Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek: Blog en-us (C) Henry VanderSpek / Culture Snap Photography (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Thu, 22 Mar 2018 16:22:00 GMT Thu, 22 Mar 2018 16:22:00 GMT Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek: Blog 90 120 Toronto Street Photography on Kodak Portra 400 Film After shooting my first roll of film in about 14 years in early 2017 - Black and White Kentmere 400 - I decided to try a roll of colour film. I selected Kodak Portra 400 and got to work, again with a Canon AE-1 and a 28mm 2.8 lens.

Kodak Portra film is known for producing more natural skin tones and having balanced colour and lower grain. If interested in learning more about this film, these pages from Wikipedia, The Phoblographer, and Flickr will help you dig deeper.

Images shown here were shot in May 2017 and are unretouched or have minor adjustments in Lightroom. My old Canon needs some servicing, hence the regular appearance of light leaks on many of the images.

My first images are from Eglinton Avenue West. I decided to do a photo walk there last May, despite the agressive ongoing construction taking place for the Eglinton LRT. Here are a few images...


- Midnight Prices


- Joe Terrone of Dynevor Furniture. Dynevor has been open for some 75 years, and Joe has been the owner for the past 75 years. Not many businesses stick around for that long any more!


- More and More


- $15 and Up


I later took a few shots around Queen Street West and Bathurst...

- Bathurst Bike


- Oak Leaf Steam Baths


- Power Lines


- James Dean on the Scene


- William's Shoe Store


Later I captured a handheld long exposure in the subway...

- Dundas West Light


And finally, an image of Sammy Younan, Program Director at Girth Radio, as he interviews me about my "Taxi Drivers of Toronto" exhibit for his podcast "My Summer Lair. (Click here to listen to the interview!)


- Sammy Younan and yours truly, at Girth Radio on King Street West (inside the Pacific Junction Hotel).


Thanks for looking! Stay tuned for more blog posts following my adventures in photography.

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more.

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) canon ae-1 film photography kodak film kodak portra 400 light leaks street photography toronto toronto photography Thu, 22 Mar 2018 16:22:15 GMT
Back to Film We used to wait

We used to waste hours just walking around...

Now our lives are changing fast

Hope that something pure can last

- We Used to Wait, The Arcade Fire, 2010

My father shot and developed film photos for many years before the digital revolution came about. My brothers and I would gripe about sitting for family photos, but our father would make sure it happened. One tool he used was an air shutter release cord (like this one) - a small ball on a cord attached to the camera that he would squeeze in order to trigger the shutter mechanism. He would do what it takes to get the job done.

My Dad and I.My Dad and I sitting with some of his old film camera gear.

- My father and I with his film camera gear.

In early 2017, my father gave me his old Canon AE-1 film camera. It was his steady film camera from all those family portraits and it served him well. I had shot film myself from the late 1980s until about 2003, at first using plastic point-and-shoots and later a Minolta SLR, so was excited to get back into film once again. I could think of no better way to do so than with my father's tried and trusted classic camera.

- My father's Canon AE-1 with some old rolls of film

Since getting my father's Canon AE-1 I have shot about 8-9 rolls of 35mm film of varying types. It has been a rewarding experience, for nostalgia's sake alone. There's nothing like inserting a new roll into the camera and advancing the film until it is ready, manually finding focus. hearing the click of the mechanical shutter, and then advancing the roll to the next frame. The whole experience brings back memories of a time since past.

Beyond the nostalgia factor, there is also the experience of shooting. Unless one's film camera has an auto-winder - fairly rare until the late 1970s and early 1980s - you can only take one exposure of a scene. With digital one can hold down the shutter button and take six-ten shots of an action scene, depending on the speed of your camera. With older film cameras you need to wait and try your best at capturing what Henri Cartier-Bresson famously called "the decisive moment" (this article from 2014 provides helfpul insight into Henri Cartier-Bresson's famous quote). You also don't have 500-1000 exposures available to you, as you might on an SD or CF memory card, but rather 24 or 36 exposures per roll of film. One must be more selective with how they shoot those limited number of exposures.

