The Backstory: Bay & Queen, Toronto, 2023

Bay & Queen, Toronto, 2023

I made this image while out on my weekend photowalk. I’ve passed this same location hundreds of time since I’ve lived in Toronto. In what might become a semi-regular type of post, I wanted to write a bit about the backstory of the image. It was originally posted to Glass.

I was drawn to this scene, first, just because of how the light managed to slice through the shadows which were cast by the surrounding skyscrapers. After dialling the exposure to -1.3 I waited for some interesting characters to pass through the light.

It was only after taking a couple images that I really noticed how the unhoused person’s feet and legs were apparent. They were on grates that pass steam in the colder times of the year. Some of the unhoused use these grates to stay warm during the winter.

I deliberately avoid taking many head-on or identifiable photos of people who are in distress. I’m generally not a fan of that kind of street photography, unless the photographer chooses to really engage with the subjects in meaningful ways.

Still, the city—and especially the city core—does have a serious and growing housing issue. And so I ultimately decided to compose the scene with the hopes that it would show people noticing, but passing by, the individual on the street, as a kind of broader commentary of the social housing issues that exist in Toronto.

Compositionally the image is simple: a pair of men looking in the direction of the source of the light, and not towards the half shrouded person on the sidewalk, and moving towards the light. Behind them the aperture of the light beam starts to close, but the reader of the photograph can see the sparkle of youth (the new, glass, building) as juxtaposed agains the old (Toronto’s historical city hall). The young reflects the old, reminding us that youth is impermanent. As I said: it’s not a deep photograph nor are any particularly special tricks used to make it.

I often linger when I find light that I like for at least a couple minutes, to see if more interesting (or any interesting!) subjects come to fill the scene. Other times I’ll recompose and work the scene a little bit. But I have to admit that staying put is something that I need to get better with: it’s not enough to just linger for 5-10 minutes!

The above set of images aren’t touched up and are a few of the ‘raw’ versions of images I took and normally wouldn’t post (I took a total of about 20 frames before I settled on the one at the top of the post). I, personally, learn a lot from the older Magnum photos that include contact sheets.

While my rougher images aren’t the same, nor as descriptive, as contact sheets maybe they’ll be helpful to someone else when they are thinking of weighing a scene. Or maybe just to make clear that the admittedly very amateur images I make involve a lot more than just one lucky capture (with a handful of exceptions of course).

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