People in our community who live below the poverty line want us to see life through their lens in the MYTORONTO photo exhibition opening October 11 at Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw Street).
111 single use Fujifilm cameras were offered to Torontonians living on our streets this past May. Ninety-three of them were returned and from that lot, 2600 photos were printed. Now 40 of those images were selected by a jury to be on display in the MYTORONTO exhibition. The general public were invited to vote for the “People’s Choice Award.” Twelve of the images will be used to create a calendar for 2019 that will be sold to raise funds and awareness for the Toronto homeless community.
In addition to the photo taking for the exhibition, participants were offered photography workshops. Further workshops offered this fall will provide the community with opportunities to learn how to build confidence and engage with the public.
We had a chance to ask photographer Maria Santos, this year’s People’s Choice Winner what this all means to her and what’s next.
What was your first reaction when you heard about this photography experience and competition?
MS: When I first heard about the photo contest, I couldn’t wait to be a part of it the following year. While I was very skeptical about my photo taking abilities, as my anxiety and self-doubt have routinely stopped me from trying new things and challenging myself, I pushed through those feelings and focused on the ways in which this opportunity would challenge me and truly help those in need.
What are your favourite subjects to photograph?
MS: My family, nature and anything that really captures my eye. I love taking pictures, it has always been something that I have enjoyed doing because I really value being able to capture moments in my life that I can later reflect on.
Can you tell us about your winning photo?
MS: I clearly remember the moment that I took my photo. It was a warm spring day and I was out on the town with my daughter looking for that perfect picture. We decided to stop and get a bite to eat and while we were leaving the restaurant, I saw a man walk by pushing a shopping cart filled to the top and covered in bottles on each side. It was quite remarkable and I was instantly overcome with feelings of strength. I hurried after this man and was greeted with a massive smile. I introduced myself and told him about the contest that I was a part of. He told me that his name was Dragon and that he was very interested in the project. Not only was Dragon extremely friendly, funny, and charismatic, but he also carried himself with great dignity and pride – he truly inspired me. Speaking with him even for that brief moment and taking his photo was very memorable. He was happy to have his picture taken and it was a very positive and sincere moment for all of us. While my photo means many things to me, such as perseverance and determination, it most of all represents positivity and strength. Strength in ourselves, strength in learning from our experiences, and strength in overcoming obstacles and barriers that we face. I will forever be appreciative and grateful that Dragon gave me the opportunity to engage with him and take his photograph, he truly was the missing ingredient to my perfect picture – the Gentle Dragon.
Congratulations on the People’s Choice Award! So, what comes with that exciting news does winning this award mean to you?
MS: I am so grateful and inspired to be apart of something that can truly help others. Having the opportunity to share my story and the stories of others through art opens up the conversation to a topic that many may not often think about or wish to discuss. Not only am I able to have a platform and share my experience, but others who have been impacted by homelessness are also empowered to how that their voice is important. It is my wish that through my photo others can feel strength and inspiration, and for a brief moment, a gleaming image of hope.
What do you want people to know about people who have made the streets of Toronto their home?
MS: Living on the streets is a hard life, and a life that many do not choose. Most people have never sat down and got to know a person affected by homelessness. Often we turn a blind eye. But every human being is a real person. We feel, breathe and bleed the same. We are all the same, but with different stories.
MYTORONTO exhibit at Artscape Youngplace will be open to the public from Thursday, October 11 to Friday, October 19, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily.
Several of the MYTORONTO participants from this year will also have their photos featured in a UN exhibit in Geneva this year. The “Women Without Walls” photography exhibition runs from Oct 1 – October 12, 2018.
MYTORONTO is presented by Ve’ahavta, a Jewish humanitarian agency serving marginalized individuals.