Amal Tofaili Bleed

Interview with Amal Tofaili Bleed

In June we have the pleasure of interviewing Melbourne based street photographer Amal Tofaili Bleed.  Amal is in the enviable position of being a full-time street photographer.  She uses street photography to connect with others as well as with herself.  Amal is a very special and thoughtful person who is actively creative with her work.  Enjoy this interview and learn more about Amal.

Please tell us a little about yourself - where do you currently live and what is your background in photography?

I am a self-taught street photographer currently living in Melbourne with my husband and two sons. I have no formal training and don’t come from a family of artists or photographers, but have always had a passion for creating. 

Photography came to me at time when I needed it most.  After many years of soul searching, suddenly the ability to connect and express my creativity was in my hand. Starting with my iPhone and then with a camera I realised I had found a way to use my strengths and develop as an artist. I’ve always been a people person and I love connecting with others and communicating ideas and stories. I actually studied journalism at University hoping to one day be a reporter, I never thought I would be reporting on the way I see the world in this way.

Six years ago, I created Toffyinc on Instagram. I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest, but I knew I enjoyed the physical aspect of walking as I’ve always been a high energy person. I say photography came to me at a time when I needed it because I had started to uncover some painful memories from my childhood and was dealing with some heavy emotions that I couldn’t really articulate in words.  Taking photos became a healthy way to understand and express myself.

With my camera I felt fearless and I found a way to feel connected to the world, both via social media and with the real-life connections I made on the street. 

When and how did you get involved in Street Photography and what draws you to it?

In my previous job, I would take a tram to the city on my lunch break and take photos of architecture and street art - I was just exploring really. I was yet to know what street photography was.

One day a colleague mentioned I had a good eye and suggested I go to an instameet. I had no idea what that was, but I was keen to meet like-minded individuals so I went along with her.

At the instameet I made some great friends and found a community of creatives who were all exploring the world from their point of view, through their lens.

Some were taking photos of people and called it street photography and that piqued my interest. On the walk that day I saw a family and there was something about the way they were positioned and their body language which drew me in. I really wanted to capture the moment but I was so scared. One of the guys told me to just go for it and I found the courage to do it. 

I still really love this image because it was the start of my journey in making connections in what I saw, what I felt and what I was trying to express as an artist. I have always found people to be fascinating - we all have a story, we all have dreams and desires, and feelings about our life and what we hope to say about who we are, through the way we live.   

It was the start of my journey to courage and connection; connection to myself and to others, and to really understanding who I am and what motivates me. In November of 2015 Instagram featured my work and at the time I was ready to make some changes in my working life, so I quit my job and have been walking the streets ever since!

What do you think are the most challenging aspects of street photography?

I think the most challenging aspects for me are finding new ways of seeing the world. Inevitably it means trying new things, experimenting and of course with that comes the possibility of failure. Like most people I struggle with failure. I have to remind myself it’s about the journey, not the destination and it can be hard to stay open and to be brave enough to fail and keep going. This journey has taught me to quieten the inner critic and show myself compassion. 

I often say to my sons when they are creating to remember to create in a state of joy (In Joy), which of course means letting go of perfectionism and having fun.  I believe when we do this, people who see our work get the sense that’s how the art was created and then can enjoy our work (En Joy), I believe it’s all connected. I try and remember my own advice when I’m out creating and try and just have fun with it and try not to put too much pressure on myself.

Another challenge is the unpredictability of the street, but that’s also what keeps me coming back day after day. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the challenge of finding magical moments that has me addicted.

Do you think it is an advantage or disadvantage being a women street photographer?

I have found it to be an advantage as I feel that people see me as non-threatening and often think I’m a tourist. I think my confidence has grown as I’ve been doing this for a while now, so I tend to walk and shoot with that kind of energy and I think our energy speaks before we do.  

People tend to either ignore me so I can go about getting in my creative flow and shoot, or they’re interested in what I’m doing, and that always makes for a wonderful exchange that may not have happened otherwise. In a broader sense, I do think it’s a male dominated genre and it can be hard to feel like your work is getting noticed.

Do you think it’s an advantage or disadvantage to be an Australian Street Photographer? 

I feel it’s a wonderful advantage to be an Australian Street Photographer, as our multi-cultural country offers so much in terms of engaging and interesting people to observe and photograph, as well as the amazing light and of course the landscape. 

I also feel very supported through different creative communities I’ve been able to connect with here, including IgersMelbourne, IgersSydney and the Unexposed Collective and the work you are all doing to give Australian women street photographers a voice.

Where is your favourite place to shoot and what do you like about it? (if you have one)

I really love Centre Place in the CBD. It’s a wonderful narrow little laneway with the most incredible light and during lunch hour it is filled with people sitting in cafes enjoying each other's company.

I like that I get to feel like I’m part of the scenes I’m trying to capture by getting up close and personal with my subjects. I often notice people watching me work, and while I may not have been taking their photo I will start a conversation about what I’m seeing and what drives me to create and I’ll show them the image I have created and I’m always inspired by these connections. 

I feel it’s important to pay attention not only to see the world and the beauty of moments I’m trying to capture but by also noticing everyone and making them feel included in the process in the hope they will walk away feeling that their presence and curiosity didn’t go unnoticed.

I have also met many wonderful and inspiring photographers here. It’s also a safe space for me and a welcoming place, because I have spent more than two years shooting at this location and I have come to know the vendors, the buskers and community.

Who are your favourite street photographers and tell us a little about why you like them? Is there a particular photographer who has influenced your work?

My work is influenced by both local artists I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with, as well as many artists I follow on Instagram. I love Paola Franqui (@monaris_ work) in NYC as well as Chu Viet Ha (@chuvietha.stp), a street photographer from Vietnam. Locally I love the work of Annette Widitz (@dawa_lhamo), Ushi Grant (@sombra_y_luz) and Rachael Willis (@thebowerbirdgirl).

I look to all the great photographers for inspiration and especially enjoy Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Gary Winograd, Bruce Gilden and most recently have been captivated by Saul Leiter’s work.

I’m still trying to find my voice in my work,  It's hard to be original but it’s not hard to be authentic. I’m really just scratching the surface of what is possible for me, and there’s something very alluring about that, but also terrifying as well.

Are you working on a particular project at the moment?

I recently worked on a project for the Geelong City Council presenting to secondary school art students on life as a full-time street photographer and shared my journey as an artist. It was an amazing opportunity, I learnt a lot, and was able to take the students on a photo walk and see the world through their eyes. 

I hope to continue to find ways to share my experience as a creative and to inspire others to explore the creative parts of themselves.  I always thought an artist was something like a painter, or designer or musician. I wasn’t any of those, so I couldn’t call myself an artist. But I now know we are all capable of creating thngs that comes from the heart of ourselves.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know that every step on this journey brings me closer to expressing what’s deep in my soul and for that I’m truly grateful. 

My focus has always been to show the beauty and raw emotion found in everyday moments. I will continue to create work that moves me, in the hopes it moves others. I hope that people see my images and, in some way, see themselves. I do believe we are more alike than we are different and I want to create work that inspires others to live their life from a place of purpose and passion. 

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