There Was a Time When I Didn’t Think Photography Was Going to Be for Me

This week we release the sixth episode of Trope Stories, a video conversation with our network of photographers and an examination of their work. In this episode, Chicago + London-based photographer Tobi Shinobi discusses his particular attention to detail and composition, how lessons in law have influenced the artist and creative he has become, and the meaning behind his debut solo book Equilibrium.
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Please check out our YouTube Channel to see Tobi's podcast and all future videos from Trope. If you prefer to listen, the audio version is available on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play, and Spotify.

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Equilibrium is a physical manifestation of the end of a chapter and a start and milestone of other things I want to work on. Me having a past as a lawyer and having this side as a creative, I’m trying to marry the two. There’s a professionalism and an interpersonal skill set from both the left brain and right brain. Things that I’ve learned from law have definitely influenced the photographer, artist, creative that I’ve become. There’s so many things happening at one time, I’m always trying to find the balance. It’s exhausting, but I’ve created this mental martial art where I’m constantly practicing this act of balance daily and trying to be mindful in that and not burn out from it. -Tobi ShinobiTobi Shinobi, Trope Publishing CoWho has been the biggest inspiration in your life? The biggest inspiration in my life is Mumsie. It’s always Mum, it’s always going to be Mum. My mum trained as an engineer but she was qualified as a jeweler beforehand. There were times when she felt like in order to give me and my younger brother the life that she thought we deserved, she needed to requalify. So she studied and became a civil engineer which is a predominately white male industry. She was put through an element of trials and tribulations that a black woman in that industry would have to face. It wasn’t lost on me that she had to make that sacrifice in order to put my brother and I at the level she felt we deserved. She gave up a creative job to do something more responsible, I gave up something responsible to do something more creative. I always give her her flowers every time I speak. She’s the inspiration. 

I get the allure of photography, it seems glamorous and sexy maybe. But you’re making money as a lawyer. “I’ve invested in this career, my parents have invested with me in this career.” How do you leave? What was the transition like and how did you move into photography? At a certain point, no matter how much money you have, unhappiness is unhappiness and that’s worth more. Your life is worth more than the paycheck. I picked up photography while I was still doing law and it became a hobby, then more of an obsession. There was a point at which I felt an urge. I was really stressing and my girlfriend at the time said to me, “you haven’t been shooting in a while.” And I remember I went out and shot and I felt amazing. If an artist or anyone in any particular profession reaches that point of obsession, you’re in a really good space.

Tobi Shinobi, Trope Publishing Co

What do you think of the Windy City as an architectural city? I think it just recently won the award for ‘Most Instagrammable City in the US.” It’s not hard to see why. I came up with this hashtag #PrettyLittleCityNamedChi and it’s got some world class architecture. Architecturally, Chicago is one of the best places for photography. There’s so much to do. It’s smaller than I’m used to, but there’s a great work ethic from photographers here. A great community, some really talented people have come up in Chicago. 

So all of your accomplishments, successes, awards you’ve won along the way. What’s next? I recognize the blessing in that someone is paying me to do something that I enjoy doing. I know there’s people who are very hungry that would love to jump into the spot that I’ve made myself. I’d encourage them to create their own lane and keep doing their thing. I’m going to keep on being the best Tobi that I can be. Continuing to evolve, marinating in my creative process. Really trying to sit on it and not force or rush it. That’s going to include video, music in some form, maybe collaborating with musicians. I have the agency experience and I have the freelance experience, do I dig down and bury into the artist route or the employed route? Collaborate with people and all the opportunities that come with that. Or do I continue to do both? Time is the thing which I start to lack. What’s next? I don’t have a set answer, but I’m excited about it.Tobi Shinobi, Trope Publishing Co

Tobi Shinobi, Trope Publishing Co