Toby Old captures animation in his photography, depicting both realistic and exciting observations of human life. Drawing on the inspiration of photographers of the 1960s, he has traveled the country photographing in many different environments, including street performances, beaches, fairs, fashion shows, nightclubs, boxing events, parks, and Fourth of July celebrations. His images capture extraordinary moments in human action and social and cultural experiences as they unfold. His photographs are not the kind of be taken in quickly, but images to be examined and scrutinized for details. According to Ted Hartwell, curator of photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, “Old’s work has always been characterized by a solid technical mastery of the medium-format camera as the tool for his wonderfully zany, insightful, and intelligent observations of the American scene.”
Toby Old was born in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1945. He started out majoring in biology at Hamline University, then moved on to the University of Minnesota where he trained to be a dentist. At the height of the Vietnam War he was drafted into the Army Dental Core. While serving in North Carolina, he began to explore art history and photography. After a 1976 summer workshop at Apieron Photographic Workshops in Millerton, New York, Old moved to New York City. He began working on his first extended series of the disco scene in 1976-1981. For this body of work, Standard Deviation, he was awarded a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts. In 1981 he received an NEA Survey Grant to document lower Manhattan below Chambers Street, and has continued photographing this section of the city since, includes an extended series on the boxing world. In the late 1980s he moved to upstate New York, where he began to document local events including county fairs and Civil War reenactments. He also began photographing national events such as the Kentucky Derby, Frontier Days, Mardi Gras, and spring break. Old’s book, Times Squared, was offered through the 2005 Subscription Program and is still available for purchase in the Light Work Shop. Old participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in 1980.