Vibrant Communities In Focus        

By 2007, Ontario Trillium Foundation had become an established champion of PhotoSensitive, offering support and financial help for a number of the collective's projects. That year, they decided it was their turn.

To help celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, they asked PhotoSensitive to photograph some of their most successful stories. Twenty-seven photographers fanned across Ontario, visiting twenty-seven agencies and non-profit organizations that had received Trillium grants and community support.

From a music school in the inner city of Toronto to kids playing sledge hockey in North Bay, from an elderly man with Alzheimer's in Lucknow to a home for young unwed mothers in Northumberland County, PhotoSensitive captured poignant and powerful moments. They met with dragon boat racers, extreme cyclists, young musicians and competitive swimmers.

It was fun, it was joyful and it very definitely celebrated community life. It was a fitting way to mark the silver anniversary of Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Tobi Asmoucha was assigned to Alpha House in Cobourg, Ontario. Getting to know and photograph teenage mothers was, she says, the picture-perfect assignment for her.

"Andrew Stawicki didn't know it at the time, but I was pregnant myself! Just twelve weeks along - so I really hadn't told anyone - and here I was, driving to Cobourg to meet some young mothers and their babies. It couldn't have been better timing. Except that I was so tired during those early days of my pregnancy, I had to pull over at a Tim Hortons in town and have a little nap in the parking lot. I arrived a bit late for the photo shoot, and when I explained why, everyone smiled knowingly. And later on they teased me: 'Well, you sure won't be crouching down like that to take photos much longer!' We just hung out together and I snapped away," said Tobi.

Tobi was drawn to the girls' honesty and their desire to learn how to care for their babies.

"Carrying their baby on their hip as they vacuumed or falling asleep when it was the baby's naptime - all that felt very real and instructive to me," she remembers. "This assignment also spoke to me on a different level, because my favourite projects are about community - how communities evolve and support each other - and this was a perfect example. And even though I'm outgoing, I would normally never go up to these girls and say, 'Tell me about how you are coping.' But my camera is my ticket into very personal spaces. It gives me my entry, and it is always a privilege," said Tobi.

Tobi says she is one of the 'newbies' in the PhotoSensitive collective. She has also contributed photos to Destination Toronto, Life of Water, The Strength Within and Inspiring Possibilities. She took her three-week-old baby, Maiko, to the opening of the Vibrant Communities exhibit: Tobi felt she should be at the show since she'd been at the shoot!

"It is special for me - and my family - to be part of something larger and to be part of something that will have an impact. Not everything I work on has the potential to make a change in the world. The collective's work will always be greater than the individual's best effort.

"Photography can be a very solitary profession. We are, generally, lone wolves and PhotoSensitive is my community. I am so lucky to have been invited into the group. I sometimes yearn for those earlier days of film and developing and printing and physically touching the paper. We don't always get together like the 'originals' regularly did - to sit around and pass photos back and forth, talk and argue and laugh, and choose the 'best' shots. That still takes place on remote assignments but, now, with digital, especially for local assignments, we tend to send in our photos electronically. The good news is, we do connect at the openings, and Andrew is, of course, the Big Connector! As a mentor, he's offered encouragement every step of the way, and he keeps inviting newbies like me into the fold. That's vital for a group to thrive," said Tobi.

What's the attraction?

Kevin Van Paassen, at thirty-eight, is one of the youngest members of the PhotoSensitive gang.

"These are some of the finest photographers in the country, and it isn't just that the 'originals' who have incredible talent and breadth of experience. It's an honour to work with all of them. As the so-called young guy, the personal qualities of the people also attracted me: they are so kind, so generous and they are in this for all the right reasons.

"It makes for a positive, positive place to work. In our day jobs, there tends to be a lot of criticism—not a bad thing, but it does tend to wear you down. PhotoSensitive energizes. How could you not be energized by Andrew Stawicki? And all egos are parked at the door. It is a true collective: the body of work is what matters.

"I think people could copy the formula - Andrew has proven this is a great idea! But at the helm, there must be someone like Andrew, who can drive it and feed the beast. There have to be new projects on the go. Everyone tends to get busy with his or her day jobs, but Andrew has this calling. He keeps getting ideas and getting photographers, and then: presto, a new project starts to take shape and we all grab on and go for a great ride, together," said Kevin.