After exposing all the available frames on a roll, one must then wait for the roll to be developed. Some old-school photographers still do this at home, but I am not yet up for that challenge so I bring them to Downtown Camera, one of a few Toronto photo stores where film is still being developed. I then wait for 5-7 days to receive the negatives and digital scans of my images (prints are also available, but I prefer to review my images before printing them).

The anticipation that builds as one waits for their film to develop is a significant element missing in today's era of digital photography. Waiting for TV shows, for the newspaper, at home for a phonecall, for film to develop - this is how life used to be not so long ago. As Arcade Fire sang so well in 2010, "We Used to Wait". I've been enjoying the waiting, the anticipation and the wondering about what I captured that comes with shooting film.

There's no need for you to wait however. Here are samples of my first roll of film in some 14 years - a roll of Kentmere 400, a discount brand from the UK that my photographer friend Peter Lewicki suggested I try. In fact all of the images shared here I took while on a photo walk with Peter along Dundas Street, west of Ossington Avenue.


- Soo Ling Beads and Beading Co. Ltd.

- The Red Light

- Dundas Variety


- In A Mirror Dimly

- Storefront Bible

- Victory Tattoo Parlour

- Toronto Bikes

- Power Lines

Thank you for looking. I plan to share more film photos via my blog, so please stay tuned.

Feel free to share this post. Please tag me when doing so - on Twitter @culture_snap and on Facebook @CultureSnapPhotography. To send me a comment, please do so here.


Now our lives are changing fast

Hope that something pure can last

- We Used to Wait, The Arcade Fire, 2010.


]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) believe in film black and white photography canon ae-1 dundas street west film photography kentmere 400 ossington avenue street photography toronto toronto photography Thu, 22 Feb 2018 16:39:36 GMT
Top Photo Moments of 2017 Happy New Year! I wish you the best as you head out into the new opportunities before you.

Each year brings new things, and one never knows what will be around the next corner. 2017 again brought me new surprises and opportunities that I am very thankful for. I am happy to share my top photo moments of 2017 with you here...

1. InFocus Photo Exhibit

In February 2017 I had two of my images in the InFocus Photo Exhibit - a national showcase of emerging Canadian photographers' work that takes place in Edmonton, Alberta. My images "From Mind to Body" and "I Felt the World", as seen below, were both shown at this exhibit.

From Mind to BodyFrom Mind to Body

I Felt the WorldI Felt the WorldA street scene that includes a piece of Dionne Brand's poetry. Dionee Brand was Toronto Poet Laureate from 2009 - 2012. Read more about her here.
This image was one of two I had on exhibit at InFocus 2017, a national showcase of the work of emerging Canadian photographers.

2. Weekly Street Shooting

I have maintained a discipline of going out at least once a week to shoot street scenes of Toronto - or whichever city I find myself in. This is a sure way for me to mainain my photo shooting skills and creativity, as well as to keep producing new engaging images for my art photography.  Even though I feel good about a number of the images from these weekly shoots, many don't make it onto my site - or onto social media. Here is are a few examples of images I captured last year on weekly photo walks, but have not yet shared elsewhere...

3. Film Photography

In early 2017 my Father gave me his old Canon AE-1 camera, and suddenly - after twelve or more years away - I was back in the film shooting business. I had a lot of fun shooting film in 2017, and exposed about six rolls of 35mm film in total, including Kentmere 400, Kodak Portra 400, Ilford HP5+, Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400, and a 15-20 year old roll of Kodak Max from my Dad's camera bag that turned out remarkably well considering its age. I will do a few blog posts in the future about my experiments with film, but here are some examples of what I captured...

