It’s been just over a week since my job officially began here at the Toronto Community News. It’s been a fun and challenging week, with a steep but manageable learning curve.
I should start by saying Toronto is the biggest city I have ever lived and worked in. I grew up In Guelph and Milton, so I’ve visited Toronto often and the cultural impact of the city on southwestern Ontario is huge. Living in the shadow of the city is different than living in the city itself.
However, once I find myself on assignment there’s no much that makes working in Toronto different than working in other towns. I should point out through my beat is mostly community news. The company that owns Toronto Community News, Metroland Media Group is a subsidiary of Torstar media. Torstar’s flagship publication is the Toronto Star. So while I’m in Toronto most of the events I shoot are at the community level, or typically the things that the Star wouldn’t catch.
So I approach each assignment with an old acting adage ringing in my ears, “There are no small parts assignments only small actors photojournalists.” In my first week I covered multicultural festivals, cricket events, a midget level baseball game, a regional track meet, the tall ship festival, Guyanese independence day, one of the Toronto Jazz Festival events and community fundraisers to name a few.
Most of the papers publish on Thursday’s some like the North York and Scarborough Mirror’s publish on both Tuesday and Thursday. I had Tuesday and Wednesday off this week so when I came in this morning I got to see my pictures in print. This isn’t the first time, but it’s the first time in a while and it is still exciting to see your pictures in print.
With this introduction aside here are some pictures running loose in reverse chronological order.
On Sunday I only had four assignments, however, they were mostly outside and Toronto was under an extreme heat and humidity advisory for the day. I averaged drinking a litre of water per hour just to keep hydrated. Considering the athletes at the baseball game and track meet I photographed though I don’t think I can complain.
It was my first time shooting baseball at any level. I really liked it. I like the sport anyways and it’s great for pictures. Hopefully I will shoot more baseball games this summer and get better.
After the baseball game I rushed out to Centennial College’s progress ave. campus for the Toronto Guyanese community’s celebration of their independence day. Guyana was celebrating their 47th year of independence and their President happened to be in Toronto visiting that weekend so he came by to visit the celebrations.
My Sunday though had started out at York University in the morning. There was a regional high school track meet hosted by the Royal Canadian Legion. In the 40+ degree heat, running a 100m or 1600m race is not my idea of fun. Photographing it was good though.
I also got my first cover photo with Metroland there, the photo below ran on the front page of the Tuesday edition of the North York Mirror, hopefully there’ll be more of these in the following weeks.
This photo was me trying different things, while I have no issue getting the ‘standard’ images required. After that it’s fun to play around and try new things and new ways of telling the story.
My Sunday was capped off with a nice walk around the Fairbank Village area of Toronto near Eglinton and Dufferin streets. There was a multicultural festival on the street that day. While actual cultural activities seemed to be lacking there were food and buskers.
The day before had me running all over town for six different assignments. Once again most of them were outside except on this day instead of extreme heat it was periods of thunderstorms.
This photo was from a block party neighborhood event; the rain kept most people home or seeking shelter under things.
I was also able to catch part of the Toronto Jazz Festival, at one of the satellite shows at the Shops at Don Mills. There was a performance by the Toronto based Dixie Demons, it was pretty fun, despite the small crowds and rain.
On the Friday before I was asked to go and shoot the Redpath Waterfront festival, a four-day festival along Toronto’s waterfront featuring a fleet of tall ships. They also had events and performances; one of these events was a Flyboarding demonstration. Which was one of the coolest things ever.
Personally though I was interested in the ships. About ten years ago I sailed aboard a ship called the STV Fair Jeanne, which sails out of Ottawa. I distinctly remember being on watch at 4am in the middle of a rainstorm in June, under sail into Toronto harbour as the sun slowly started to rise behind us. The event lets people who may be interested tour the ships and get a feel for them before they all move onto the next stop and the Fair Jeanne was there this year too.
Last Thursday was one of my first officially assigned assignments at a small community park in York. The Jays Care Foundation, or the charitable wing of Toronto Blue Jays, had just refurbished a local ball-park, they had some community leaders and two former Jays on hand for the event.
They also had some of their trainers on hand to offer up a skills clinic to local kids.
When there’s down time and during the first day or two I was asked on occasion to go look for enterprising or feature pictures. These are standalone photos of daily life in the city. Sometimes they can have a newsy focus though it’s not needed. An example would be weather pics on a hot or rainy day.
