Anika Toro is the owner/operator of anikatoro. She joined Etsy a little over a year ago, and she's another POE member I first encountered on the team forum. I've long admired, not only her “eye”, but what she does with it. I recently had an opportunity to have an extended conversation with her; I'd like to share that with you now.
Steve: Anika, you've seen enough of these profiles to know what my first question is going to be, so tell us a bit about yourself. What were your "formative years" like? Where are you from? What was it like growing up? What's your family like? What are some of the things that made Anika, Anika?
Anika: Well, I was born in South America and raised by my mom and her family in the Bay Area of Northern California. I think living in Northern California definitely had an impact on who I became. It's a very independent place full of characters.
Both my aunt and my father were excellent photographers and always had a camera on hand. My dad was a diplomat and so lived throughout the world. He liked to share exciting stories and talk about his photos well up until the day he passed. He also collected art wherever he went and so his walls were always covered. His interests were varied and so he had African sculptures, watercolors from the Caribbean and South America, ink drawings from Pakistan, dyed work from Tajikistan, carvings from Asia, oils from Europe...I was very lucky to see all these different kinds of art. I think that his stories, the traveling, and living in California made me a very open minded person.
I always thought my mom had a great visual eye, sewed like a master, and could draw really well. She still has a wonderful, creative spirit and a good visual eye. They both really encouraged having art and music in my life.
When I was about nine or ten my mom set up after school art classes in lieu of day care. It was one of the best things my mother ever did for me. My teacher would spend a few hours a week teaching me a different skill. I learned about everything from pottery and ceramics to stained and etched glass to oil painting and watercolors. Even now when I am creating something, lessons and instructions that teacher taught me still come to mind.
My grandmother was also a huge part of who I am now. An Irish woman, married to a Polish man growing up in South America; a Pan American medal winner for diving; an ESL teacher. She was tough, loving, a great athlete, a music lover, had a large heart, and was quite a unique character. We couldn’t go anywhere, anywhere, without her getting hugged and kissed! She was very fun and extremely encouraging. I spent most of my childhood time with her and so I think she had a great influence on me.
S: Clearly, your early exposure to and instruction in art, and the creative process played a big part in making you who you are. What was it, do you suppose, that drew you to photography? When and where did you get your start? Have you had formal training or are you self taught?
A: When I graduated from high school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I went to a small college in the East Bay, and after about a year in, hating it and feeling miserable, I decided to investigate what was going on in San Francisco.
I started taking a few extension education classes at the SF Art Institute; my favorite was a class entitled Experimental and Pinhole Photography. The class was taught by a woman who only used a Holga and a man that only used pinhole cameras he made...his VW van was a camera!
Peacock - 4D Easel Print
They were talented, confident in what they did, and their artwork was so impressive. They were really inspiring. I think it was in the darkroom of that class that I knew I wanted to have photography in my life. Losing myself in the darkroom and constantly being surprised by what these cameras produced really brought a lot of happiness into my life.
So, that was it, I dropped out of the college I always thought I was supposed to attend and went to art school. It was a much better fit for me. In school I continued to take some straightforward and experimental printing classes, ignored my Photoshop classes (what can I say, I was young!) and started making some still movies with live soundtracks. I started looking at images from Cindy Sherman and Duane Michaels. Her stories through still imagery and his images combined with text became a new focus. These few years in SF really made the basis for who I am today although discussing that now it seems so long ago! But that is the foundation of my life with photography I suppose.
S: OK, we know more about "Anika, the early years..."; outside of photography, tell us a bit about your life today. Who has Anika become? What is your life like now?
A: I’m really happy with where life has taken me. I’m living in Tennessee where the people are friendly and the environment is always so beautiful. I live with my wonderful and talented husband, a baby who’s about to turn two and two kitties full of character.
I feel really lucky to be staying home with my daughter. We laugh a lot and experience our brand new life together...it’s been a lot of fun. I’d say that that part of my life does take up most of my day so I am learning about re-prioritizing and balance. (Who knew I could be happy with 4 hours less sleep?!) I love spending time in the garden, and when I can, I enjoy visiting places I have never been…but that goes back to photography I think. Travel and a camera go hand in hand right? I love collaborating with other artists and so started the ACoLab, a collaborative site, and have just started doing some writing for a new magazine the FPOE is putting out. I find that keeping a bunch of projects going keeps the pre-mom side of me in the forefront...I think it’s important for my daughter to see and for me to keep happy.
3D Photo Block
S: What inspires you, photographically speaking? When you get that itch to go shoot something, what usually attracts your lens?
A: Sometimes I get very excited to go to a particular location or I get a thought in my head and set up a specific shot.
Textures, I definitely like textures. I would say that most of my photography is based on shots of a present moment. If I am out and about, waiting in line somewhere, for example, I use my cameras to entertain myself. I will snap a few shots with the intention of adding a texture later in PS or of flipping it and adding another layer of the image, maybe collaging the pieces. I find that I’m never bored that way and working with these images provides a lot of inspiration and opportunities to stumble onto new ideas.
Most of my straight photography (and the work that I show most in Etsy) still come from those “now” moments, but it’s more about finding a texture or image that sums up a complete moment, experience, or day.
I like things that represent more than what they are...my eye is caught by things that are left behind, forgotten, or so simple they are often overlooked. I like the underdogs of reality - objects that in their particular setting tell a story but are not seemingly significant.
I like my eye to go where my mind wouldn’t necessarily take me first; that’s usually where I find my image. Does that totally make me sound insane? I guess we are all a bit eccentric in our own ways. I just think that inspiration can come from really simple things and that beauty is EVERYWHERE…it’s just a matter of perspective or changing perspective.