Victory Tattoo Parlour - shot on Kentmere 400 film (my first roll of film in 12+ years)

Power Lines - Shot on Kodak Porta 400 film

Crossing Shuter - shot on Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 film

Dangerous Dan's - shot on Ilford HP5+ 400 film

4. The Silver Dollar Room

The architecture and streetscapes of Toronto are constantly changing. Living in this city has proven one thing - that if I don't stop and take a photo the moment I see something interesting, it may be gone, or significantly changed, the next time I am in the area again.

I knew The Silver Dollar Room was going to close in the spring of 2017, and made sure to go by there early in the year to get a photo of the iconic music venue. Once there, I took my time and tried a few different angles. The pigeons milling about and a stripped bike frame added to the street intrigue that drew me in. I captured several passersby, but one walking a dog was perfect as the pigeons rose in a flutter while they walked through the frame.

I am happy to say that this image will be in the 2018 InFocus Exhibit in Edmonton, Alberta. It is part of the InFocus People's Choice Award which may be voted on now until February 7th, 2018.

The Silver Dollar RoomThe Silver Dollar RoomThe Silver Dollar Room - one of Toronto's truly great and historic music venues. So many legends have played there. Here's hoping The Silver Dollar Room survives a proposed condo development for the site and retains it's distinct character.

5. Taxi Drivers of Toronto

A real highlight for 2017 was having my Taxi Drivers of Toronto series part of the 2017 Contact Photo Festival at the Daniels Spectrum building in Regent Park. CBC Toronto, CBC Radio, the Beach Metro and Now Toronto all covered the exhibit, with Now Toronto including me in their "must-sees" of the festival. Two months later, in July, I showed this exhibit at Toronto's Northern District Library. Many thanks to all who helped support this exhibit, including the curator, Elle Alconcel of Artscape Toronto, and Beck Taxi, who sponsored the Contact exhibit.

Mary Ashene, Beck Taxi Driver, in front of Casa Loma

Yours truly, on opening night of Taxi Drivers of Toronto, at Daniels Spectrum building in Regent Park (Photo by talented photographer Diana Nazareth, who runs the wonderful Project Kids and Cameras)

6. Capturing Yorkville Village

In August I was hired to shoot photos of the Yorkville neighbourhood for the official Yorkville Village website. The images they used may be seen here and here, as well as a few samples below.

I received great feedback on my images and hope to capture more such imagery for other neighbourhood BIAs in the future.

7. Non-Profit Photography

I love to help tell the story of non-profit organizations, whether through images or words. It is in my blood, I suppose, after working for non-profit organizations for some 15 years or more. 2017 brought me several opportunities to continue doing this. Early in the year I created staff portraits for a great organization called Transforming Faces. (Have a look at their website!).

In August I had the pleasure of capturing a citizenship ceremony in High Park for the Institute of Canadian Citizenship. I was very impressed with ICC's values and model of creative engagement around a citizenship ceremony, and so wrote a blog post about it, which can be found here.


In late November I captured the gathering of friends and supporters of A Rocha - an international faith-based environmental charity. I really admire and respect their work, so it was a privilege to help share their night in images.

8. Art Shows

I love participating in public art shows and continued to do so in 2017, incuding the Sick Kids Spring and Holiday Markets, the Danforth East Arts Fair (my sixth year participating!) and the Leslieville Flea Holiday Market (my first time participating). To stay up to date on my art shows, please send me a note and I will add you to my infrequent (5-6 times a year) email updates.

Me at the Danforth East Community Arts Fair (DECAF). Photo courtesy of my talented cousin, Jan Willem of Van Swigchem Design.

9. Big Men, Small Dogs

I love creative and meaningful documentary projects, so was happy to be invited to take portraits of the subjects of a short documentary called "Big Men, Small Dogs". It is a very fun film and worth watching. On January 18th, 2018 the "Big Men, Small Dogs" Facebook page noted that the short documentary had received 998,000 online views - quite an impressive number!

