A master of space and light, Dan Tobin Smith has spent over a decade crafting and refining exquisite imagery, films and experiential installations. His work is fuelled by elements of science, architecture and design culminating in complex structures and unique ways of seeing.
Dan’s appreciation for photography started at a young age, spending hours in the darkroom with his father, “ My Dad was into photography, he studied under Bill Brandt at the Royal College of Art in the ’70s and went on to teach himself at the London College of Printing. I was in the darkroom from the age of twelve learning to process film. I loved being in that space. When I left college, I started shooting right away focusing on interior photography. I eventually got frustrated with it as it was always about shooting someone else’s ideas. I have a strong desire to make and create things. I’ve always been interested in architecture, and the sculptural aspect of my work is an extension of that.”
In the last fifteen years, he has continued to evolve his practice, making work, which defies categorisation yet appeals to both art and commerce. Much of his approach revolves around temporary structures, complex layers of set manipulated in space and light. “I try and focus on capturing an elegance in something chaotic. I’m drawn to more complex ideas and setups” There is a rigour to his approach, every detail is considered and explored to find the perfect frame. Even when working with volatile materials ” When we work with explosives, we try and attempt to control something very violent. Refining the charge to achieve the exact effect you want, but you need to trial it 50 times to get it right. It’s not easy, but weirdly I enjoy the resistance and the challenge.”
This unwavering discipline runs through every aspect of Tobin Smith’s practise. ‘Alphabetical’, one of his longest running project’s is a study of form, specifically looking at the letters of the alphabet in Helvetica formed as three-dimensional sculptures. “The series came from a commission from Creative Review. They asked me to create the letter A for their annual. I’ve carried it on as a personal project, and I’ve only got 6-7 letters to go.” With each letter, he creates complex sculptures from a range of objects and materials which culminate in a multi-layered design, essentially a study of perspective. On his website, he shows alternative views of the sculptures, a range of fascinating abstract shapes which in their own way inspire other work. “With this work, I’m building something to give the perfect read to camera, the letter form. The thing you have built gives you other opportunities when you examine it from different points of view.”
In recent years, Tobin Smith has expanded his work into spatial experiences, bringing a new dynamic to his practice. ‘The First Law of Kipple’ is a study of chaos, or rather chaos made ordered. Inspired by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick who termed the endless clutter that builds up in the course of our lives as “kipple.” The installation draws you through piles of colour coded clutter, everyday objects painstaking rearranged in a perfect spectrum gradient. While standing inside the installation, it’s impossible not to desperately trying to make sense of it all, creating mini-narratives between these familiar objects. “Kibble was never meant to be photographed” he adds “it’s more of an experience.”
Together the work of Dan Tobin Smith is a hybrid of photography, sculpture, design and engineering. No matter which form they take, the work feels unexpected and unseen, a considerable accomplishment in our visually saturated media landscape. “I just do what my instincts tell me to do really.” Dan shares when I ask him what motivates him, “I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the industry. I look at old photo books and art books. I prefer to create what’s instinctive to me and just get on with it. I get excited by making new things. I really like working. As soon as I’ve shot something, I’m motivated to do something new. All I want is to keep moving forward.”