Toby Smith

Latest Tweets






RARE EARTHENWARE – Collaboration with The Unknown Fields Division

While journeys to extraordinary places are the cornerstone of luxury travel, this project follows more well-concealed journeys taking place across global supply chains. It retraces rare-earth elements, which are widely used in high end electronics and green technologies, to their origins. 

Rare Earthenware Trailer

The 4K film, developed together with Unknown Fields, documents their voyage from container ships and ports, wholesalers and factories, back to the banks of a barely-liquid radioactive lake in Inner Mongolia, where the refining process takes place. In a further collaboration with ceramicist Kevin Callaghan, mud from this lake is used to craft a set of three ming vases.


Each is sized in relation to the amount of waste created in the production of three items of technology – a smartphone, a featherweight laptop and the cell of a smart car battery. The resulting film and 3 vases will be on display at the V & A from the 25th of April within the exhibition, What is Luxury?

The Guardian Environment desk have exclusively published the full 7 minute film and an extended image gallery which also incorporates images of the highly restricted Bayan Obo rare earth mine and processing which was shot on editorial assignment in 2010.

A press pack detailing the exhibition, selected images and the 4K trailer are available by reply.


Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence

UCCRI works across the University of Cambridge to promote collaborative research on biodiversity conservation and its impacts. I am absolutely delighted that the Institute has been awarded a  Leverhulme Trust “artist in residence grant” which will enable me to collaborate with them for an academic year and further steer my work towards sustainability and environmental stories.

New short-film collection on illegal sapphire mining, Madagascar 

I’m hoping to bring a new creative, editorial and visual dimension to their research and in return gain the time and resources to incorporate a further level of science and academic rigour into photography, video, exhibition and editorial projects.

GEOSYNCHRONOUS – Full Multimedia and New Essay in the Guardian Weekend

In February, the Guardian Weekend Magazine printed a 7 page feature incorporating pictures from Geosynchronous with a new essay by acclaimed author Andrew Smith.  They also debuted 5 of the 7 multimedia chapters produced in collaboration with SES and Universal Assembly Unit.

Spanning 3 years and 5 continents the videos illustrate the entire spectrum of the satellite industry by combining traditional video, time-lapse and critically a wealth of scientific and editorial information presented as motion tracked overlays, 3D graphics and animations.

DEWANGANJ TO DHAKA – 6 Hour Train Ride in Full 4K

“90 minutes of the South China Sea in 4K” went ballistic on Youtube, attracting over 70K hits in a month. This inspired me to test a 4K workflow to the absolute limit and after months of processing, trial, upload and error (repeat, tweak, repeat, tweak, repeat x 12) I have finally released what I think is the world’s longest continuous 4K video online and it is beautiful..

This 6 hour slow-tv feature is shot in stunning 4K resolution and presented without a single dropped frame or interruption to either image or sound. The journey begins in the quiet rural North of Bangladesh, with the sunrise streaming through vegetation and reflecting off paddy fields. After 5 hours the landscape begins to close in on the trackside revealing many of the development issues that face this rapidly growing and urbanising country. Thanks to Compost Creative for helping ensure all 541,125 frames are sharp, seamless and flawless!


In February, Getty Images Reportage and I partnered with the DECC to begin visualising areas where Climate Change is actively affecting daily life in Britain and after collaborative research we focussed on Coastal Erosion and Food Security. Practically, this meant some late nights on the East Coast looking at the accelerated erosion from storm surges. This was followed by early mornings at the wholesale markets of London, including Billingsgate and New Covent Garden.  

Coastal Erosion at Happisburgh, Norfolk

This a project I aspire to continue and broaden through 2015 and indeed mix into my research at Cambridge and opportunities to publish editorially. It also runs parallel with the concept of fossil fuel divestment which I have been following and indeed recording debates of personally at UCCRI. 


I’ve been sending out newsletters for almost 5 years; posting photography, highlighting projects, giving thanks and sharing finished projects of my professional life. However, as noticed by my new Grandmother in Law, I have been neglecting to post news about the most important people, journeys and news in my personal life.  I agree with Mary, so as a tardy correction…

On May 10th 2014, I married Alexa and surrounded by family and friends, despite the rain, we celebrated the best day of our lives. We now live in Clapton, London with our dog Mr. Jiggins.

As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch with comments, information, introductions, feedback or indeed just to say hello. Follow me on twitter for updates and (mostly) relevant re-tweets.

Kind Regards

Toby Smith

All images/video copyright protected and credited to Toby Smith,  except the wedding photography by Claire Pepper.



A Debate hosted by The University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute on the 16th March 2015

Filmed and Edited by Toby Smith
Do Universities have a responsibility towards people & the planet?

How should they manage their research and investment portfolios?

Do they have a duty to lead debate on energy and climate change?

Susan Watts, science journalist/ex-science editor for BBC Newsnight

Panel members:
Dag Rune Olsen, Rektor of the University of Bergen
Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College
Alison Smith, acting Head of Department, Plant Sciences
Rob Lake, Independent Responsible Investment Advisor
What are the challenges that Universities face in terms of managing research and investment portfolios which interface with external partners? How should Universities respond to public scrutiny of these activities, and perceptions about their ethical responsibilities to current and future generations, and the planet? Should universities manage their investments to reflect these concerns? Do they have a duty to guide public debate on climate change and energy policy and how far should this be reflected in their research and teaching?

A panel discussion on the roles and responsibilities of Universities in relation to activities that impact on planetary sustainability, chaired by Susan Watts, science journalist and ex-science editor for BBC Newsnight. Panel members are the Rektor of the University of Bergen, Dag Rune Olsen, Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College, Professor Alison Smith, acting Head of Department, Plant Sciences and Rob Lake, Independent Responsible Investment Advisor.

Student campaigns and public concern over ethical investment, as well as wider societal expectations in relation to the ways in which Universities handle their responsibilities to people and the planet, have been in sharp focus recently. In Norway, following an approach from the University of Bergen in relation to petroleum research, the Norwegian National Committee for Research Ethics in Science and Technology (NENT) issued an opinion in 2014 which stated that “achieving the goal of sustainability requires a transition to sustainable energy and knowledge development. Research funding authorities and research institutions are ascribed a special responsibility in this connection while the universities have a specific responsibility in their role as knowledge bearers.”(1) In a number of countries, Universities have actively entered this debate, and some have taken steps to adjust their investment and research portfolios after a reconsideration of these responsibilities. (2) Other public institutions, including those associated with research funding, have joined this discussion. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced its intention to take steps towards divestment in September 2014 (3), while the Wellcome Trust has argued that engagement is better than disengagement. (4) Just last month, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn (£556bn) and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies which had been removed on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing. (5)


For further details, please contact
Dr Bhaskar Vira, Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.

[email protected]

Families pan sediment for gold in the Namorona River close to Ramonofana National Park. The sediment is mined in his village close to the river-side. In 2011 the price of Gold peaked at E1379.09 per oz and in the same year 50 hectares of primary forest were destroyed by mining.  The sediment in the river water causes further damage downstream.