SoTeeOh is a Toronto born and based street photographer. With the uprising in popularity of photography through social media, SoTeeOh has had much success, especially using Instagram (@soteeoh). He has become one of Toronto’s most beloved urban instagrammers. He is, however, one of the most humble people you will ever meet, and if you talk to him about his 31.3K followers, he will surely talk to you with a sense of integrity about how focused he is on keeping his work real. Many aspiring young photographers look up to him because of the success he’s achieved by eventually doing exactly what he wants to do, by playing, having fun and taking risks in between the work because it feels right. He encourages youth to follow this mentality. His style also draws a lot of people in – he captures Toronto in such a unique way, which makes him stand out. But at the same time, his photos will hit you with this wall of ”wow, this is sooo… Toronto!”
Familiar, yet unique, and pushing the boundaries at the forefront of photography, we are proud to share with you that SoTeeOh will be putting on a solo show right here in Toronto at Project Gallery (1109 Queen St E) May 1st – 13th. RSVP here for the Opening Reception.
We were lucky enough to interview him about his progress. Scroll down for the Q+A; get inspired.
Taken directly from the artist statement, here is a description of the upcoming show:
”This contemporary exhibition explores a current digital street photography movement from a uniquely Toronto perspective. A blend of design, architecture, urban grit, cityscapes, and street fashion – SoTeeOh employs an urban guerrilla approach to photography to create staged compositions in dynamic environments. Significant post digital processing is also a component of this style and aesthetic, producing images that are rooted in the urban scape but also feel slightly surreal.”
”I just look at it like this: a paintbrush is a tool, a leica 35mm is a tool, a 300 year old violin is a tool, and so is a dslr and an iphone.”
Cick here to view a beautifully shot video by Shanik Tanna, about the show. It will take you on a little ride with SoTeeOh himself…
A lot of your social media photography revolves around the candid and the ‘right moment’ type of urban photography – how will your staged compositions differ from the shots we’re used to seeing day to day?
My staged imagery is just an extension of my street photography. The thing is I’m just not bound to any ideas of purity, lol. Sometimes I catch moments that are completely organic, sometimes I see a moment that hasnt happened yet and I wait until it does, and sometimes I just move things around or force the action. The point though is to deliver impactful imagery. I think the current generation of street photographers has really created a new visual language and it’s now finding its way into mainstream culture. As a society we are a visual content generating machine. For me it’s about really using imagery as a primary means of communication and being able to manipulate an image so that it delivers the exact message that I’m trying to say.
Would you say that you are trying to take the current digital street photography movement to the next level with this show?
I try to steer away from the ‘next level’ tag. I mean first of all, living in Toronto, there are so many amazing photographers here that really inspire me and motivate me to do what I do. If anything I just hope that this exhibition will help to bridge the gap between instagram and the fine art realm. People were resistant to street art initially and now street artists are at the forefront of contemporary art. I think the current photography trend is very similar. People I think are still a little bit hesitant to put digital and mobile photography on the same level as other more traditional art forms. But I think the trend has too much momentum at this point so it’s going to get there. It’s inevitable. I just look at it like this: a paintbrush is a tool, a leica 35mm is a tool, a 300 year old violin is a tool, and so is a dslr and an iphone. No matter what the tool is, you have to master it. And once you master it you can really start pushing the boundaries of what that tool is capable of. Once you’re in that realm it really doesnt matter, it’s all creativity and it’s all exciting.
What’s the story behind the ‘surreal’ aesthetic of your exhibition?
I think some of the images just tiptoe a fine line between familiarity and abstraction. Like an image of a street that you know should be crowded yet there are no identifiable people in it. To me that’s a little bit surreal. I also play a lot with reflections and symmetries both natural and manipulated and that kind of creates new visual environments that again look familiar but don’t actually exist.
When you are presenting your work from a Toronto perspective, what are the things that you look to highlight to make that known?
When I decided to focus my photography on Toronto I spent a lot of time studying the icons of other cities like New York and Paris and Tokyo and then asking myself “what are Toronto’s icons?” It’s not a direct translation like Toronto doesn’t have an answer to the Brooklyn Bridge for instance. But Toronto definitely has its own distinctiveness. There’s the obvious things like the CN Tower and streetcars, but there’s also less obvious things like I feel like any signage that’s representative of other ethnicities or cultures is a Toronto thing. I think that Toronto has a mood. I think that Toronto has a specific color palette (which is why I rarely show images in black and white). Really I just ask myself constantly “what feels like Toronto?” and then I try to represent that visually.
We are always growing as artists. What were the main things you learned while working on this exhibition?
The biggest learning curve for me was really the presentation. All these pieces are hand mounted and finished by me so there’s a lot of work that goes into each piece aside from the imagery itself. That was really important to me since my roots as an artist are in drawing and painting, very tactile art forms, I wanted to find a way to keep that in my photography.
What are your next steps? Has your work inspired you to build on something new?
I think the next step for me will be to begin to speak to ideas and themes that are broader than the city. I think my art will always come from a Toronto perspective, but I want to be able to explore other things with my work. I’m also beginning to experiment more with merging some of the other art forms I do with my photography. I just want to make sure its natural thought I don’t want it to be forced.
Would you like to add anything else?
I guess just to all the young artists, play. As artists, playing is how we grow. It’s an integral part of our process. Stay away from the idea that every thing that you do creatively has to be for something. If you’re a photographer every shoot doesn’t have to be for a client. If your’re a painter every painting doesn’t have to be for an exhibition. If you’re a singer every song doesn’t have to be for the album. Once in a while you just have to do it because you feel like doing it. Because you feel like taking a risk and trying something new. That’s a good enough reason. And that’s usually when the breakthroughs happen. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most on the other side of this exhibition.
Words of wisdom. Don’t forget to catch SoTeeOh on May 1st at Project Gallery.