S: Do you have any favorite photographers? Is there anyone you particularly admire or emulate? Can you share some of that with us?
A: The people who come to mind right now are artists I recently stumbled onto through Flickr or via blogging.
Vivian Maier has been the talk of the town lately and rightly so. I greatly admire the way she seems to capture the truth of a moment or person. Her photography is really quite remarkable. Maier’s technique, use of light, capturing the moment...she really does separate herself as one of the greats.
I’ve also recently discovered people like Rebecca Cairnes, Matthias Heiderich, and Dan Mountford. Rebecca takes these very moody black and white shots, mostly multiple exposures, a bit ethereal. The always inspiring site The Jealous Curator described her as “Diane Arbus meets Cindy Sherman”, totally spot-on description.
Mattias Heiderich is a pretty straight forward photographer but has this amazing eye. His compositions and use of color and empty space are so beautiful. I think he’s my new favorite inspiration.
Dan Mountford photographs multiple exposures with interesting and very graphic compositions. The way he composes his images is complex and sometimes almost technical but they have this really easy feel to them. There are layers of interest to each photo too, really compelling work.
Etsy has some great photographers that come to mind as well. I really like Frances Seward’s images. Looking at her work makes me think of all my favorite abstract paintings. I also admire photographers that seem to have fun with their story telling, photographers who show great technique but also a sense of humor or levity. I think I am always inspired by mixed media photographers or artists that combine photos with other found imagery, magazines, things like that. My favorite photographers are the ones that can translate their minds eye through the lens, ones who create a narrative from their own imagination using different methods of shooting.
I just learned of Eszter Burghardt. She has created these beautiful landscapes of Iceland all in miniature sets in her Vancouver home! Anyone who can turn coffee grounds into a beautiful prop is my kind of lady! I know it wouldn’t mean anything without her great technique, but for me I really am attracted to her ideas.
Kitty's View of the Sky
I guess I don’t really try to emulate artists anymore. I did years ago, then discovered what I love shooting and what I want to create. I’m very inspired by other people but I think what is great about art and photography is that we all see and interpret things, even the same exact thing, differently. I really try to embrace that idea.
S: You know, that's my favorite question. More often that not, when I ask that question I learn about photographers previously unknown to me!
So, Anika, tell us about your tools. What's in your bag; what do you use to get your images?
A: I know what you mean! Many times I will be reading your interview and find out about very inspirational artists I have never heard of. It’s exciting.
I’m afraid my bag isn’t as exciting as I would like it to be.
I still have the first camera I ever used, my dad’s old Canon, but I’m afraid it sits in a corner most of the time as the digital age is so easy and much more affordable. However, I do still use film in my Holga and also in my Lubitel 166. I’ve shot with the Holga for about 15 years now and love it but with all the new apps available on the computer I do admit to not shooting with it as much as I used to.
I have a Canon DSLR, a Rebel, and just branched off with a more portable Nikon CoolPix7000. See? Simple. I would love some bells and whistles in the way of some different lighting and lenses but until then I have gotten to know what my cameras are capable of and shoot within those parameters. Anything beyond their capabilities is done through Photoshop. I am quite happy with them though; they are trusty, lightweight, user friendly, and give some great quality shots.
I also have to admit that I shoot a lot with my phone. Does that sound horrible? I LOVE the camera on my phone and the shots I get with it. It’s always inspiring. Shooting with an iPhone gives me the same feeling that shooting with my Brownie used to, or that my Holga does. I guess when it comes down to it, I know that a great lens and great camera can make some superb shots, but for me, it’s all about creating a photo with any kind of camera- Pinhole, plastic, toy, Hasselblad…every tool inspires in its own way. A Hasselblad would be pretty awesome though wouldn’t it??
San Jose Memory
S: So, Anika, what does the future hold for you? Where is photography taking you, or vice-versa?
A: Well, I’m not sure really. I don’t really even know what I am having for dinner! I plan to continue blogging; I am learning more about photography than ever it seems through different ways to display my images to new ways I can utilize Photoshop. (Bloggers are so open with sharing their knowledge and tips about photography and Photoshop!)
I also really love collaborating with other artists; this includes smaller collaborations like the Miss Match group the FPOE has, a project I started called the ACoLab, and also some new collaborations with people I have met through blogging, Etsy, or Flickr.
I love doing the Etsy thing, it teaches me a lot about my work and the business side to things in a very low pressure kind of environment. I still like having a show here and there and I will be testing the waters at my first farmer’s market this year. Photography keeps me thinking and always puts a smile on my face so I am happy to follow it wherever it wants to take me.
S: You know, it's perfectly acceptable not to have a formulated plan. Sometimes you choose the path, and sometimes the path chooses you. Besides, you've got enough stuff going on to keep you busy; whether you settle on one thing or continue to pursue multiple interests, it's all good!
Anika, I've very much enjoyed learning more about you; thank you so much for taking this time to visit with me!
A: It was my pleasure! Thanks so much Steve. I always enjoy reading this post of yours and so feel very flattered to be a part.
When is the interviewer going to become the interviewee?? I'd love to know more about PhotoGrunt. Just let me know when you feel up to the task...I'd be happy to turn the tables. ;)
S: You know, that's an interesting question. I've been doing the "Focus On" post for almost a year, and you're the third of fourth person to express an interest in "turning the tables". Perhaps the time approaches for all to be revealed.
Light Study 12
"PhotoGrunt" is Steve Raley, a photographic documentarian from Seattle,
. He captures images wherever he goes, and he frequently even uses a camera. His work can be seen on his website, blog and his Etsy shop. Washington