PhotoSensitive is now marking 25 years of social photography with the documentary Field of Vision, which tells the story of the organization and those who founded it. PhotoSensitive was the idea of Andrew Stawicki and Peter Robertson. They wanted to bring together professional Canadian photographers to use the power of the image (specifically black-and-white images) for social activism. Over the years, the volunteer-based non-profit has tackled topics like poverty, homelessness, diversity, energy and water conservation, cancer, AIDS, literacy and other issues.
When asked about his favourite experience working as a photographer with PhotoSensitive, Peter Bregg couldn’t name just one. “It is hard to decide as so many projects have been intrinsically rewarding,” he said. “The projects [in] Canada have benefited many close to home. The first trip to Africa with an HIV-AIDS project in Zambia opened so many opportunities for PhotoSensitive to help bring attention to a very serious issue.”
PhotoSensitive photographer Patti Gower said, “When you have an opportunity to listen and observe other peoples’ lives, cultures, situations, whether in your own backyard or in some far-off land, one has the opportunity to realize that your own views on life may be very limiting.” She continued, “My favourite experience has been that many of my ‘core beliefs’ and ‘truths’ I held dear have been turned upside down and inside out…. I am continually in the process of being aware that I cannot begin to understand someone else’s life. And that as a photographer, who is trying to honestly record an aspect of someone’s life, knows that the ‘truth’ of that photograph, may only be my own.”
Another PhotoSensitive photographer, V. Tony Hauser explained, “Working with PhotoSensitive has suited and stimulated my natural sense of social justice, something that I might not have been able to practise as much had I not been asked to be a founding member of this organization. Participating in the majority of all projects that PhotoSensitive has taken on has and continues to be fulfilling and inspiring. As a photographer all these projects have contributed to my ability to interact with people, and especially to people who are living through stressful and difficult experiences. And these projects have allowed me to hone my technical skills as a documentary photographer.”
Michele Taras explained, “One of my favorite experiences with PhotoSensitive was participating in the Cancer Project. I flew with my son to Ottawa to see the presentation there near the Parliament buildings in an outdoor park. It was quite something being surrounded by cancer survivors and photographers who had all photographed a loved one with cancer or formed a close bond with someone they photographed who had cancer. Some of the stories were heartbreaking, like the one of a dad driving his young child for chemo treatments, and some were inspiring, hearing about people beating the odds and moving on to do something more meaningful with their lives. It was so nice meeting Jack Layton and hearing Andrew Stawicki talk. He is such an inspirational man, his stories [are] always interesting. I remember him talking about the exhibit and how it was different than most because cancer is something that affects us all either directly or indirectly. He talked about passers-by who normally are in a rush, but now they stopped, one woman putting down her bag of groceries in order to read the stories. PhotoSensitive gave all these people the chance to have their stories heard and not be forgotten.
Taras added that she also enjoyed working on the Seniors project. “The project I assigned myself was trying to find the oldest people I could and photograph them. I managed to find the oldest woman in Ontario, and her granddaughter quickly exclaimed, ‘Her birthday is tomorrow! Why don’t you come for the celebration?’ It was incredible to me to be invited for such an event! I watched as Orma’s granddaughter combed her hair and watched her surprise when she realized how old she actually was! It’s not every day that you get to meet someone over 100. I also met a lovely gentleman named Bill who was just learning to play the piano and doing amazingly well at it! He and my younger son quickly bonded, and we visited him even after the project was over. I learned that the people who live the longest are usually happy people. This is what I am grateful to PhotoSensitive for: the things we learn and the people we meet. Each project becomes a memorable experience.”
The Field of Vision documentary launch will be September 9, and the film will be viewable on the PhotoSensitive website after that date. There is also a travelling still photo exhibition to celebrate the organization’s silver anniversary. The exhibition can be seen in Toronto at at the Royal Bank Plaza North Tower (200 Bay Street South Tower, in the lobby) from September 9 through 30, at 1 Adelaide St. East from October 1 through 21, and at 130 Adelaide St. West from October 22 through November 11. The work of the following Photo Sensitive artists will be displayed: Andrew Stawicki, Patti Gower, Peter Bregg, Yuri Dojc, Kevin Van Paassen, Tobi Asmoucha, Stan Behal, Dick Loek, Benjamin Rondel, V. Tony Hauser, Barbara Davidson, Steve Simon, Andy Clark, Craig Chivers, Wendell Phillips, Bernard Weil, Paul Watson and Michele Taras.