TOBE DAMIT, OR NOT TO BE – A Short Photo Essay

by Helene Burkholder

Tobe Damit, or Not to Be

If I may, I would like to share a few pictures on The End of Being that were taken by a virtual friend of mine, Niko. I first saw these photos posted on his Facebook account about a year ago. I thought those pictures were phenomenal for a few reasons: They were shot on film (rather than digitally) then scanned, are not photoshopped, nor artificially lit or staged. I always found that photos shot to film by analog camera have a wonderful graphic quality that I find myself missing nowadays. They also display a world which, apart from the new flashy technology we now have, has not changed much – alcoholism, despair, homelessness, poverty and abandonment are still very present today as they were when these pictures were taken in 1988 and 1989. These photos will probably be viewed by some as flawed, but to me they exude a rawness that I find missing in today’s ‘perfectly framed’ digital photography.

“Feeding the Sheep”, 1989

It turns out that there is also a noteworthy back story to these pictures.

Here is Niko in his own words:

My name is Niko, a.k.a Tobe Damit. I worked and studied in Cinema and worked on several clips for various bands in the 80’s and 90’s. I am now mostly trying to help some punk bands that didn’t get the recognition they deserved to have their place on the web. I started and update the pages for The Nils and the 222s and The Shakin’ Babies (Chris Barry side project band) and sometimes I book them some gigs. But this is not really important. What matters are those pictures I took.

“Guilt”, Jonquière (QC), 1988

I had just finished my second of three college years in the program in Arts and Media Technologies in Jonquière (Québec), and my girlfriend and I met up with four of her friends – one of whom was just back from spending 2 years in Thailand and was brought back to Canada after a hard and long search led by his father – half-way on route to Québec City, where there was this huge party planned for the birthday of a friend of my girlfriend and her best friend. It all went perfectly wrong, as any real good party should go, and the police had to end it abruptly. Four of us decided there and then to go on a road trip going from Quebec City, to Montreal, to New-York, ending in Virginia Beach, since all of us were free for the summer and had cars at our disposition. The main declared purpose of this road trip was unknown to all of us.

“Live at the Bottom Line”, NYC, 1988

During this trip, I got to better know one of the friends that was with us. This guy had gone totally mad travelling across Thailand, doing stuff with no logical meaning whatsoever. He was seen by many locals and left behind him only whispers of pity and incomprehension. This lunatic was pretty much out of it and nobody had managed to find out what had happened to put this previously very open-hearted, grounded, good fellow and appreciated companion, in this state… This had a very strong effect on me and I realised how thin the line that kept us mentally fit (according to social standards) was, and made me appreciate that these people also had some kind of wisdom and spontaneity that most of us “sane people” were somehow lacking… So, as I had my old Leica camera with me, I decided to be a witness of the sad beauty of those who had left the ship to sail away in a world of their own.

“ ‘I screwed Hitler’” a.k.a. Denis, Jonquière (QC), 1988

It was somehow prophetic because 20 years later I was myself declared as having a schizoid-paranoid personality. A disease that is supposed to be, by definition, chronic and never go away but some miracle saved me and I can tell you for sure now that I am back to my old self. Going through this maze had a strong spiritual impact on me and even today there are some things that happened during that period that I cannot explain, things I was foreseeing, thought that I was reading in other peoples’ minds…

“Drinking Alone”, Montréal (QC), 1988

But we are getting away from the main subject of interest here which is those pictures. I hope you enjoy them. Please be respectful of those people who appear in the pictures and do not humiliate them in any way and do not associate them with humiliating or discriminating form of speech whatsoever. You might get a taste of their pain if you happen to do so. Just remember they could be your brother, sister, aunt, friend, sons and/or daughters. You never know what’s gonna be in your box of chocolates…

“Lost”, NYC, 1988

My camera got stolen recently so I haven’t done any photos with a quality worth mentioning but I still take photos whenever I can.
Niko AKA Tobe Damit

“Andy Warhol’s Cat”, 1989



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  1. rob says:

    i like your pictures. i am sorry for you that your leica got stolen. the text is also very interesting to me. the part about it could be any of us and we should at all times as good as we can get an emphathic standpoint towards all people. it includes bankers as well, by the way or exxon lobbyists or whatever/whoever makes your hair stand up. its about dealing with our own shadows even though we are looking at what seems to be alien or enemy or pathetic or whatever the feeling is that is triggered. the feeling is within oneself and can be observed, allowed, transformed, integrated. the part about the paranoia/shizophrenia is also very interesting to me and i would like to read more about your experiences – you have a kind of reflected documentary art kind-of-way that makes me write this comment – something that i dont often do. so keep going – best of health and luck and joy. rob

    • Tobe Damit says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. I do indeed take a lot of interest in human nature in every possible way, the closer to the heart the better. I do realise people would maybe have liked o know more about the pictures but being who I am I as afraid to be boring them… I do like to write. It is my second talent, maybe even my first but English being a second langage to me, I am afraid to make very obvious mistakes. I would be happy however to answer any specific questions you might have about me or the pictures. It truly sucks to have your camera stolen. Especially when its the girl who you have a kid with who does it. Thank you so much for your interest and your kind words. Thank you for allowing me to share the way I perceive the world with so many people. It means a lot to me. Thanks to Helen a million times too!! Peace Out to both of you! Tobe

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