Toby Smith

LEVERHULME TRUST ARTIST IN RESIDENCE – University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute

A Year in Review – September 2016 -> July 2016

October 2015 – Exhibition of ‘Light After Dark’ at St. Johns College, Cambridge

Light After Dark, Toby’s first project to get him major international recognition, is an artistic, nocturnal photographic study of Britain’s major power stations, using long exposures to capture the stark structures, bathed in ambient atmospheric light, showing us what the human eye would otherwise be unable to see. 

This exhibition from photographer Toby Smith is an artistic study of England’s power stations. Long exposures create a looming, otherworldly presence and, in contrast, a unique photographic vision of the remote hydroelectric landscapes of Scotland midwinter where icy vistas combine with brutalist architecture.

Toby Smith interviewed by the Festival of Ideas for their Speaker Spotlight. 




November 2015

Rare Earthenware at the V&A Gallery – What is Luxury?


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. The film 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. Unknown Fields Division, in collaboration with Kevin Callaghan, have used mud from this lake to craft a set of three ceramic vessels. 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 full film was premiered at the V&A with the online premiere being given to the Guardian newspaper. 

A full artist’s talk was also presented at the David Attenborough building as part of the Cambridge Festival of Science 2016.

January 2016

Assignment in Gabon with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

In January Toby completed a 2 week expedition to Gabon and the incredible Bateke Plateau via  a multi-tiered collaboration with additional funding from the BTO, Society for Wildlife Artists (SWLA) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) . The trip was completed, with Malcolm Green – an oral storyteller, to document the exact physical landscapes revealed by a unique study on satellite tagged Cuckoos completed by Dr Chris Hewson of the BTO.

With many migratory bird-populations in decline its important we increase our understanding of their wintering habitats. I aspire to edit the African leg of the project whilst tracking the birds on their incredible journey back to the UK . It was amazing to photograph their exact position in Africa on assignment dictated by the 3000 km journeys completed by an animal weighing less than 150g.

An initial edit of the project was presented at the BTO/CCI Cuckoo Day in April  in the David Attenborough Building. More recently the project, with its important and wide ranging collaborations, was  highlighted in the University’s Research Horizons Magazine – p 6-9 inclusive. 

The project was also  featured in the Guardian Environment Section. 

February 2016

Wetlands of the United Arab Emirates

In February Toby travelled on assignment to the United Arab Emirates to shoot new landscape work for the Imagine Science Festival and exhibit within the show  Atmospheres”.  Like much of the Gulf, the Emirati Coastline has bore witness to incredible, and often extremely damaging,  development.  However, biodiverse, beautiful and critically important sites do remain and must be protected.

Accessing mangroves and restricted building developments alike in a sea-kayak  I produced a pilot body of photography that I hope is that start of a longer dialogue with this fascinating region and will support critical research into the value and understanding of the habitats and challenges there.   


The initial research dossier was in partnership with Birdlife International and after forging on the ground relationships with Environment Abu Dhabi (Governmental Agency) there is ambition to return and extend the project for 2017 ahead of the 2018 Abu Dhabi RAMSAR convention.

March 2016

Beyond Images  Exhibition with UCCRI


In March, Toby collaborated directly with  the academic members of UCCRI on an exhibition for the Festival of Science here in Cambridge.

Research, academic and practical work in the fields of conservation, geography, biology, medical, material and social sciences has long embraced photographic imagery either as a raw data source or as illustration. As technology, digital imagery, data-sets and analysis grows in sophistication a new dynamic and virtual aesthetic is emerging that is closely integrated with new areas of research. 

18 incredible images from 18 scientists working across 12 departments within the University were sourced. They were  collated, presented, modified and adapted into rich photographic prints.  The exhibits were chosen deliberately to avoid traditional lens based photography and in so doing have become diverse in their scale, ambition and gravity.

A dedicated web-page, detailing all of the exhibits with an extended essay is online.

March 2016

From the Mayans to the moors; a new film series shows biodiversity conservation in a new light

When most people think about biodiversity conservation they think about the importance of protecting the variety of life on Earth. They might not think about how the principles used to study species endangerment and its impacts on people are also used to understand the extinction of languages; or what nature writers like William Wordsworth can tell us about landscapes that previous generations took for granted but have become lost to us.

Now, a series of eight films released today by the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute (UCCRI) sets out to highlight these remarkable connections, demonstrating the breadth of research interests at the University that have the potential to intersect with 21st-century issues in biodiversity conservation.