Director Cat Mills (second from left) with some of the subjects of her short documentary film, "Big Men, Small Dogs".

10. Mexico City

International travel is always calling me, but I don't get to travel as often as I used to these days. So it was a thrill to travel to Mexico in late September with two close friends. We had a wonderful time exploring local culture and connecting with one of my friend's many contacts there. Below are a few Mexico City images that I have not yet posted, followed by links to two blog posts about my time there.

- Doors of Mexico City

- Bikes of Mexico City

Thanks for reading my blog and for following my work! To see more and to stay connected, follow me on social media:




]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) best of 2017 culture snap culture snap photography film photography mexico city street photography top photo moments toronto photography travel photography Mon, 29 Jan 2018 18:29:29 GMT
Snow for Christmas 2017 A few days before Christmas, on Thursday December 21st, 2017, a nice heavy snowfall descended over Toronto. It looked like a great opportunity to capture lovely snow scenes so I headed out to try and create a few. Here are my favourite from that outing...

All images are available as prints. One image - also found here in my Toronto images album, has proven quite popular in that regard already. For details on ordering images, please contact me for details.


]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) broadview hotel snow snow for christmas snowfall toronto snow photography toronto snow photos toronto winter photography Thu, 11 Jan 2018 16:20:04 GMT
Bikes of Mexico City This is part two of my images from Mexico City - with possibly more to come. (Part one was Doors of Mexico City.)

In late September I visited Mexico City for several days with two good friends. We had a wonderful time exploring the unique neighbourhoods of this beautiful, vast and populous city. Several themes emerged in my images - similar perhaps, to themes I shoot elsewhere - but unique in that they were captured in Mexico City.

I am frequently drawn to incorporating bikes into my street scenes. It may be my family upbringing - Dutch parents and a father who biked to work every day - but they are also, quite simply, engaging elements in street photography. Here then, are some of my favourite bike images from my time in Mexico City. Enjoy!

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) bike bikes bikes of mexico city travel photography visit mexico Wed, 20 Dec 2017 19:40:49 GMT
Doors of Mexico City In late September 2017 I went to Mexico City with two good friends. I've been intrigued by Mexico City for some time and was excited to finally have the chance to visit.

Mexico City is huge - a larger population than New York City but more sprawling in land area. (For a quick comparison of the two cities, click this link.) Thankfully one of my travel companions regularly visits Mexico City for work and has an excellent knowledge of the city, as well as many good contacts for us to spend time with. That made our trip a whole lot easier and richer in experience.

Mexico City is well worth visiting. We ate delicious food every day and had great times with local and expatriate residents of the city. As I surveyed my images from our visit - the majority shot on a rented Fuji X100F camera (thanks Vistek!) - I noted a few themes emerging. One theme was the beautiful architecture of the city, most notably the doors and archways.

So here is my first blog post about Mexico City (with hopefully more posts to come) showing my favourite doors and arches of Mexico City. I hope you will enjoy it!

Locations featured include: Azul Historico restaurant, Caricature Museum, National Museum of Culture, Chapultepec Castle and various streets of Mexico City.



]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) arches archways doors doors of mexico city mexico mexico city mexico travel photography street photography streets of mexico city travel travel photography Fri, 08 Dec 2017 14:54:28 GMT
Citizenship Ceremony in High Park This past August I was hired by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) to document a citizenship ceremony in High Park. As someone with a background in welcoming newcomers (with Matthew House), and developing global citizenship skills in Canadian youth (with World Vision), and who specializes in documenting non-profit organizations, I naturally jumped at the chance.

So, on Thursday August 3rd, I spent the afternoon covering a beautiful event: thirty-five individuals from many backgrounds joining as one in declaring their loyalty to Canada and their new identity as Canadian citizens.

The event started with people signing in and turning in their permanent resident cards, as they will no longer need them. After the ceremony each new citizen is able to apply for a Canadian passport.

