As we dive into showcasing talented creators, we take a deeper look at how creators find where they fit in, what niche they focus on, and what really drives them creatively, as that is the strongest tool one can adopt in order to grow. It’s also important to share stories of others to learn, inspire, and grow our own crafts.
This month we spoke to one of our recently featured artists, Anthony Gebrehiwot, also known as TonyXTones, about his journey through the creative industry as an elite portrait photographer.
Anthony Gebrehiwot is an award-winning visual artist, photographer and community leader whose creative lens re-visions photography as an ongoing dialogue of social change between subject and society.
A self-taught artist and photographer, Gebrehiwot founded XvXy-photo in 2014 focusing on studio portraiture.
Why is portrait photography important to you?
“Portrait photography is important to me for so many reasons. On one level, it’s a way for me to connect with people in a really unique and sometimes unconventional way. Not everyone is comfortable being in front of a lens but it’s my job to help them ease into it. More often than not, when I’m done taking portraits there’s a shared experience that leads to human connection and I really appreciate that. I grew up really shy and it took me years to even approach someone to ask to take their portrait. It’s through the medium of photography that I really learned how to connect with people.
On another level, there’s something really magical about capturing, freezing and storing a moment in time. Before I even started taking photos, I used to love to revisit my childhood photo albums! It brought me so much joy to go back to cherished memories and think about all the elements that made that photo special for me. I think it’s a gift to capture those moments for others and I see it as a way of being of service to people that appreciate my work.”
The quality of a photographer’s work can definitely be measured by the depth of connection they have with their subjects, and with that connection blooms a source of inspiration to achieve the photographer’s vision.
Finding Where You Fit as a Creator
Inspiration can come from many influences with the overall goal to tell a story through their work. “At this stage of my life and career, what inspires me the most about portrait photography is the opportunity to craft portraits that tell deep stories. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized the difference between a photographer and an artist.”
Tony further explained that in his opinion, a photographer moves through the world capturing a moment in time. An artist will create a world that tells a unique story and capture that on camera. It wasn’t until after coming to this conclusion to separate and define which category he fit into that he dove into fine-tuning ideas around how to build worlds and storytelling through portraiture.
And the reward? Tony says, “This path is the most rewarding for me because it’s a huge part of my purpose. I don’t know what else I could be doing in this world that gives me this much joy. Although it isn’t always an easy journey, at the end of the day when I go to sleep, I feel fulfilled, I feel aligned and I don’t question if I should be doing something else with my life. It feels right.”
In the pursuit of purpose and search for fulfillment, there will be challenges and obstacles along the way that might just be a part of your unique progress. It is a key element to growth, and everyone experiences it as some point in time.
What niche do you focus on?
Tony started taking images 13 years ago, starting with shooting nature. “About a year or two in, I started a charity called Shooting for Change where we charged $30 for a one-hour photoshoot and took all the proceeds to buy food/clothes for the less fortunate. That was my foundation. Now, I’m a full-time practicing photographer and digital artist and have been since 2014. I’ve worked with companies such as Nike, the Royal Bank of Canada, Vice, Hudson Bay, Staples, CBC, the City of Toronto and more. I’ve noticed the growth and I’m really proud of it!”
What impact do you think your photography has in the creator space?
We see it all the time — creators using their platform for change, awareness or even representation within their community — so it felt appropriate. “What I do know is that I strive to be an inspiration for young creatives in the industry.” Tony said. “I try to show them what’s possible through my own practice and encourage them to strive for new heights. I also think that I’ve found a space in this industry where my work is appreciated by my community and that’s something that I’m really grateful for.”
And he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. Be sure to check out Tony’s work on Instagram (@tonyxtones). Thank you to Tony for sharing his creative journey and experience with us!