Toni Wallachy Portfolio Contest Winner
Words: David Best
Every year on April 15 Canadian photographer Toni Wallachy gives herself a special birthday present: She travels alone to some place in the world she has never visited before. She considers this an annual retreat, wherein she embarks on a journey to learn about a new country and culture, as well as to explore inward and touch base with herself. “This time alone allows me to focus on what is important to me, in a setting that I find highly inspiring and positively charged with stimulating vibrations,” she says.
Wallachy credits her parents with bequeathing to her an artistic spirit. When she was young, her father, a creative artist who worked as a tattooist, would take her to the local craft store to find art projects they could work on together. She also enhanced her weekly allowance by coloring in some of the tattoo stencils her father’s clients would look through.
From her mother she learned the value of creating a captivating story in whatever medium was at hand. “My mother tells me how she could just leave me in a room as a child,” says Wallachy, “and I would blissfully find all sorts of creative crafts and projects to entertain myself for hours on end.”
Wallachy believes that more time, thought and discipline was necessary to make an image back in the film era. “I really love puzzles,” she says. “If an image I was working on didn’t come out the way I had envisioned, I enjoyed going back and trying again. I loved thinking through the process—without overthinking it—to find solutions that would enhance the image I had imagined. Not to mention that with film you didn’t get the instant gratification of seeing the image right away. Sometimes the wait for development was a good week or so, and the element of surprise was always exciting to see what you had captured.”
But Wallachy also recognizes the unique advantages of digital capture.
“What I enjoy about digital photography is the freedom to manipulate colors and add drama to an image,” she says. “I can use creative elements that speak to how I felt at the time of capture. This is a key element I bring to each photograph I create. My friends like to tease me about this all the time. They’ll say, ‘So, Toni, how does this place make you feel?’ I’m not sure if it’s just my emotional female side speaking here, or if I’m truly an artist in my heart and soul. But I embrace these feelings because they seem so authentically ‘right.’”
As she travels the world, Wallachy opens herself up to how new places affect her. She doesn’t try to convey any messages in her photos or feel the need to tick off a list of pictures she must take. It’s not that black and white. Rather, she tries to tap into the social and cultural currents of each new environment, and strives to evoke in her images a deeper sense of how people live their lives within their particular circumstances.
The photographs shown here are especially poignant for Wallachy, as they were taken on the monumental occasion of her 45th birthday. She wanted to do something a little more epic for this milestone than, say, Rome, or Paris, or Prague, so she chose to travel for a month through Istanbul and then on to Nepal.
“Nepal holds a special place in my heart,” Wallachy says. “It is a very spiritual place. Although I’m not particularly religious myself, the Buddhist tradition focuses on personal spiritual development, which speaks loudly to me and my approach to my work. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life, and this informs the kind of photographs I like to take. This trip came at a significant point in my life, when I was ready to look even deeper into my influences and my way of seeing the world around me.
“I’m always touched and filled with huge gratitude when I hear that my work has sparked inspiration in a fellow artist. This is really all I can hope to achieve—creating something that touches and inspires someone else.”