TBow Bowden: Encounters

Published on 08/26/ 2022

Shooting from the Heart by Maggie Steber

I first met TBow several years ago in Miami. Over a period of time, I saw and learned so much about the street and about TBow through his photographs. As much as they are stories about others, they are also about the person who made them.

The streets are constant theater and everyone on them is an actor of sorts. The people TBow finds and photographs remind me of Shakespearean characters. Sometimes I think they find him, as if there were a magnet between photographer and subject. They are drawn to each other. What is more astounding is TBow’s connection to the people he photographs. He cares about them, is truly interested, not just for the sake of a photo, but because he wants to hear their stories.

"He cares about them, is truly interested, not just for the sake of a photo, but because he wants to hear their stories."

The photographs are intimate and sardonic; some are heartbreaking and others are valiant. When their stories are included, the photographs become real to us. The portraits jump off the page. TBow finds a power in people that is hypnotic and intoxicating. If there is sometimes a certain despondency or loneliness displayed in some of his images, there is also an abundance of resilience, pride, and strength.

TBow’s interest is genuine and respectful. He makes friends, and when you read what he has written about himself you understand that these people and the act of photographing them is his oxygen, his reason to get up every day to be on the streets with the heroes of his photographs. He is joyful in what he does. He is not a hit-and-run photographer. He is recording life.

Many of the photographs remind me of the work done by photographer Diane Arbus, who was also attracted to the street and people with some kind of character. I’m also reminded of the great Jill Freedman, who photographed life on the streets of New York like nobody else, as well as Robert Frank, whose photographs held up a mirror to show us who we really are as a nation.

Nowadays, much of street photography is detached. Not TBow’s. He is a visual minstrel and troubadour. People are comfortable with him and they reveal their stories. Take Kat and Freddie, train hoppers who renewed their marital vows in New Orleans each year, until Freddie’s drunken rage ended it all. Or Chris, a gentleman who goes by his Tibetan name, Chotak, and writes poems about his loneliness. There is also Stephen, a homeless man whose daughter gave him her Hello Kitty backpack after she went to live with her mom.

TBow’s photographs are stunning in their power to hold our attention and tug at our hearts and our minds, stopping us in our tracks and helping us appreciate these people whom we might have passed on the street without a second thought.

TBow writes himself reminders of what he seeks. Photography is his therapy. Here he can break the rules. He sees beyond the obvious, reminds himself to ask what happened. He questions why we are here together. The streets are where he finds life and love and loss and courage and eccentricity, and images that are like gifts waiting to be opened. He takes those gifts and shares them with us and we are made the wiser and better for seeing them.

TBow Bowden

Tom (TBow) Bowden's work as a photographer and producer have taken him around the world. His current work can be viewed on this website and in his two books, Love Street (self published, 2021)  and Encounters, Portraits of Americans (Daylight Books, 2022). TBow is currently living and working in Texas. 

Maggie Steber

Maggie Steber is a documentary photographer whose work focuses on humanitarian, cultural, and social stories. She has received numerous honors, including the Leica Medal of Excellence, and her work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, and the Guardian. Her monograph, Dancing on Fire: Photographs from Haiti, was published by Aperture.