People then gathered for round tables where community leaders facilitated a discussion of what becoming a Canadian citizen means to them. Members of each table stood to share with the larger group something meaningful from their table's discussion. It was inspiring to hear the personal stories and expressions of love for Canada as I worked to capture the moment.

After the table talks, everyone moved to the amphitheatre for the main ceremony. This is the same amphitheatre where Canada Stage holds Shakespeare in High Park.

Canada Stage was a partner in the event and the theatre company's Artistic and General Director, Matthew Jocelyn was one of the speakers on stage. Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, Arif Virani, as well as Salah Bachir, President of Cineplex Media and Chancellor of OCAD University and Alykhan Haji, the Acting Director of ICC's Building Citizenship program were also on stage to witness the event and to speak to the new Canadian citizens.

The event opened with a smudging ceremony led by Aboriginal Elder Cat Criger.

Citizenship Judge Albert Wong presided over the ceremony with a warm balance of wisdom, personal insight and humour.

People declared the oath of citizenship.

And then received their certificates of citizenship and shook hands with the honourable members on stage

Jenni Burke, an experienced Canadian actor who was in this past summer's Shakespeare in the Park show, sang O Canada. It was clearly an emotional moment for many present as they sang the anthem for the first time as a Canadian citizen. (I joined in as I took photos, and was quite moved as well.)

Words were spoken by the special guests onstage, and then, of course, there was cake!

I admire how well the Institute for Canadian Citizenship organized the ceremony to be meaningful and engaging for all involved. My thanks to them for hiring me to document the day. It will definitely be a highlight of my photo work for 2017.

To see a more complete set of images from the event, please click here.

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) canadian citizenship ceremony citizenship citizenship ceremony high park high park event photography non-profit non-profit event photography toronto event photography Thu, 14 Sep 2017 17:14:40 GMT
Top Ten Photo Moments of 2016 2016 brought me many opportunities to live out my passion of creating meaningful and engaging images, and I am very thankful for that. Here are my top ten favourite photo moments of 2016. Thank you for looking! Enjoy!

1. Disney Cruise

In March my family joined my wife's extended family in Miami to set sail on a five-day Disney cruise. I had never been on a big cruise ship before, so was a bit skeptical about what it might be like. I have to say that we had no regrets. My kids and I - and our extended family - had a wonderful time on board and in the two ports of call that we visited (Cayman Islands and Disney's Castaway Cay in the Bahamas). I'm not sure I captured any prizewinning images on the voyage, but the whole trip was very photogenic and I rose to the occasion. Here are a few photos from the journey:

DIsney Cruise - March 2016Views from a March 2016 Disney cruise.

(Port of Miami, Florida, before setting out.)

DIsney Cruise - March 2016Views from a March 2016 Disney cruise. (Sunshine on the Cayman Islands.)

DIsney Cruise - March 2016Views from a March 2016 Disney cruise. (A sign on Disney's Castaway Cay, Bahamas.)

DIsney Cruise - March 2016Views from a March 2016 Disney cruise. (Me in my element - with a bike! Castaway Cay, Bahamas.)

DIsney Cruise - March 2016Views from a March 2016 Disney cruise. (A beach scene on Castaway Cay, Bahamas.)

DIsney Cruise - March 2016Views from a March 2016 Disney cruise.

(Our cruise ship "Wonder" in Castaway Cay, Bahamas.)

2. Kids and Cameras

I had the privilege of helping document the work of Toronto photographer Diana Nazareth and her Project Kids and Cameras program, which she runs in Regent Park through ArtHeart Toronto. It was a lot of fun seeing the great work Diana is doing to help youth develop visual literacy and photography skills. I assisted by capturing Diana and her students in photos, and also by making a video about the program:

(Diana Nazareth with her students in the Project Kids and Cameras program.)

Project Kids and Cameras - Regent Park, Toronto from Henry Vanderspek on Vimeo.


