Vikki Tobak

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Vikki Tobak
BornAlmaty, Kazakhstan[1]
OccupationJournalist, author, curator[2][3]
Vikki Tobak on Twitter

Vikki Tobak is a culture journalist, author, independent curator, and producer born in Soviet-era Kazakhstan who was raised in the United States. She reports about and creates content regarding politics, arts, social justice and music photography.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Tobak's family immigrated to Detroit, Michigan in the late 1970s when she was five years old. In an interview given to journalist Ben Merlis for the online magazine she commented on her early musical experience, “I landed in Detroit – a predominantly black city, predominantly music-oriented city, where music is everywhere you go. You hear Motown, you hear Aretha and Stevie Wonder, that was my impression of what America was from the start."[6] In Cold War America, some of her white classmates often treated her with mistrust, whereas the black community, she says, welcomed her with open arms.

It was in Detroit that she immersed herself into early hip hop culture. New York groups like Public Enemy and EPMD were writing about creating identity and demanding respect. The movement inspired her to be closer to the pulse. As a teenager, Tobak moved from Detroit to New York City where, after working for a time as a cashier and doorwoman at the nightclub called Nell's, she got an entry-level job at Payday Records, the label known for such hip hop performers as Gang Starr, Guru, DJ Premier, Jeru the Damaja, and Mos Def.[1] After just a few months at the company she was promoted to marketing and PR director, which included organizing photography sessions for the artists. She continued to work in the music industry throughout the nineties, experiences that gave her a behind-the-scenes perspective on the rise of hip hop culture. Her insider knowledge on the subject segued into work as a music journalist and also as a music photography curator.[7][8][9][10][11]


In 2018, she authored the book Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop (published by Penguin Random House/Clarkson Potter).[12] The book features analog photography sessions of hip hop legends complemented by the photographers' personal stories about the images. The Contact prints featured span from the very beginnings of the Hip hop genre until the end of the regular use film photography for music pictures (2007). The book was considered one of Time Magazine's 25 Best Photobooks of 2018.[13] and the New Yorker described the publication as a "Wondrous tribute to the way hip-hop overturned not just the sound of culture but also ways of seeing."[14]

In 2019, The Annenberg Space For Photography in Culver City, California hosted an exhibit entitled Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop, based upon the contents of the book in association with the museum's 10th anniversary. The exhibit was curated by Tobak along with creative direction from hip hop artist and journalist Fab Five Freddy.[15][16][17] The exhibition traveled to ICP (International Center of Photography) in New York, MAS in Abu Dhabi and The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle.

In an interview given to Quartz regarding the exhibit, Tobak stated (specifically in reference to the photographers' contact sheets), “It’s a rare glimpse into their process and allows viewers to see so much more than the final product". She said "The 80’s and 90’s were a time when photographers had greater access to musicians, coinciding with the dominance of music magazines and album cover and magazine cover art”.[18]

In 2022, she authored "Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History" published by TASCHEN.

Her articles have appeared in The Fader, Complex, Mass Appeal, The Undefeated, Paper Magazine, ID Magazine, The Detroit News, and Vibe, and she was formerly the producer and columnist for CBS Market Watch, CNN, Bloomberg News, TechTV, and other media organizations. She was the founding curator of FotoDC's film program, and served as the art commissioner/curator for the Palo Alto Public Art Commission in Silicon Valley. She has lectured about music photography at American University, VOLTA New York, Photoville, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.[2][19]


  1. ^ a b "The stories behind hip-hop's most iconic images".
  2. ^ a b "Profile - Vikki Tobak - The Authors Guild".
  3. ^ Stuart, Gwynedd (18 April 2019). "Hip-Hop History Comes to Life in a Series of 120 Amazing Photos".
  4. ^ LensCulture, Vikki Tobak. "Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop - Photographs courtesy of Contact High Project - Interview with Vikki Tobak by Cat Lachowskyj". LensCulture.
  5. ^ "Rare Hip Hop Photographs Unearthed in New Book". PAPER. 18 October 2018.
  6. ^ "About Us". 30 July 2023.
  7. ^ "Contact High: The Story of Hip Hop Photography". BYT // Brightest Young Things. 18 November 2016.
  8. ^ "The Daily Edit - Contact High Project". 29 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Mass Appeal". Mass Appeal.
  10. ^ "FotoFilm: Contact High: The Stories Behind Hip-Hop's Most Iconic Photographs". FotoDC.
  11. ^ "Vikki Tobak - Complex".
  12. ^ "Contact High by Vikki Tobak - Books".
  13. ^ "TIME's Best Photobooks of 2018". Time.
  14. ^ Hsu, Hua (1 November 2018). "How Hip-Hop Learned to Pose for the Camera". The New Yorker – via
  15. ^ EDT, Paula Froelich On 4/4/19 at 4:45 PM (4 April 2019). "A stark, new exhibit at the Annenberg take us on a visual historical journey of Hip-Hop". Newsweek.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ "The Sad Story Behind One of the Most Striking Images of Tupac". Complex.
  17. ^ "'Contact High' Photography Exhibit in LA to Showcase Intimate Visual History of Hip-Hop". Billboard. 20 March 2019.
  18. ^ Simon, Johnny (26 April 2019). "From Biggie to Kendrick Lamar: outtakes from hip-hop's most iconic photos". Quartzy.
  19. ^ "Talk with Photo Curator Vikki Tobak". AU Photo Collective. 18 April 2017.