Looking for visual poetry in everyday life

    “If you’re not out there, you’re only going to hear about it,” has been a mantra for Philadelphia photojournalist Peter Tobia.

     For 25 years, Tobia has documented the human condition in everyday moments.  As a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1993 to 2008, Tobia traveled to Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, among other countries to cover international conflicts.

    So, at 62 and a father for the second time, Tobia assigned himself a yearlong project — take a photo a day. 

    “This little project gave me the opportunity to just look and to stand somewhere and to watch people or watch the light and the composition,” said Tobia. “So often, photographers don’t have much time and they’re always under the gun to complete a deadline or complete the shoot.”

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    Aiming for images beyond the obvious, Tobia took inspiration from song lyrics, newspaper articles, or just a certain mood or feeling, and then set out to make the photo.

    Tobia called the project looking for visual poetry and shot more than 1,200 images, most of them with an iPhone.

    One of the images, a black and white photograph of a blues musician in front of Reading Terminal Market, came about after listening to Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins’ song “Mojo Hand” and the lyric, ” … cold ground was my bed last night, rocks were my pillow too.”

    Other photos convey more personal feelings of loss and remembrance, such as the shot of a snow-covered motorcycle exhaust pipe entitled “Winter in America 2.”

    During the project, Tobia even found himself drawn to landscapes, often a foreign territory for photojournalists.  The process allowed him to study the graphic quality and lines of an image. 

    “Sometimes the pictures would come really simple, and sometimes it would be a real struggle,” he said.  “People expect too much from the still image and don’t give it enough time to look at it.”


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