January 4th 2014 will be my Sixteenth Year here In Toronto Canada, the last two years being the hardest in the form of many challenges. When I moved here I knew after just a week my life would be changing dramatically… I welcomed the change as my life in Detroit had reached a pretty solid plateau career wise and to some extent creatively. I had found a voice as a photographer in Detroit and it took a few years here in Toronto to find the same voice or perhaps a slightly different voice. Photography has always been away for me to meet people and the multicultural nature of Toronto meant that I was suddenly surrounded by people from all over the world. I set into learning the art of portraiture as a way to tell the stories I was learning. The act itself is deeply addictive. I started to read about other photographers to learn their thoughts on the portrait. Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” Richard Avedon said “A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed.”
Portraiture was not going to be as easy as I thought and I knew time was going to be part of the answer. The more I knew the individual the more truth would end up in the image. Robert Frank taught me one of the most important lessons “The eye should learn to listen before it looks” Over the last 16 years I have had the honor of knowing and photographing hundreds of people but in terms of shooting a series portrait I have photographed 120 in the way a portrait should be done. These are individuals who have shared part of their amazing lives with me. Diane Arbus said “For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture” My life in Toronto, my new work of friends and loved ones are at the epicenter of my photography. When I began to shoot the Toronto Vogue Ball Dance scene I earned the nickname SNAPS MONROE from the members of The House of Monroe, a singular honor for me, it meant I was now part of their family.
2012 begins with the epic chance to shoot almost every significant black dance company in the world as the only photographer to shoot the entire International Blacks In Dance Conference held here in Toronto… Dance photography being one of my niches it was big success for me. And then the floor falls out of my life thanks to an aortic aneurysm and open heart surgery. A month in hospital and five months home, most of the time unable to pick up my camera because it was to heavy… I began to think about what most people do when they go through a major life change, what have I done, what am I leaving behind as my creative legacy… I became singularly focused during my time off, If I couldn’t shoot then I could sit and build a respectable website which I did. Soon I would begin to take photos using a tripod and remote shutter release… and finally I was able to lift my camera and I haven’t stopped since. I soon realized that over the past two years I have eclipsed the first 14 years in Toronto. Over one third of the 120 portraits shown with this post have come in these last two years. I’m on a mission. While most have been shot in color I have converted to black and white. Ted Grant wrote “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”
So what have I learned over the last 16 years? I think I have learned how to be more emotional in my photography, I have certainly learned to appreciate life through all the people I have met. Annie Liebovitz said “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” Similarly Stephanie Sinclair wrote “ I fall in love with almost every person I photograph. I want to hear each story. I want to get close. This is Personal for me” Many of my managers in my career have told me I take things personally some times, I think they may have been right. Maybe that what being a photographer is about. Marc Riboud once said “Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.”
Heres to the next 16 years! I really can’t wait!
Note: Creating this image took several days going through thousands of images, I know it is highly possible I may have missed someone along the way, or it may mean while I have taken your photo I didn’t take your portrait… There is a difference. Either way it doesn’t mean I don’t love you or disrespect you!