During one of my visits to Project Kids and Cameras I had the chance to meet photographer Colin Boyd Shafer. Colin is the photographer behind the brilliant Cosmopolis Toronto project which was exhibited throughout Toronto libraries from November 2016 until January 2017. Colin was great at engaging the students in Diana's program.

(Colin Boyd Shafer meeting with students in the Project Kids and Cameras program.)

If you appreciate engaging photography, especially photography that relates to current social issues, definitely visit Cosmopolis Toronto as well as Colin's personal website.

3. Art Shows and Exhibits

I always enjoy participating in local art shows. They challenge me to select and show my best images, and I always meet interesting people who offer engaging conversations and encouraging feedback on my work. In 2016 I participated in several shows at the Hospital for Sick Kids, the Danforth East Arts Fair (my annual favourite - 5 years and counting now!) and others. Here are two photos from the Danforth East Arts Fair (aka DECAF):

(Me at my booth at the Danforth East Arts Fair. Photo by my talented Dutch cousin Jan Willem van Swigchem.)

(The view from my booth at the Danforth East Arts Fair. A local dance group performs for those present.)

I am looking forward to more photo shows in the year ahead, and am thrilled to be in a few interesting exhibits as well, including InFocus in Edmonton (February) and Contact Photo Festival (May). Stay tuned for details!

4. San Francisco/California Trip

In June 2016 I travelled to San Francisco for the first Street Foto Festival. I had a great time learning from master street photographer Vineet Vohra. Stay tuned for a seperate blog post on this experience!

(Me on a streetcar in San Francisco.)

(One of my San Francisco street scenes, taken during my street photography workshop.)

(Walking the rainbow road in San Francisco's Castro district.)

Afterwards the street photo workshop I travelled with a few friends to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway. That was just spectacular. (Stay tuned for a blog post on this trip as well!).

(One of the last views from my trip down the Pacific Coast Highway in June 2016.)

5. Air Guitar

I had a great time supporting the Canadian Air Guitar championships with my photography in 2016. I captured images of air guitar performers at Steamwhistle Brewery (one of Air Guitar Canada's major sponsors), and also covered their Toronto and Canadian championships. The national event draws regional championship winners from across Canada and raises funds for Right to Play. The Canadian champ (Blake "The Canadian Tuxedo" Johnston for 2016) then goes to Oulu, Finland to compete in the World Air Guitar Championships. Here are a few highlights of my Air Guitar Canada coverage for 2016:

Don't miss out on this coming year's Air Guitar Championships! Stay tuned at for details.

6. Taxis

In 2013 I began a project taking portraits of taxi drivers. It started out as an assignment for a portrait photography course but has grown into something more. Here are two of the taxi portraits that I took in 2016:

(Akber, driver of the "Cosmic Cab", Kensington Market, May 2016)

(Anwar, Regent Park, December 2016)

I am excited to see my taxi project bear fruit in 2017. Stay tuned for details!

7. Buskerfest

Buskerfest is such a fun event to attend. My kids love it, as do I. This past year, after visiting with my family during the day, I came back in the evening to catch the Australian group called Flame Oz. On my way to see them I caught the last part of an acrobatic group called The Silver Starlets. Here are a few photos from my that night:

8. Teaching Photography

In September 2016 I had the privilege of teaching photography to students in Orillia, thanks to my friend Hoa Truong-White. Hoa is doing research on citizenship development through the use of photography in students in Canada and in Viet Nam. She is doing great work and I am thrilled that I could have a small part in it. I don't have many photos to share of the experience, but here are a few:

(Photo by Hoa Truong-White)

9. Saying Goodbye to Honest Ed's

Yes, Honest Ed's is making it's way into my annual photo favourites again (also in my 2015 list)!

