Five Quick Questions with Photographer Toby Burrows

Photographer Toby Burrows

Photographer Toby Burrows studied painting and photography at Sydney College of the Arts before leaving for London in 1991. It was whilst managing Europe’s largest photographic studio complex, Holborn Studios – London, that Toby’s passion for photography grew. For a period of four years he was fortunate to work alongside photographers such as David Bailey and Richard Avedon.

Toby returned to Sydney in 2000 and has since compiled an eclectic and diverse collection of personal and commissioned work. He has also established a significant base of leading advertising clients both in Australia and internationally.

His edgy style and award-winning photography have been celebrated with a New York Festival Gold, numerous Cannes and one show finalists, a World Press Award, Folio Awards as well as nominations for the International Colour Awards and the Black & White Spider Awards.

Toby is also one of the photographers in the ImageBrief community, where he is able to monetize his library of photographs for the needs of art directors, agencies and brands.

While getting ready for an exhibition, ‘Soliloquy’, in Hamburg this month, Toby paused to share some thoughts on his career with the ADC crew.

Fallen Close by Toby Burrows

Art Directors Club (ADC): How did you get started in photography? 

Toby Burrows: I have always appreciated the visual arts. I studied painting at Sydney College of the Arts and gravitated towards photography. I left Sydney for London when I was 20 years old and stayed for eight years. My time working in a photographic studio gave me a good grounding and understanding of the technical aspects of the craft. 

ADC: We heard you’ve shot a portrait of the great David Bailey, how did that come about?

Toby: I first met Bailey when I was managing a hire studio in London in ‘95. He was exiting the studio, cigar in mouth (I am not sure if this was prior to smoking being banned in public places, or that the rule simply didn’t apply to him). I approached Bailey, hand outstretched, “Toby Burrows,” I introduced myself. “Who cares,” he replied, with no intention of reciprocating my offer of an introduction. I continued, “Mr. Bailey, You are looking remarkably well, have you been on holiday?” I asked. “I always look like this!” he barked. Although I felt that our first meeting had been brief and one-sided, I finished with a positive, “It has been an absolute pleasure meeting you, Mr. Bailey.” At the end of the day, he managed a goodbye and remembered my name. From that moment, if anything were needed over at Bailey’s studio, I would offer my services. At every opportunity, I would visit.

A few years on, Bailey was shooting a movie poster for a NY client in one of the drive in studios at Holborn. A throne was delivered in the morning for the shoot. A friend of mine was assisting Bailey that day; I said to him, “I will have a portrait of Bailey on that throne by the end of the day!” He disagreed. During lunchtime, the studio lights were down and Bailey was holding court in the studio, a ring of a dozens of clients and agency surrounded him hanging on his every word. I am not sure if it was youth, stupidity or a combination of the two that inspired me to interrupt that meeting, camera in hand, “Bailey, so sorry to interrupt! May I take this opportunity to take a quick portrait of you on the Throne during your lunch break?” In disbelief and with fear of retribution, his courtiers looked expectantly towards their shoes. This request could have gone either way. Thankfully after a suspended silence, Bailey puffed on his cigar, and exclaimed, “Wouldn’t do it for just anyone.” I shot a roll of Reala negative film. During the roll of film, my only direction to Bailey was “Keep puffing on your cigar Bailey!” His repeated reply was, “Toby, you’re not going to get my soul.”  

Soliloquy by Toby Burrows
ADC: With your latest exhibition ‘Soliloquy’ you are establishing yourself as a respected fine art photographer. How do you find balancing this with your commercial photography and where do you see this balance in 5-10 years time?

Toby: I embrace the challenges that commercial work presents. The discipline that exists in the realm of commercial photography is an asset that can be applied to the fine art work. The perimeters of a commercial brief can still allow for collaborative creativity. So much of what we do is finding solutions to challenges.

When I am shooting my exhibition photography, I approach it from a production perspective in the same way as I would a commercial brief; the difference being is I have complete creative freedom.

In the future, I see myself balancing out the efforts in both areas of my work. As long as I am still enjoying the process, I will carry on refining and developing what I am doing in both the art and commercial work.

Fallen Home by Toby Burrows

Fallen Mist by Toby Burrows

ADC: The exhibitions  ‘Fallen’ and ‘Soliloquy’ both have similar themes – other–worldly, nudes – can you tell us a little about the work and your inspiration for these themes, and why no post-production?

Toby: Both ‘Fallen’ and ‘Soliloquy’ have referenced ethereal themes. There is something very poetic about the female nude in a pre-Raphaelite context. My intention is to inspire a reaction or an emotional response to the work. I would like to think that my work has a darkness to the imagery whilst also portraying an element of beauty.

In the ‘Fallen’ series, all of the figures were photographed in the landscape that they appear. Although we used lighting and apparatus, I wanted to keep an organic feel to the images. We were on location very early in very cold conditions. Everybody on the crew were very committed – no one more so that the nude models!

The images in the ‘Soliloquy’ series have been shot in studio and have not been digitally manipulated. The process of working out a method to shoot the images was challenging and very rewarding.

ADC: What (or who) is the one subject that you have yet to shoot but would love to have behind your lens?

Toby: Hearing, “Mr. Burrows, we would like you to shoot the Pirelli Calendar…” Well, that would be just fine!

For more information and background on Toby and his work, visit You can also access Toby’s work by submitting a brief to ImageBrief, who will pair your art direction need up with exactly the shot you’re looking for.

The Garden by Toby Burrows
Willow by Toby Burrows
Blue Door by Toby Burrows