There is Beauty in Destruction

Regent Park, Toronto |


Regent Park, Toronto |

I have been thinking a lot about photography lately. I mean, when do I not, really?! If you are like me and photograph a lot of weddings, it’s the time of year when things are a little quiet. This used to scare me a lot but in the past couple of years I have learned to embrace this quietness. It gives me time to get recharged, to make changes and to decide just what my goals are for the year. Lately I have been thinking a lot about personal photography. The kind that I do just for me. Coming from a fine arts background, I used to do this all of the time. When I was a student at Ryerson University a million years ago, we would work on projects. We would have an idea and for months we would create images to execute that idea. We would take photograph, we would show them to our professors, they would critique them (I would often cry) and then we would go out and create more images. It was a long process but without having been through it, I would not be the photographer that I am today.

So lately I have been thinking about that. When did I stop taking images for myself? When did I stop creating projects to work on just for me? I have a ton of photojournalist friends that do it all of the time. But for me, it’s been a while. I know that I get caught up in the everyday hustle of running my portrait and wedding photography business. I get caught up in the hustle of managing my studio. And throughout the years, I have forgotten about li’l ol’ me. I have forgotten about what makes my heart sing (besides all those images of love and baby giggles).

Regent Park, Toronto |

I am definitely a person of extremes. I mean, I usually think out my actions before doing anything major but when I get an idea in my head, I have to do it. Josh loves to tell the story of my button maker. I had always wanted one and about a year ago I texted him saying, “Should I buy a button maker? I think it would be cool to have for my business plus I could make some for you.” He wrote back something like, “Sure! Why not?!” Within ten minutes, I had ordered it online and two days later, I was happily making buttons at the studio. A few months ago I had been thinking about buying myself a new camera. Something smaller than my usual 5D Mark iii’s. A camera that I could carry with me easily but one that I could also take decent professional image with. Back in the film days, I used to always walk around with my Canon AT-1 and shoot things I saw on the street whether it be old store windows or telephone poles with multiple posters stapled to them. I loved shooting these gritty things for myself because they were essentially the opposite of what I shot in my professional life. I thought that if I got a camera that was similar to my old Canon AT-1, that I could start doing this again. I let that idea rest as I got caught up in the busyness of the holiday and family portrait season. A week ago, my studio-mate TJ mentioned that he was looking to buy a Fuji camera and the idea of getting one was again ignited. This past weekend our friend Ben stayed with us and brought us one to play with. I was immediately sold. So in true JBS fashion, I bought one this morning.

Cool story but what does all of this have to do with the images seen in this post?! Last week I had to walk to my accountant’s (isn’t year-end such a fun time of year?!) and it was basically a blizzard. The roads and sidewalks were a mess and it was hard to keep your head up because of the blowing snow. (Side note: I recently decided that a great skill that us Canadians have is the ability to walk on very uneven ground. Thanks, winter!) I was walking through Regent Park and at River & Dundas, there was a flat plain of land and I was quickly shocked by it. I know that Regent Park has been under some changes, but I had not walked through it in a long while. In this plain of land, a number of houses used to stand and now, there was nothing. You know that feeling of when you pick something up that you anticipate being really heavy only to find it is light? It’s such a strange feeling and that’s how I felt when I saw this corner. Walking further along, I came upon this apartment building that sat in various stages of demolition. My heart immediately felt heavy and I nearly had tears in my eyes. I took a few photos with my iPhone amongst that blizzard and continued on my walk.

Regent Park, Toronto |

Today after buying my new camera (more about that another time, the battery is literally charging as I type this), I walked again through Regent Park. The sun was out and I wanted to see what changes had occurred. I was surprised to see a crane was already at it, knocking down the East side of the building piece by piece. I watched and again took some iPhone photos and cursed myself for not having a real camera on me. I then looked at the plastic bag from Aden and wondered if my brand new camera would have any battery power. I immediately decided it wouldn’t, nor would it be worth opening all of the packaging as well, the lens on it would just be wrong.

So what did I do? I became a maniac. I decided that in that moment, this was something that I had to do. I decided that everything else on my “to do” list would have to wait. I had to make some images of this destruction because it was important to me. And I had to do it now, while the crane was working away because as we all know, who knows what tomorrow will hold. I practically ran to the studio, like a maniac. I have never moved so quickly over messy snow in my life, I swear. I burst into the studio, asked TJ if he had a camera that I could borrow. He asked what I was doing and I told him so together we went back to Regent Park. And there, I created these images. Regent Park, Toronto |

How do they make me feel? They make me feel sad. I look at the individual rooms of this building and my heart feels heavy. How many people lived in these rooms? How many couples moved in? How many babies were born here? How many children grew up within these walls? Most poignant of all was the wall of what must have been someone’s living room that read: Home is where our story begins.

In case you are unfamiliar with Regent Park, it was the first social housing project ever built in Canada. It began in the 40’s and only in the past few years has it’s very needed revitalization begun. Although I grew up in a small town located East of Toronto, I knew a lot about Regent Park as a kid. This was because my Dad used to work with young offenders. At the time, any male youth who was convicted of a crime East of Yonge Street, would be sent to where he worked. He told us about Regent Park. How it was a project that had basically failed who it was meant to help. Instead of creating quality homes for people who needed them, they were substandard. These people needed to have proper residences to call home. Here is a huge part of Toronto’s history and it’s being knocked down, for the better. There is beauty in this destruction knowing what the outcome will be although I still cannot help but feel a little bit sad. Sad for all of the memories of events and moment that took place within these walls.

Regent Park, Toronto | Regent Park, Toronto |

It felt good to document this building and to create these images. Even if they will just reside on my silly little blog. I cannot wait to get out and start shooting more things like this. What images have you created lately that have made your heart sore?
Regent Park, Toronto |

One Reply to “There is Beauty in Destruction”

  1. Great pics Jess…. I found it interesting to see the different colours people chose for their walls….from plain to the extreme…..

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