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Garfield photographer creates instant art

By Ryan Maine, Point Park News Service:

Lisa Toboz, 40, of Garfield, creates works of photographic art with instant film. Using instant film used to be incredibly popular, but then the trend died off. With the introduction of Impossible Project Film, instant photography has become popular again in the art world.

Lisa Toloz. Photo: Ryan Maine | Point Park News Service
Lisa Toloz. Photo: Ryan Maine | Point Park News Service

Q: What Initially drew you to photography?

A: When I quit my job, when I turned 30, I had just gotten my MFA in creative writing at [the University of Pittsburgh]. I did volunteer work at the center of peace at Osijek, Croatia. When I was there, I didn’t really have access to a computer, and I wasn’t quite blogging yet. I would just walk around and take photos. They were more documents of my trip to record. I was there for six months during the winter, and it would be me a lot of times alone.

Q: Why instant photography?

A: I got into that when I came back from Croatia. I had started developing my own black-and-white and color film. Then I went to digital. In 2010, I met someone through flickr, and we became friends. She was really into instant photography. She’s been doing it since she was a kid. She gave me a spectra camera and film.

I really like the aesthetic of instant photography. And I love working with analog. My mom had passed away in 2011, and while going through her stuff, I found a lot of old photos – a lot of them were Polaroids and Instamatic photos. My mom was a constant picture taker. It made me feel connected to her.

Q: What kind of instant cameras do you use?

A: I shoot with an SX70, which needs to be repaired, a Spectra, a 680 SLR, a Land Camera 250. I have a lot of old cameras.

Q: You talk about photographing your travels. What significance does that have to you?

I would say that I’m really attracted to environmental photography. We plan trips around places I see in photographs. Space is definitely an influence. There is a very fictional element to it. I used to have to construct scenes in my journal because I didn’t want to waste film. I would say that my photography is inspired by history, space, environment. I do a lot of self portraiture. I feel like more [of] a character than me.

Q: Who are your major influences?

A: I like Duane Michaels because I like the photo sequences he does. I liked how he did a lot of self-portraiture. He was more of a character in his photos. He was very inspired and affected by where he comes from. I would say that is definitely the case with me living in Pittsburgh. I like to show the side of the city that people would normally not think of as Pittsburgh.

I like Bertien Van Manen. She is a Dutch photographer who takes really intimate portraits of friends and family. She’ll spend months with families. You can tell her photos are very personal.

I like Linko Coachi. She’s a Japanese photographer. It’s very Japanese, very minimal. I love how she makes the ordinary things extraordinary.

Korrine May Bottes. She photographs nutshell studies of unexplained death. She did a series. It’s just macro work of this woman who created scenes that are like crime scenes. She did it for the police force in Baltimore to study forensics.

 Q: To a broader audience, how would you explain your photography to them? In one or two sentences.

A: It’s about how people interact in actual and imaginative spaces.

Q: Originally, you shot travel as documentation. How has this helped you progress as an individual?

A: It’s made me more brave. More situations I put myself in are for photography. If I see somebody and I want to photograph them, I do. Photography has made me more brave in many areas of my life. For so long, I identified as a writer. Everyone said my writing was very cinematic, and everyone says my photography tells stories. Photography is more the creative part of me. In grad school, I felt like I could never find my voice. It’s easier for me to convey certain things through photographs rather than words.

Q: What other forms of photography do you work with?

A: 35mm and instant. I also did digital for a while. I did it for a few years. I work a lot with my iPhone. I like the immediacy of sharing with people. I’m always more impressed by photos when someone makes a beautiful photo from a homemade camera rather than an expensive camera. I like restrictions and working within them. That’s another reason why I like instant photography. I like to think, “If you only have these tools, what will you do with them?”

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