The series of videos focuses on mutual learning and collaboration between researchers within the arts and humanities, the natural and social sciences, practitioners, policy makers and citizens, all of whom are integral to understanding conservation problems.

Bhaskar Vira, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute

March 2016

Festival of Science with Department of Geography


Collaboration with the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit to produce a video installation for exhibition.  

Full details and extended essay are here:  Toby Smith – Shifting Sands

April 2016

Launch of the David Attenborough Building

On the 6th of April we celebrated the launch of the David Attenborough Building with an incredible day of presentations and events all in the company of the legend himself. Earlier in the year Toby was directly commissioned by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative to produce a short film for the launch.

This combined commissioning (legally) a drone to fly over Cambridge City Centre to show the new CCI headquarters and  filming a moving interview with Sir David. This later concluded in him delivering a piece to camera during a 30m abseil on the Green Wall in our atrium.  These video components are now being used to help form the identity of CCI whilst contributing to fund-raising efforts.

April 2016

Fotofest Biennial and Changing Circumstances Exhibition

Exhibition from March 12th  to 24th of April in Houston, Texas

Photography and video work from the project  ‘Illegal Sapphire Mining in  Madagascar‘ on display in the flagship exhibition at the Fotofest Biennial and contributed to their book Changing Circumstances.

May 2016

Crops in Colour – Assignment for the Crop Trust

A recent assignment to Madagascar and Zambia was completed with the Crop Trust and Getty Reportage. Spanning 3 continents and 3 photographers there is an aspiration to capture and make public #cropsincolor across the world.  Toby’s role was focussing on the important crops, diversity and harvest of Rice, Cassava and Maize through dramatic aerial footage and interviews.    

Recently uploaded is a project preview and interview with their communication director Luis Salzar.

I have worked across Madagascar historically on projects ranging from Illegal Logging in the North through to Sapphire Mining in the far South and inescapably agriculture was often the back-drop to my landscape photography. However, it was inspiring to focus directly on crop diversity and through this lens build a narrative that is actually critical to the entire country. 

Miles and miles of stunning rice terraces or small scale maize plantations were elevated from being an aesthetic back-drop to the front and centre of my attention. As photo-journalists we often focus on the smaller more exotic narratives but I felt very motivated to engage with a subject that is so important to so many on a truly global scale.

In June Toby presented his work and  findings at the Cambridge Global Food Security Conference.  This included new insights into the relationship between soil erosion and rice production in Madagascar and how Cassava could offer food security to Southern Africa.

August 2016

Armenia’s Last Glacier

This summer Toby is partnering with Project Pressure to climb and document the incredible Mount Aragat in Armenia and study its dwindling glacial cover. The ‘Luminous Endowment for Photographers’ have made a significant financial contribution to support us and without which the overland trip and expedition to the mountain would not be possible.

Project Pressure is a charity documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers, collaborating with world-renowned artists to create work that will inspire action and participation. The project’s purpose is to launch the world’s first comprehensive crowd- sourced glacier atlas hosted on an open source digital platform (MELT), a touring photographic exhibition, a documentary film and a book publication.

October 2016

Cambridge Shorts – Wellcome Trust and University Communication Team

Professional partnership with a Cambridge based Neuroscientist and Linguistic on a short form video for the Wellcome Trust and University Communication Team.

Circuits for forming words and grammar are intrinsically wired in the human brain. But how we express words varies, not just across languages, but across our sensory capacity: people who are blind or deaf communicate in ways that favour their dominant senses.

Our film will highlight linguistic and neurological theories showing how communication changes across visual, auditory, and tactile senses—from how a blind person engages their visual cortex while reading Braille, to how a deaf person uses gesture differently from somebody simply “talking with their hands”—all while sharing the same hardwired structures for producing and understanding language.

November 2016

Seeds for Survival – Crop Diversity in the United Kingdom

In partnership with UCCRI researcher Dr Helen Curry we aspire to create and host a trans-media public engagement project entitled “Seeds for Survival”.

The proposed project will bring together Helen’s expertise in the history and practice of agro-biodiversity conservation with my photography and video work. Together we will create a new online exhibition that will explore four key British crop diversity collections. This will highlight central aspects of Helen’s current research initiative, presented through accessible writing and compelling photography. We will also hold a live-event public conversation about crop diversity conservation in Britain, which will feature representatives from the four collections highlighted in the online exhibition and entice audience members to become involved in crop conservation through the distribution of seeds of British crop varieties. The live event and exhibition launch will take place during the March 2017 Festival of Science in Cambridge.


Ryton Gardens

Germplasm Resources Unit

John Innes Centre

National Fruit Collection