This year I took all my kids to Honest Ed's, just two days before it closed. I felt compelled to bring a thank you to one of the senior staff there, Frank Mirabelli. I had met Frank when covering the final turkey giveaway in December 2015. By December 2016 Frank had worked at Honest Ed's for 48.5 years. (Wow!) I presented Frank with a photo I took of Honest Ed's in the summer of 2015 (one that currently hangs in City Councillor Mike Layton's office.). He was very touched and expressed his thanks in words, and by giving my kids and I each a sew-on patch that says "It's Fun to Shop at Honest Ed's". It was a great experience for my kids and I.

Here are a few photos of Bathurst Station, and of long-time Honest Ed's employee Frank Mirabelli.

To see more of my Honest Ed's images please click here, here or here.

10. Street Photography

I started 2016 with a goal to be more disciplined, in all areas of my life. This led me to run a half marathon (which I managed thanks to the support of a Running Room clinic that I joined, and the encouragement of my amazing wife Suzi).  I also decided to do a street photo walk once a week for the entire year. As a father of three kids, this wasn't easy, especially in the summer and in December. Some weeks my photo walk was more of a 15 minute jaunt, while other weeks it was anywhere between ninety minutes and three hours. Some weeks I got two photo walks in, and some weeks none.  In the end I did sixty-one separate photo walks, so I think I accomplished this goal. Here are three street photos from 2016, the last one being my favourite of 2016.

(Nota Bene, May 2016)

(Passing Travellers, February 2016)

(Wonder, May 2016)

Getting out there and shooting is actually the easy part for me. Finding time afterwards to edit and process my images is much harder. As a result watch for more of my 2016 street photo images appearing here on my blog, on my Facebook page, or on my Instagram account, in the year ahead!

Thanks for your ongoing support of my photography! Stay tuned for more by following me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or send me an email and I'll add you to my infrequent email list about my upcoming events (Only a few emails per year, I promise!). If you like what you see here, please also visit my art photography for art prints and photo pillows!

P.S. I plan to keep up the weekly photo walk habit in 2017. :)

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Favourite Photo Moments Favourites Photography Toronto Toronto photography art photography Fri, 27 Jan 2017 19:22:16 GMT
Snow Photo Walk in Woodbine Beach Park For good or for bad, snow doesn't always stick around long here in Toronto. Things quickly warm up and melt it away. With that in mind, and the beauty of falling snow before me, I decided to set out and capture some winter scenes while they were fresh. I headed to Woodbine Beach in Toronto's east end. A spot close to home and extremely popular when the weather is warmer. Would it be as busy as a summer's day when I visited? Have a look though my photos below and see.

By later that evening rain had washed away much of the snow, and by the next day it was almost gone entirely. Enjoy the winter weather while you can friends!

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Ashbridge's Bay Park Parks, Forestry and Recreation The Beach Toronto Toronto East End Toronto Parks Toronto photography Woodbine Beach beach beaches dogs snow snowfall walking winter Fri, 13 Jan 2017 14:02:46 GMT
East York Remembrance Day I imagine that everyone who observes Remembrance Day has something specific that helps them to focus on the meaning of the day. Perhaps it is a famly member who served - or currently serves - in the Canadian forces, or who did so in their country of origin. Perhaps it is the opression that they fled from when coming to live in Canada. For me, most often, it is my parents and their experience as children in the Netherlands.

My parents met and married in Canada but were both born in the Netherlands and grew there up during World War II, when their country was occupied by Nazi forces. I heard about many of their experiences from that time when I was growing up. I heard how my aunt had a soldier's bullet hit her bicycle wheel.  German soldiers annexed a house near my father's home, and as my Dad passed by he would hear the soldiers singing songs. My father was eventually able to recite those songs himself (I expect his parents weren't too pleased by that!). My Dad had a big family and they had little to eat, so tulip bulbs were part of their menu. He and one of my uncles would bike long ways to collect peat from bogs to bring back and burn in order keep their home warm. Some of my uncles were part of the resistance to the occupation. It wasn't at all easy for any of them.

