Mixed in the Six is an initiative which fosters community for mixed-race people in Toronto. On Saturday, February 23rd, Mixed in the Six held their first open mic coffee house at The Freedom Factory. Artists were encouraged to share music, poetry, story, speeches and comedy - original or otherwise - that focused on their experiences of being mixed race.
JAYU (meaning “freedom” in Korean) is a registered charity and non-profit organization based in Toronto, founded by artist and human rights activist Gilad Cohen. The organization runs several programs supporting their mandate of “sharing human rights stories through the arts and engaging dialogue to lay the groundwork for positive social change.”
In 2015, JAYU introduced the iAM Program, a project that aims to empower marginalized youth in the Greater Toronto Area using photography and storytelling. The eight week program includes workshops held by professional photographers, one of which was lead by Danielle Da Silva, the founder of Photographers Without Borders (and my boss). Danielle invited me to come along and I enjoyed watching the students learn about ethical storytelling, effective campaigns, and be inspired by photography.
Turkish-Armenian photographer Ara Güler captured Instanbul, and the world, for nearly 70 years. Born in 1928, his fathers’ artist friends inspired him to pursue a career in cinema. He worked in film studios and took drama courses, but eventually became interested in photojournalism. Güler worked for several publications in Turkey as a journalist, and gained the attention of international newspapers and magazines. In 1961 he was asked to join the Magnum Photo agency by one of its founding members, by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Güler believed artists created the world around us, and made many portraits of them and other noteworthy figures throughout the 1970’s. When it came to photography however, he felt it only reflected reality, and therefor thought of himself as a visual historian.
Ara Güler died on Wednesday, October 17, 2018. He was 90 years old.
A few months ago I joined an online group of photographers here in Toronto who are avid fans of shooting on film. I met up with some of them one day to walk around a part of the island called Ward's Island. I shot Fuji Acros 100 with a Mamiya C220f, 80mm f/2.8.
Recently I was asked to write about an experience I've had with photography, as a precursor to an upcoming workshop I'm attending. This is what I came up with.
Early morning in Kyoto, Japan. I woke up around 4 am, nowhere near adjusted to the time difference and all too eager to see the morning light in the land of the rising sun. Passing taxi cabs forming meticulous rows at the bus station and legions of street cleaning crews, I headed out in search of coffee. It wasn't long until I spotted a little shop with a few weary eyed salarymen sipping coffee in the window. Wide-eyed and ready to explore my new surroundings I turned onto a street flanked by a thick stone wall on one side, behind which towered the high sloping rooftops of a temple complex. A few elderly patrons gathered outside the entrance began to stir as a bell sounded from within the complex and the heavy wooden doors opened slowly, revealing a passage back in time. I walked timidly through the gates, expecting to be stopped at any moment and politely told to turn back, but no such thing occurred.
The thick walls seemed to guard against time itself. The scaffolding covering one of the main buildings, was made of bamboo and rope, and a conservation team worked with wooden mallets and hand saws. I spent a few minutes walking around the pristinely manicured grounds before approaching one of the other buildings. I could feel cool air faintly emanating from the entrance as the sun had already started to warm the air around me. Again I hesitated at the threshold, peering into the dark cavernous interior of a large room. As my eyes adjusted, I could see a few people scattered about sitting on the floor and a huge altar on a stage at the far side of the room. Momentarily, a man sitting near the stage met my eyes and smiled as he motioned enthusiastically for me to come and sit by him. I took my shoes off and arranged them neatly next to the others by the entrance and kneeled down next to the man. I had not yet raised my camera once inside the complex, and now took it off my shoulder and placed it squarely in front of me on the floor. The man said something to me that I did not understand, but his hushed and easy tone was comforting and it soon became obvious what he wanted me to witness.
Almost as soon as I laid down my camera more bells sounded, followed by a pure silence. The dull hammering sounds of the construction outside, and even the birds, all seemed to fall completely silent. A moment later, a procession of monks dressed in colourful robes emerged from recessed archways on either side of the altar carrying incense, bells, and other objects. A spectacular array of prayers, chants, rituals, and meditations unfolded in front of me and the handful of others in the room. Afterwards I turned to the man and thanked him for sharing this experience, bowing awkwardly as I did so. He nodded, with a hint of satisfaction written on his face, and I left the temple ruminating on this experience. Experiencing this kind of connection and understanding, without a shared language, is uniquely satisfying. And yet I hadn’t taken a single picture of this event, and for a brief moment I wondered if I had failed as a photographer.
Over time I have come to recognize these impromptu experiences as one of the most important aspects of my work, whether I get a shot or not. Simply by leaving space to allow these moments to happen, and accepting when they don’t, is a critical exercise in observation, awareness, and patience. And like meditation, it is an ongoing practice.