"Home is where family is, to see a space evolve and change with the use across different life spans is a beautiful thing..."
This edition of A Grounded Life Journal we sit down with the effervescent Toby Burrows, award winning photographer, husband and father of three.
Beginning his career as a trained painter, Burrows fell in love with the art form of photography whilst working and living in London. Having returned to Australia Toby built an acclaimed body of work celebrated by the World Press Award, New York Festival Gold and Cannes. In 2020 Toby photographed the iconic Qantas Centenary Campaign, Still Call Australia Home. He now works out of his studio in Marrickville and found a moment of calm to sit with us and speak about his Grounded life.
Where do you call home?
Darlington, Inner Sydney, NSW. Our home is filled with my three kids, 19, 17 and 13, my wife and our beloved pets, a rescue ridgeback cross and a rescue grey cat. Louis, the dog, hasn't been fond of cats in the past but since we have had Blue they get along, they sit by the fire together in winter and are great mates.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
I consistently have a project on the go when it comes to spaces and I never reach a place that I can necessarily sit down and stop. I love the process of creating a space more than sitting back and enjoy it…home is where family is, to see a space evolve and change within the use across different life spans is a beautiful thing, where we can live together but also at times separately, a space with different areas is important too. I love family and I also love that it feels to me that my children are now young adults and feel comfortable in staying at home and not jumping to leave the nest. There is not a massive gap between generations as there was for me.
I look at the younger generation and see a maturity in their outlook and knowledge of the world and we can partly attribute that to access to information, but also has positive and negative attributes that comes with that as well, I can't say that me as a parent has left all of those intergenerational “trends” behind but it has moved closer in the last few decades. Having more honest conversations around what they are doing and how they are living their lives.
What are the elements that help you transform a house to your home?
I collected, not as a hoarder, but I have passion for old and used recycled elements from construction sites and bought a number of elements into the home and stored them. I salvaged six tonnes of convict stone from a house in East Sydney and created this beautiful pile of stones in the back garden with a view to use in the renovation. The stone was eventually used to create an outdoor shower in the back garden.
Once when I went to visit my photographic agent in Stanmore and they were demolishing an old factory and these amazing old steel windows and myself and a friend took these massive windows down and they now sit in the garden surrounded by the convict stone. The focus of the house are the bifold windows and we do a lot of cooking and it's so important to live a very indoor outdoor lifestyle. I love this place for its different spaces. We have a self contained unit out the back where we host friends and fellow artists showing in Sydney, my wife works at Sydney Dance Company and we hosted dancers from the show, we are both in the arts so we find this naturally gravitates towards this household.
What creative projects find you most excited and energized?
There is a filtered down effect in my choice of personal work that you can’t force…your focus is something that you find from inspiration in your everyday life, you can just wake up in the morning and plan….its not until you really find something solid and exciting that inspires you. At Christmas I was at the Colo River. I wanted to spend some time on my own going down the river and photographing it…once winter rolls in and the fog I want to go back and explore organically.
10 years ago I did a series called Fallen, which had a lot of reach, it was covered by NY Art Magazine and Dazed & Confused, it had a real life of its own. There is one picture that I didn’t bring out with the series and I’m going to launch it now. The challenge of approaching the subject of nudity considering all the imagery available online of that subject, has to be treated with mutual respect of artist and subject. The way its portrayed has risks about it, you’re stepping into a genre of work that needs to be treated with respect and by doing so you challenge yourself and that was a real step forward for me…I love shape and form and anonymity, I didn’t want portraits I wanted the form to be something that people could relate to without being a portrait - it's about what the form evokes.
What type of activities or rituals do you instil to help you remain Grounded?
I have always loved scents, in my studio or at home, I am a big candle or incense fan. We have an outdoor shower which we love, and the ritual of bathing. The other day we came back from down South and said to the kids I’m having a bath, you have to “bags” it when you have kids!
What is the best life advice you have been given?
Something that I think enables you to really be giving and loving and the best that you can. You need a happiness that comes from within yourself, to afford yourself the time and nurture that helps you to give others care. It's a starting point from within yourself…to be kind to yourself and to be kind to those around you.
Favourite travel destination for Grounding yourself:
For Christmas we got a house down south, immediate family, we got a place with a small pool and we just spent time together and we didn’t have to run out and go places…a simple walk down on the beach together is all we need to connect again, very simple parameters.
One city must-do travel tip:
We went to this surprising and amazing place, the Hunting Museum in Paris, this was a really little gem that we went to with the kids, with all this hunting paraphernalia.
I haven’t been to the new Sydney Modern, that’s on my list to do very soon!