Takes a Village project this year. This exhibition at Daniels Spectrum in Toronto is a follow-up to my Communities of Love photography exhibition (2018).
This body of work is a retrospective legacy portrait series documenting and honouring members of the RISE community over the past decade.
photoED: What does your dream project entail?
I would love to work on an international campaign for a major brand that highlights some of our most culturally impactful figures from around the world. I’d LOVE to photograph Kendrick Lamar, Issa Rae, Janelle Monáe, Teyana Taylor, Denzel Washington, Damson Idris, Jamie Foxx.… My list goes on!
What camera/equipment do you most use now? Can you tell us about your experience using Tamron lenses?
I was introduced to Tamron in 2017 while I was in Accra, Ghana, being mentored by an amazing photographer named Apag. He let me borrow his 24mm–70mm f/2.8 zoom lens for Canon, and it quickly became my favourite lens. I love its versatility and performance in the studio and outdoors.
I’m also really enjoying using the fixed 24mm f/2.8 lens. It’s lightweight, has a great build, and its functionality pairs perfectly with my Sony A7R IV. It keeps a great level of sharpness across all apertures and provides a consistent exposure throughout the frame.
I haven’t had a better experience with any other lens!
Anthony Gebrehiwot is an award-winning visual artist, photographer, and community leader who sees photography as an ongoing dialogue for social change between subject and society.
A self-taught artist, Anthony founded his studio XvXy-photo in 2014 focusing on portraiture. He has worked with several notable brands, including Nike, Royal Bank of Canada, Vice Canada, Absolut, Hudson’s Bay, the City of Toronto, and LinkedIn to name a few.
His work has been featured in local and international publications, such as the Star, the Globe and Mail, Paper Magazine, Elle UK, and Yahoo Lifestyle.