Photo Courtesy of Vikki Tobak
Photo Courtesy of Vikki Tobak


Vikki Tobak, Author and Culture Journalist

The first time I interviewed Vikki Tobak was on a staircase in some random office out in DUMBO, Brooklyn. It was during Photoville, right before her Contact High book dropped. As a matter of fact, she let me flip through her copy before its actual release. I didn’t know the future then but wasn’t surprised by the book’s meteoric rise.


Listen to Vikki Tobak tell her Story


Vikki’s story is unique and goes beyond the boundaries of location and category. It’s a tale woven from the threads of immigration, music, and a deep appreciation for visual storytelling. Our conversation took us into hip hop photography, but more importantly, it offered a glimpse into the power of perseverance and the importance of preserving cultural heritage.

One of the most striking takeaways was Tobak’s emphasis on the human stories behind the iconic images. Her book, Contact High, goes deeper than the spectacle of celebrity culture by shifting the focus to the photographers themselves and the creative journeys that led to those unforgettable shots. We talked about the importance of looking beyond the surface and appreciating the often unseen forces that shape our cultural landscape.

Tobak’s background is a testament to this very notion. Immigrating to Detroit from Kazakhstan, she found a new language in her musical influences that impacted her understanding of America. Through music, she began to grasp the complexities of race, culture, and the very essence of what it meant to be American.

Her early days in New York were a period of exploration and immersion. Juggling photography with nightclub work and an internship at Paper Magazine, she honed her skills and began navigating the world of journalism and hip-hop culture. The trust and open communication she fostered with artists like Gang Starr became a cornerstone of her creative process, highlighting the collaborative spirit that fuels artistic expression.

Tobak’s discussion of the parallels between journalism and storytelling resonated deeply. It underscored the universality of storytelling, whether through the power of music or the written word. Her passion for finding and sharing authentic narratives shines through, making her not just a producer but a culture journalist.

Creating “Contact High” wasn’t just about showcasing iconic photographs; it was about breathing life into the stories behind them. Tobak’s dedication to capturing not just the “cool” aspects of hip hop but also its often overlooked foundational aspects serve as a reminder of the importance of cultural preservation.

Vikki Tobak’s work connects people, art forms, and eras, inspiring us to uncover untold stories and to look deeper.

This short reflection on my conversation with Vikki Tobak offers a glimpse of his story. However, for the full spectrum experience, try scrolling back up and listening to the entire conversation to unlock the complete story.

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