Tod Seelie

tod seelie

Tod Seelie represents a man whose greatest goal in life is to “never give up,” while taking photographs of other human beings as a representation of him. From the childhood sounds of Phil Collins to still memories of tall trees and the marbleized grays of Lake Erie, Seelie has managed to capture his life through the lives of others. After 15 countries on five unique continents, published work in nickels of international publications and shots in photography books that grace the tables of homes throughout the world, Seelie’s greatest fear is “time going on-and-on with no end.” The birth of a child born in the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio notarized the start of a genre-less photography centered on a man who in absent from his becoming. His fear somehow epitomizes his work – it will forever capture life. Forever never ends. Tod Seelie Photography is time. Format recognizes humanity through a man who captures the essence of us. Enjoy.

“I don’t formulate projects to focus on a subject and then move on and consider it finished. I shoot from the life I lead and the places and people I am with.”

Format: How would you label, box and package your work, if you had to sell it?
Tod: That is one of my biggest challenges. I have different styles and approaches to different subjects (underground NYC scenes, strange travel adventures, and quiet landscapes / night imagery), so it is hard to lump them all together. I’ve started exhibiting them together, and it seems to work, but I still feel they come from very different instincts/inspirations. I think there is always a pressure to package your work in easily digestible bites, but if that doesn’t feel right, or it seems like you are selling yourself short, it’s okay to avoid that tendency.

Format: Is there a relationship between your work and the scenes and images from The Great Depression?
Tod: Photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange depicted a lot of their poverty-stricken subjects in a stoic and heroic manner. I’d like to think I am able to imbue some of my formal portraits of friends with a similar strength of character. I think your friends should be your heroes.

Format: Understood. Do emotions ever get in the way when capturing a graphic shot?
Tod: No, not usually. I also don’t think anything I shoot is that graphic or emotionally challenging compared to the photojournalists covering wars and humanitarian situations around the world.

tod seelie photo

Format: You’ve said in a previous interview that your photography captures your “particular New York.” What is your New York about?
Tod: A joke some friends have made is that my New York is “bands, bikes and booty dancing.” I wouldn’t really argue that. I also spend a good portion of my year outside of NYC, so I wouldn’t really consider myself a strictly New York photographer.

Format: “Brooklyn, New York City / Where they paint murals of Biggy.” You show a different side of Brooklyn that isn’t often told. For people who live outside of the largest borough known for thick accents, delicious slices of pizza, urban diversity and classic hip-hop – what can your photos tell us?
Tod: A common piece of wisdom is “write what you know,” and that is the approach I take to my photography. I don’t formulate projects to focus on a subject and then move on and consider it finished. I shoot from the life I lead and the places and people I am with. So I could say that the Brooklyn I show is my own life, but in that I find myself immersed in the DIY music scene, an active art community, and various sides of bicycle culture.

Format: Environmental portraits seem to be something you’re really good at – when did you capture your first shot?
Tod: I started shooting in high school, but didn’t take it seriously until I was halfway through college as a sculpture student. Once I was centered on photography, environmental portraiture was one of my first focuses. I think it came from wanting to involve my friends in my work, and also from photography that was inspiring me, like Rineke Dijkstra.


Format: You talk a lot about your friends. Do you ever feel like you’ve gone too far when releasing someone’s reality to the world?
Tod: That is a concern I dance with from time-to-time. Not only releasing too much of someone else’s reality, but my own as well. A friend of mine, The Polaroid Kidd, actually stopped taking photos and removed his site for that very reason. It is my understanding that he felt he was showing too much of other people’s lives and a certain subculture that did not benefit from the exposure. I understand this, but also think it is a great loss since he is one of the most talented photographers I have ever seen.

“I feel that my photos can be valuable beyond just aesthetically and in this way I can give something back to the people I photograph.”

Format: What is it that determines your element? Is it your physical surrounding or environments that help you get into your zone – or is your element something that you carry within you?
Tod: I shoot very different types of work, so my ‘element’ can be as diverse as dark empty streets in the middle of the night, or a throbbing sweaty basement show. I guess you could look at it, as my element tends to be in extremes. For me it is just situations that allow me to fully focus on capturing the essence of whatever it is I am shooting.

Format: Take us back to your childhood. What do you remember most about growing up?
Tod: I grew up on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. What I remember most growing up are tall trees, industrial wasteland, the gray expanse of Lake Erie, the silence of a winter night, and how popular Phil Collins’ music was.

Format: You have a pretty cool blog, What made you add MP3s (or sound) to your write-ups?
Tod: When I migrated to posting photos to, the most interesting thing on the Internet to me was the new (at the time) surge of MP3 blogs. And while I was discovering a lot of new music through them, I also felt that a lot of great music was missing. So I added that element to SuckaPants once I had a server to host the songs.

mud fight

Format: Cool, so why a photographer?
Tod: I came to photography from an interest in the fine arts. I always wanted to do something creative, and eventually it became clear that photography was the best form for me. I also appreciate the ability of photography to document things, people, places, and events to help convey the stories and ideas of things that happen. Examples like Bike Kill and the raft trips of the Miss Rockaway Armada are hard to convey thoroughly without the images to fill things in. In this regard I feel that my photos can be valuable beyond just aesthetically and in this way I can give something back to the people I photograph.

Format: With that, what experience epitomizes ‘eye-opening’ in the life and times of Tod Seelie?
Tod: One of the most incredible things I have seen / experienced was this past summer; a crew of friends and collaborators built rafts out of junk and traveled from Slovenia to Venice. Before we left Venice, we (very illegally) took to the Grand Canal of Venice in the middle of the night. There was a band playing softly on the roof of one of the boats, and they were all lit up and glowing as they slipped slowly between ancient historic Venetian architecture. It was one of the most amazing moments I have witnessed, dare I say magical.

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Dominque Howse

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