Benefits / Resources / Articles
June 13, 2024

Professional Photographers Around the World: Stephen Tobin

Stephen Tobin is a photographer who was born with eidetic memory, also known as photographic memory. It's the ability to recall an image with incredible precision even after the image has disappeared. Tobin also experiences PTSD, a condition he explores and engages with through his photography. In recognition of Men’s Mental Health Awareness month, we wanted to explore what we find when we lift off the mask of stigma from mental illness. 


Tobin lives in the city of St. John's on Newfoundland Island off Canada's Atlantic coast. It’s a particularly magical and picturesque place, with scenery you might recognize from Disney’s 2023 live-action adaption film, Peter Pan and Wendy. Among the original inhabitants of the Atlantic region in Canada were the Mi'kmaq people, who inhabited the coastal areas of the Gaspé and the Maritime Provinces east of the Saint John River. Since Tobin’s family was stripped of their native heritage many years ago, the topic remained relegated behind closed doors. However, in recent years, he’s taken it upon himself to find new ways to connect, especially through photography. 


Tobin passion for portraiture has led him to take pictures of the people of Newfoundland considered minorities, such as the Inuit. In total, he’s photographed 16 different ethnic and demographic minorities, including members of the Mi'kmaq tribe, who all suffer from PTSD. All his subjects belong to the Newfoundland province, a small population of about 500,000. 


To Tobin, the sheer number of people in this minority group suffering from PTSD is evidence of a larger problem. From these portrait sessions, he was inspired to begin a new project that combines visual and immersive elements to give viewers real insights into what living with PTSD feels like. As a registered nurse, Tobin employs the ethics he’s learned from nursing school, requiring participants to fill out a safety release and taking additional steps, such as requiring each participant to bring a support person with them to the session. Then, he begins establishing trust by sharing his own story, and asking participants to show him what their “mask” looks like. 

The mask is what Tobin describes as the protective covering that people with PTSD “wear” to feel like they blend in. “My mask is so good,” Tobin says, “no one can tell— I can vanish.” 


Then comes the hardest part of the session, photographing a genuine, raw expression of emotion. When coaching his participants to open up, Tobin doesn’t sugarcoat it. “I know what I’m asking you for and I know it’s not nice. But there’s a reason we do it.” Photography can reflect your spirit, not catch it, Tobin believes. In the PTSD project, he uses his camera to reflect the ways PTSD looks, and he brings their story into the light of the world. It’s where the truth belongs—out in the open, in a place where others can understand and provide wholehearted support.


It wasn’t until 1985 that PTSD became a diagnosis and there is still so much work to be done. Tobin is a PPA member and the winner of the 2024 Art Tour International Magazine award, named one of their “Top 60 Masters of Contemporary Art.” He will be accepting his award this month in NYC and his work will be displayed in Times Square. You can view his website and learn more about him here


In honor of Men’s Mental Health Awareness month, we also want to remind PPA members about our Telemedicine Benefit, an affordable way to get in touch with licensed professional counselors. Prioritize your mental health and get the support you need today.