Meet the Fellow: Celia Talbot Tobin

CTT: The Greatest Hits Playlist

If you’re looking for Celia in a crowd, follow the laughter. It’s highly likely someone is laughing so hard they’re about to start crying. It’s rare to meet someone — especially a journalist — who can so easily put others at ease, but Celia’s infectious and unselfconscious joy spills over into most things she does. If a song comes on with a good beat, she will start dancing, no matter where she is — and she’ll often manage to get everyone around her dancing as well. It’s an especially valuable quality to have on an emotionally exhausting reporting trip with lots of road time! (It also helps that Celia is a deeply empathetic and gifted photojournalist, and a dream of a reporting partner.)
So get to know Celia better through some of her formative songs, with liner notes on her approach to photography, journalism, and crying in movies:
  1. Stevie Wonder, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
I was very obsessed with Stevie Wonder as a kid. It was the first concert I went to. I was four, so I don’t remember a lot. I remember the choir: They were in these colorful robes, so it was this rainbow of singers. I remember he was led on and off stage, which made an impression on me. My parents had told me that he couldn’t see but that’s kind of hard to grasp as a kid. I think it struck me to see an adult needing to be assisted in that way.
People reading my writing makes me feel really self conscious. With photography, you’re capturing something that exists. There’s a lot of power that comes in selecting what to shoot, but that’s where the storytelling is — you’re curating the world that already exists, and I’m a little more hidden in the process. But writing is all internal. Having people read my writing feels like having someone in my head. You can’t hide yourself in your writing: Those are your words.
  1. Stephen Sondheim & Leonard Bernstein, America (from West Side Story)
The song is just so fun. I did musical theater for a short while, so I often listened to songs while projecting myself onto those roles. But in the case of West Side Story — and a lot of the musicals I like most — there are a lot of male parts and not many roles for me to realistically play. Maria is pretty boring, but Anita — who’s the star of that song — is the best. And it’s a song that’s entirely driven by women, which is cool.
When I was planning to move to Mexico City, I reached out to a lot of other women journalists there. I feel pretty comfortable reaching out to women and being like, hey, can I pick your brain. And it feels easier to do now: Female journalists are much more visible than ever, they’re in groups that I’m part of, and women are just — at least in my experience — really supportive of other women.
  1. Billie Holiday, A Foggy Day
I am a really emotional person. I take all the situations that my parents cry at, which are different things, and just combine them. My dad cries at art and music, my mom cries at books and movies, so I cry at anything. I cried in my first movie when I was five, so it started pretty early. That movie was E.T., by the way, which is one of the best movies of all time. My mom likes to talk about how I really wanted to turn it off because it was so sad and she had to tell me, hang in there, it gets better.
A Foggy Day is probably my favorite Billie Holiday to sing. I’m not sure when I got obsessed with Billie Holiday. My dad listens to a lot of jazz, so I remember listening to her in high school. A lot of her songs are so mournful, especially knowing the context of her life was so dark, but that song actually feels optimistic.
  1. Joni Mitchell, A Case of You
There’s so much from my youth I don’t listen to much anymore, but it’s still such a huge part of me. I think this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It was one of the first songs I ever learned to play on the guitar, and I think I did that mostly so I could play Joni’s songs.
When I think of my favorite photographers I think how I found my own vision — which takes a long time. It’s like acquiring a certain fluency, finding your aesthetic voice. Caroline Drake is one of my favorites. She tends to do long term projects, which is also what I like. She’s drawn to quiet, sort of “off” moments. I might say the traditional style of American photojournalism is “the” moment, but I tend to be drawn to moments a little before or after “the” moment.
  1. Johann Sebastian Bach & Yo-Yo Ma, Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major
If I’m doing work that’s not super stimulating — color-correcting or something — I will often listen to podcasts. But if I need to use my brainpower then I will almost always have on classical music of some kind. I have the app for New York’s classical music station, so I will stream that. I listened to the Bach Cello Suites so much the year I was living in Ecuador, after high school. It was my first year away from home so I’m sure it was very comforting for me. I was also simultaneously reading Harry Potter so I sometimes still associate things happening in Harry Potter with a specific cello suite.
  1. Natalia Lafourcade, Tu Si Sabes Quererme
I’ve had a number of Sliding Doors moments in my life. There were decisions where I felt I could do one of two very different options, and then walked into the more uncomfortable choice. That is usually where my instincts lead me, though I don’t usually notice unless other people point them out.
Natalia Lafourcade was a discovery of mine last year. It was a little before I went to Oaxaca. I had been fantasizing about working on the border for the last two years — I loved Montana but I was ready to leave. My second morning in Mexico, I remember going out to the street and saying to my brother, I think this is where I need to move. And I listened to Natalia Lafourcade on the bus, looking out the window. It was almost too ridiculously romantic a pairing, to be listening to her while watching the Mexican countryside go by.
  1. Future Islands, Time On Her Side
This one makes me feel like a little bit of a super hero. It’s really good driving music. I think their lyrics are really romantic in the right way: not gushy, but very endearing.
Amelia Urry, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow