Re:Collection: Marvin Heiferman on Toby Old

Visitors to our website can now explore thousands of photographic works and objects from the Light Work Collection in a new online database that expands access of work by former Light Work artists to students, researchers, and online visitors. To coincide with the our new collection website launch, we’re introducing a series on our blog called Re:Collection, inviting artists and respected thinkers in the field to select a single image or object from the archive and offer a reflection as to its historical, technical, or personal significance.

Today we’re sharing a reflection on Toby Old’s Diving Mule, Orange County Fair, from Loose Games Series, 1991 from Marvin Heiferman, Faculty, International Center of Photography.

Square photographs, like snow globes, are classically balanced and seem to offer up perfect little worlds, at least until their contents get shaken up a bit. Think Vivian Meier, Diane Arbus, Peter Hujar or Robert Mapplethorpe, Larry Fink, and even Robert Adams. Think Toby Old, too, who, since the 1970s, has been drawn to various spectacles in, and the fleshiness of, everyday life. Trained as a dentist―a field that, like photography, demands a forensic eye for detail―Old went on to picture disco revelers, boxers, strippers and their audiences, and public events, all with an appreciation for both localized cultural values and the more generalized ways of the world. In this photograph, a silhouetted mule, hurtling headlong into a swimming pool at a state fair, hints at mythology, Muybridge, and danger, while rapt observers underscore Old’s fascination (and ours) with extraordinary things we can see when we’re receptive, patient, or maybe just lucky enough.

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