I spend a lot of time searching for photos on Flickr. As the Managing Editor of TheCityFix, it’s my job to find photos that fit our content, reflect the human component of our work, and are dynamic, colorful, interactive, transformational, local, natural, and realistic, too. Tommy Vohs, a photographer from Toronto, Canada, meets these guidelines with an imaginative flair – and I’ve been so enamored with her work that you might have noticed it on TheCityFix in December and earlier this month. Today’s Friday Fun explores the portfolio and inspiration of this innovative artist whose photography captures the spirit of integrated mobility.
Inspired by locomotion
Vohs is a locomotive engineer and staunch advocate of sustainable, integrated urban mobility systems. Her inspiration has been a natural pair with TheCityFix, a blog produced by EMBARQ – the sustainable transport and urban development program of the World Resources Institute (WRI). And her talent has garnered recognition from many art galleries and competitions, including the Los Angeles Mobile Art Fair, iPhoneArt.com, MJG Gallery in Toronto, the Exposure Mobile Art Exhibit in Cleveland, Ohio, and the first annual TELUS Phoneography Competition sponsored by Akasha Art Projects in Toronto – where Vohs won first place.
Multimodal integration – seamless connectivity between various modes of transport, including mass transport and non-motorized modes like bicycling and walking – is a crucial element of the future sustainability of our cities. As we usher in an era of unprecedented urbanization, our ability to implement effective transport systems and urban design interventions that facilitate the movement of people in cities to opportunities such as jobs, education, and healthcare, will determine the quality of life and social equity among billions of urban residents worldwide.
Vohs’s photography exemplifies this necessity for shared streets that cater to the needs of road users across diverse modes of transport. With an emphasis on public transport, Vohs’s work often features double exposures that juxtapose everyday scenes of urban mobility with bold color schemes. For example, the two images merged in the photo below, “Heavy Metal,” were shot at the Main Street subway station in Toronto – but the final product stands out from typical transport photography. “Heavy Metal” was shown at a juried transportation themed exhibition at the Kiernan Gallery in Lexington, Virginia, and also at the 2013 Annual Juried Photography Show at the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts in Collingwood, Ontario.
In her own words: Reflections on urban mobility photography
Vohs was kind enough to share a few insights about the inspiration behind her photos with TheCityFix:
TCF: What drives you to photograph scenes of urban mobility?
TV: No doubt about it, I love big transit and I believe in its efficacy. I’ve worked on inter-urban commuter transit trains, trans-continental passenger trains, and massive freight trains. For the amount of people or goods carried, their environmental impact is small in comparison to what it would be if only roads were used. There is only so much space left for roads and then we will have no choice but to integrate more forms of moving people such as high-speed rail, bicycle-sharing where you can ride a rented bicycle across the city and park it at any number of satellite stations, and dedicated transit lanes for buses and trams.
When I go out to shoot, I like to show all forms [of transport] coming together, seamlessly. That’s why I prefer double exposure shots. I can incorporate so much more into my photos by combining two separate moments. It is a harmonious and realistic enterprise to imagine all different modes coming together at once.
TCF: Tell us about one of your favorite experiences capturing a photograph.
TV: Initially, there weren’t a whole lot of double exposure camera apps available so I primarily used Leme Cam Pro’s DX Cam. It had a two second delay between shots, so I had to really put a lot of thought into what I was going to shoot, grab the right moment, and cross my fingers that the two filters the cam picked randomly would turn out well. Needless to say, it was hit and miss. One day, while sitting in the back of the streetcar, boy did I get lucky:
TV: The photo above is called Rocket Launch – a sort of post-apocalyptic shot that has become my most popular print. I took a chance and it worked out! I couldn’t replicate this shot if I tried. Thank you to the photography gods for this moment in time.
TCF: If you could share one piece of wisdom from your experience as a locomotive engineer and photographer, what would it be?
TV: I have a contradictory piece of wisdom to share. First, never, ever take a chance with a train. However, with photography, take LOTS of risks. Don’t be afraid to be different, to push the limits, and never listen to the critics. I’ve entered numerous mobile photography contests where I could almost hear the disdain because I don’t prescribe to the “norm” – not as a photographer, not as a woman working in a predominately male environment, and not as a person.
When you believe in yourself, the world is your oyster and it is contagious. Others will feel that confidence and reflect it back on you.
I’ll leave you with another of Vohs’s pieces that reveals both where we’ve been – the domination of automobiles on city streets – and where we’re headed – toward complete streets that prioritize and protect people-oriented public spaces, for the benefit of all urban residents.