Feature hunting as it’s called is just walking around taking pictures and talking to people, not a bad way to spend a few hours on a working day.
It’s been a diverse week and while the past week was mostly settling in I think the next few will go well. I look forward to shooting more and posting more, and if you’re in the Toronto area check out the Metroland Mirrors you might see my pics.
I have been an inactive blogger for sometime. I think in February I thought life couldn’t get busier than it was but that changed in March, when I had an assignment (at least one) due every day for the entire month. By April things started to slow down, and since May it’s mostly been a waiting game.
However, while things in April started to slow, I had also begun my chase for summer work. Initially I began with high hopes, at one point in mid-April it seemed like there were at least three reasonably likely prospects with different newspapers. Those petered off and by mid-May I began fearing I’d have to find work outside photography for the summer.
So I travelled to Ottawa, there I found work as a student house painter. On the day I was supposed to start working though I received an email offering me a job with Metroland’s group of newspapers in Toronto.
While I start tomorrow I realized I hadn’t posted a blog update in months. First I was too busy, then I was too lazy and on summer vacation and finally my computer was in for repair. So now I’ll catch up.
My last blog posted was at the end of February, so I’ll start in February in Ottawa.
In mid-February I photographed the Ottawa Fashion Week for FAJO Magazine. It was an interesting affair and my first time shooting anything in the fashion world. While most of the weekend was spent at the end of the runway, I was able to get some interesting moments and get a tour backstage.
My trip backstage was brief, I was only allowed ten minutes but it was fascinating to see what happens behind the scenes at a fashion week event.
Most of my other February exploits are detailed in a previous post here.
As March dawned the second years began finishing up their final projects in preparation for their end of program internships. The first years meanwhile were trying to keep from drowning in tedious assignments. The program is four semesters long and semester two and three are notorious for their intensity.
On the second weekend in March I returned to Ottawa to photograph the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Final 8 men’s basketball championships. It’s Canada’s version of NCAA final in March.
The games were hosted at Scotiabank place in Ottawa, and they were very well attended. As a student at Carleton I photographed this tournament twice before for the charlatan, Carleton’s student newspaper, you can check out some of those pics here for a look at some of my older stuff. I was flooded with nostalgia, especially because several friends from Ottawa were also there photographing the event it felt a bit like a working reunion.
For a while it looked like it was going to be an Ottawa vs. Ottawa final, but The University Ottawa Gee Gees didn’t quite make it. The Carleton Ravens won again making it a record number championship wins in CIS history.
Next weekend I drove a carload of Loyalist students past Ottawa to Montreal for the annual anti-police brutality protest. The protest was begun 17 years ago in response to suspicious deaths at the hands of Montreal police officers. However, in the years since, the march has attracted a more dubious reputation as an opportunity to confront the police directly on the streets.
After last year’s student protests in Montreal new legislation had been passed. In addition to the more controversial Loi 78, Montreal passed municipal laws requiring rally organizers to submit march routes in advance for approval from the police. If not then the protest could be declared illegal and that gave the police sweeping powers of arrest. Which is exactly what happened, as soon as marchers began assembling the police declared the protest illegal and began dispersing it and making arrests.
Loyalist students, completely by accident, went en masse to Montreal. There were about 23 of us in total. We stayed at hotels and spent a few hours chasing columns of police who were chasing the scattered protestors around the downtown core.
I ended up in a CTV News clip during one of the several on street interactions with the police. You can view it here, I’m on the left of the screen taking pictures when the police charge, it’s at the 48-second mark in the clip.
Just before 7pm, two hours after the protest started, the scattered protestors and police now converged at the intersection of Rue Sainte Catherine and Rue Saint-Andre. The police formed a kettle and closed ranks.
Partly by chance and partly because of experiences learned from the G20 I jumped back, narrowly avoiding a gloved hand that was pulling people in. As we found out later 15 Loyalist students were caught up in the kettle.
Some were released on the street, after Montreal police filmed them, and took down their info. They were told they’d be mailed a $640 ticket and to return home, that if they were found out on the streets again that night they’d be arrested, spend the night in jail and face possible criminal charges. Those not released on the street were loaded onto a repurposed city bus and taken to various precincts where they were processed and released. By 10:30pm we had confirmation that everyone was out and everyone was safe. By the numbers Loyalist students, there to photograph the demonstration, accounted for 8% of total arrests that night.
