Photographer Toby Burrows studied painting and photography at Sydney College of the Arts before leaving for London in 1991. It was whilst managing Europe’s largest photographic studio complex, Holborn Studios – London, that Toby’s passion for photography grew. For a period of four years he was fortunate to work alongside photographers such as David Bailey and Richard Avedon.
Toby returned to Sydney in 2000 and has since compiled an eclectic and diverse collection of personal and commissioned work. He has also established a significant base of leading advertising clients both in Australia and internationally.
His edgy style and award-winning photography have been celebrated with a New York Festival Gold, numerous Cannes and one show finalists, a World Press Award, Folio Awards as well as nominations for the International Colour Awards and the Black & White Spider Awards.
Toby is also one of the photographers in the ImageBrief community, where he is able to monetize his library of photographs for the needs of art directors, agencies and brands.
While getting ready for an exhibition, ‘Soliloquy’, in Hamburg this month, Toby paused to share some thoughts on his career with the ADC crew.
Art Directors Club (ADC): How did you get started in photography?
Toby Burrows: I have always appreciated the visual arts. I studied painting at Sydney College of the Arts and gravitated towards photography. I left Sydney for London when I was 20 years old and stayed for eight years. My time working in a photographic studio gave me a good grounding and understanding of the technical aspects of the craft.
ADC: We heard you’ve shot a portrait of the great David Bailey, how did that come about?
Toby: I first met Bailey when I was managing a hire studio in London in ‘95. He was exiting the studio, cigar in mouth (I am not sure if this was prior to smoking being banned in public places, or that the rule simply didn’t apply to him). I approached Bailey, hand outstretched, “Toby Burrows,” I introduced myself. “Who cares,” he replied, with no intention of reciprocating my offer of an introduction. I continued, “Mr. Bailey, You are looking remarkably well, have you been on holiday?” I asked. “I always look like this!” he barked. Although I felt that our first meeting had been brief and one-sided, I finished with a positive, “It has been an absolute pleasure meeting you, Mr. Bailey.” At the end of the day, he managed a goodbye and remembered my name. From that moment, if anything were needed over at Bailey’s studio, I would offer my services. At every opportunity, I would visit.
A few years on, Bailey was shooting a movie poster for a NY client in one of the drive in studios at Holborn. A throne was delivered in the morning for the shoot. A friend of mine was assisting Bailey that day; I said to him, “I will have a portrait of Bailey on that throne by the end of the day!” He disagreed. During lunchtime, the studio lights were down and Bailey was holding court in the studio, a ring of a dozens of clients and agency surrounded him hanging on his every word. I am not sure if it was youth, stupidity or a combination of the two that inspired me to interrupt that meeting, camera in hand, “Bailey, so sorry to interrupt! May I take this opportunity to take a quick portrait of you on the Throne during your lunch break?” In disbelief and with fear of retribution, his courtiers looked expectantly towards their shoes. This request could have gone either way. Thankfully after a suspended silence, Bailey puffed on his cigar, and exclaimed, “Wouldn’t do it for just anyone.” I shot a roll of Reala negative film. During the roll of film, my only direction to Bailey was “Keep puffing on your cigar Bailey!” His repeated reply was, “Toby, you’re not going to get my soul.”