Hand of Hope grew out of a partnership among PhotoSensitive, Kodak Canada's School Program and the United Way. The relationship with Kodak was well established by 1995 and doing a project for the United Way seemed like a sensible 'next step' after the Daily Bread Food Bank (1992) and the Hospital for Sick Children (1994). If PhotoSensitive was going to change the world, the United Way had countless stories that deserved attention. Andrew sat down with Jennifer Lynn, who was on the board of United Way Toronto.
"Jennifer was a mover and shaker and an incredible communicator and facilitator," Andrew says. "She invited us into a board meeting at the United Way. We took in our best photos from Sick Kids, spread them out on the floor and Jennifer started crying. We left. They voted. We got the project. And because of the images, we helped the United Way make history! They raised more than $50 million - a new record."
For Hand of Hope, fifteen PhotoSensitive photographers were sent to fifteen different United Way agencies. And, for the very first time, they took along student photographers, kids who had shown interest in photojournalism through Kodak Canada's School Program. Lesley Sparks was working at Kodak in the 1990s and she was a big believer in mentoring.
"By 1995, Kodak had a great school program and we wanted to find mentors for some of the best and brightest," says Lesley. "We asked high school kids to write fifty words on why they felt passionate about photography. We selected thirty-three and off they went with the pros. It gave everyone - the mentors and the kids - a sense of possibility and it showed so clearly what young people can do when given a chance. You could see them gaining confidence along the way. The kids were taken to new places, asked to feel the moment, to capture it."
"They were a bright bunch and a number of them went on to study photography at Ryerson. Nicole Powell was one of the 'Kodak Kids,' and now she teaches photography to high school students. The image she took in 1995 of a teenage father and his son was on display in BCE Place till a couple of years ago. Imagine what that does for a teenager. And Nicole is just one example. PhotoSensitive is always extending a hand, opening a door, showing us the way."
Embrace a world to tell its story
Craig Chivers was a last-minute addition to the Hand of Hope team. He and Andrew Stawicki had met when Craig was working for National Geographic. In 1995, Craig was doing his own project on street kids in Toronto. When he showed twenty of his photos to Andrew and Peter Robertson, both immediately knew they should be included in the Hand of Hope exhibit.
In a way, Craig was an extreme version of the PhotoSensitive photographer. Most of the crew were spending a few weeks trying to capture powerful images. Craig spent the better part of a year on the streets captuing many images of the homeless.
"I slept with the kids, ate with them, panhandled with them," Craig tells us. "I remember this picture … Shannon, the girl smoking the crack, was sixteen or seventeen. Shane - the guy chewing his nails - was a young tranny, a transvestite prostitute. The hotel room was paid for by one of Shane's johns: the president of some big insurance company, married with a wife and kids. They'd work the streets, turn tricks, get cash, buy crack and then go up to this room. I was twenty-nine and spent ten months trying to capture their story and others like them. It's rare you can spend that much time on an assignment but sometimes that's what it takes to really get it right."
Increasingly, Craig Chivers has turned to video and film documentaries, winning awards and digging deep into complex social issues. But he has enormous respect for the telling of a complex story through a simple, elegant, thought-provoking black-and-white photograph.
"To get the story in one frame, the way PhotoSensitive does, is incredibly challenging … to tell a cogent narrative, a full story, and not tell it in a clichéd way. With the Internet and blogs and digital cameras and do-it-yourself slide shows, there's a lot of white noise out there. Digital technology and the social media have expanded what we can do when we try to tell stories. But those who have a professional dedication to the pursuit of telling the truth and putting things into context and making the story something you can grasp - they are the people who will lead the way. Even today, I drop still images into my film and video documentaries, because there's a unique and very special quality to a still photograph," said Craig.
At eighteen, Nicole Powell knew she wanted to be involved in photography. “When I walked into that big Kodak building, I was humbled and honoured and excited and scared! I worked alongside Dick Loek, going on photo shoots, taking pictures, making connections. It was such a huge gift to be encouraged, to be reassured that it's a good thing to follow your passion and do what you love.
“Dick taught me a lot of things, but especially, how to edit. To stop, look again, see things in an image I might have missed, and then to go back, and shoot again - and keep experimenting," she says. "I went to Jessie's Centre for Teenagers and took pictures of the young parents. They were my age! It opened my eyes and made me sensitive to the world outside of my little high school. My parents really didn't want me to study photography, but after Hand of Hope, I was determined to stay with it. I applied to Ryerson and got my Bachelor of Image Arts.
And now I'm the mentor! I teach photography to high school students. One of the first things I do is show my students images and ask them to tell me the story they see in the picture. I talk about PhotoSensitive and how important it is to be able to stand in front of a big photograph and feel it, and sense it, and let it take you there. It's not the same with a photo on a computer screen. Going to an exhibit and seeing all the images is an experience. And when they are big black-and-white photographs, you just can't ignore them. They resonate. There is a texture and a truth to them, and you have no choice but to look, and to react,” said Nicole.