Everyone in my car, myself included, avoided the kettle and arrest and the next day we were all cheerfully headed back to Belleville, where Loyalist College is located. Along the way as we were passing Napanee, which is near Belleville, we spotted a huge plume of smoke rising from a field off the highway. We pulled off the highway and found the source of the fire, a barn in a farmer’s field and began taking pictures. The timing was convenient as we had a spot news assignment, any news that is not scheduled, due in class in two weeks time.
Later that week came the second round of advisory board meetings of the year. Advisory board is a once a semester picture review with photographers and editors from newspapers and newswires across Canada. I sat down with four different people and showed them the same sets of pictures, I heard four different critiques ranging from, “Yeah! This is great!” to, “None of your pictures are memorable.”
The most useful piece of advice I received was to stop pursuing things I thought others wanted to see and instead go with my gut more. So I decided to try and do that, although I was a little uncertain what that meant, I thought I had been going with my gut before.
Around this time we had a whole host of different projects to work on, from videos to picture documentaries, and once a week a lighting assignments. One of the more interesting lighting assignments was the environmental portrait. Which is a fancy way of saying a portrait in a relevant environment… So a firefighter in a fire hall, or a doctor in a hospital. Ours was specific, we had to find either a CEO or business owner, a blue collar worker or a luthier (someone who repairs stringed instruments, specifically lute based designs). I was in Ottawa one weekend, so I started phoning luthiers in the city and David (below) agreed to pose for a photo.
A week later I found myself once again in Ottawa. It was now the end of March, school was truly slowing down and I was trying to find a way to keep busy. So I returned to photographing the drag queen Savannah Couture. Savannah had agreed to let me photograph her before during and after performances a few times and the project had been universally well received amongst the advisors I met with.
Savannah started drag professionally only a month earlier, but with the help of her brother, who also happened to be a well-known queen in Ottawa, she was able to secure a regular weekend performance at Edge, a well-known gay bar in Ottawa.
A drag performance is essentially three parts, the first is the dress, which needs to compliment the queens own style and the song choice. The second is the performance, which is generally a lip sync set to music, song choice determines clothes, hair make-up and the dance itself, and most queens won’t repeat songs, every weekend it’s something new. The final part is audience interaction, like at a burlesque show in part drag is a celebration of sexuality, and so queens interact with and tease audience members usually as part of the show.
On this night there were three individual queens who performed and a fourth, Savannah’s brother and drag mother, who MC’d the evening. The night ended with all four of them dressing like the girls from the Lady Marmelade music video and performing the song as a quartet.
I had produced far better performance pictures that night than I ever had but I also recognized the familiar symptoms of artistic burn-out starting to set in. All of my pictures looked like crap, or that’s how I felt at the time. Scrolling through contact sheet after contact sheet they all looked uninspired. I began to understand what the advisor had meant about photographing things as I felt others wanted to see them. As the end of semester began to wind down I started focusing more on the multimedia projects I had to do, and writing.
In the final week of classes I received a call from the Oakville Beaver, they had been one of the many places I’d applied for a summer internship with. I had been selected for a working interview of sorts along with two others. So I scheduled a day to come down to the 905 and work for the Beaver for the day. In addition to a job interview I was asked to photograph two assignments as a freelancer, one for the Oakville Beaver and one for the Burlington Post, they both work out of the same office.
The first event was a children’s French ‘rock’ concert with Gregg LeRock, I remembered going to a similar show with a guy named Etienne who had songs like, “Etre is to be not, not, to be…” and other such clever things. The kids seemed to genuinely like it though which was the point after all.
Next I had to hop on the 403 and race to Oakville for a presentation at a local public school about a new energy use and education initiative that was being launched in the region.
A week later I was told I didn’t get the job. Later that afternoon I applied for another job at Inside Toronto another paper owned by the same company. After an interview there and a few more weeks of waiting I was offered a paid-summer internship there.
Starting Monday I expect to be busy for at least the next calendar year. This internship has me working full-time until I start school, then I enter into the most important and competitive parts of the Loyalist program and hopefully that leads to an internship and summer job next summer. All of that is to say I spent the last week watching cheap made-for-tv documentaries on Netflix and playing computer games, biking, reading and generally having a pretty ideal summer break.
Fortunately I have a friend who has agreed to rent me an air mattress in a corner of his bachelor’s apartment near High Park and the Junction. So for two months I’ll be living the dream… of sorts.
So with a new job in hand, motivation, functioning computer and period of artistic burn-out conquered, hopefully I’ll be inclined to blog more regularly. I think the summer’s going to be a good one.