One of the most memorable stories i heard came from my Mom. She recalls Canadian soldiers who liberated Holland coming through her home town of Makkum, in Friesland (in the north part of the Netherlands). When they came past her home they tossed an orange, a chocolate bar, and a pencil through their open window. All of these items were in short supply at the time and so were a real treat to have. They were also a sign that the war was truly over, and freedom had returned. (Click here for a nice overview of Canada's role in liberating the Netherlands.)

These memories came to mind, as they often do, as I attended this year's Remembrance Day ceremony at the East York Civic Centre. It was a moving event as always. I am very thankful for those who served, and currently serve, in the defense of our freedom. It was inspiring to see youth from a wide variety of backgrounds all standing and marching together in this cause. I am also very thankful to all civilians who work and advocate for peace. Peace isn't easy, but must be fought for, and that includes holding our own leaders to account so that we stay on a peaceful course, and use our role in the world to help other nations find, or return, to peace.

Here are some images from the day, including a few of Harry Kennedy, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force who served three years in England as a Bombadier (later his title changed to "Air Bomber"). Harry returned to live on Coxwell Avenue after he returned from the war - a true East Yorker! It was a pleasure to meet him and his family. Many were thanking him and other veterans who were present at the ceremony.

Lest we forget.

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) East York East York Civic Centre Remembrance Day Toronto event photography Toronto events Veterans Day Mon, 14 Nov 2016 16:23:14 GMT
Taxi Drivers of Toronto The days are better, the nights are still so lonely
Sometimes I think I'm the only cab on the road

- “Cab” by Train

What drives you? Or, rather, who drives you? After meeting many Toronto taxi drivers in the past few years, taking their portraits and hearing their stories, I now have a better idea.

Taxis and streetcarTaxis and a streetcar on King Street West. Taken November 21st, 2013. (A streetcar passes a row of taxis on King Street West. Taken November 21st, 2013.)

I believe the hard work of everyday people – not celebrities and grand public personas – helps make the world go round. With that motivation in heart and mind, I began a portrait series of Toronto taxi drivers in 2013 for a Portrait Photography course I was taking at Ryerson’s Chang School of Continuing Education.

Qhadeer by Roy Thomson HallTaxi Driver Qhadeer outside of Roy Thomson Hall. Taken November 21st, 2013. (Taxi Driver Qhadeer in front of Roy Thomson Hall. Taken November 21st, 2013.)

I put in a lot of effort reaching taxi drivers around the streets of the city, introducing myself, saying who I am and what my intentions are (“To show the best of Toronto’s taxi drivers”). I received many “Nos” for every “Yes”. It was hard work, but drivers who agreed to be involved were very generous with their time. (A special thanks to Kristine Hubbard of Beck Taxi, who helped me find several Beck drivers). I took a variety of portraits of every driver, both inside and outside of their vehicle - each time in a different part of Toronto - and asked them five or six questions about their work.

Aamir by Massey HallTaxi Driver Aamir stands outside of Massey Hall. Taken November 21st, 2013. (Taxi Driver Aamir in front of Massey Hall. Taken November 21st, 2013.)

I received great feedback on my series from my wonderful course instructor Margaret Diatolevi of Avenue Photo, and from fellow students, but my life remained busy with three kids, courses, and other commitments so I did not immediately continue the series.

Taxis waiting at nightA row of taxis wait on King Street West at night. Taken December 2nd, 2013. (Taxis line King Street West. Taken December 2nd, 2013.)

Graduating from Ryerson’s Chang School Photography Program in June of 2015 offered me more time to take on new, or restart old, photo projects. A workshop held in October 2015, organized by my former Documentary Photography instructor, Ruth Kaplan, motivated me to begin documenting taxi drivers once again.

Taxis block University AvenueTaxis gather on University Avenue in protest of Uber. Taken December 9th, 2013. (Taxis fill Queen's Park Crescent as part of a city-wide protest against Uber. Taken December 9th, 2015.)

Since the fall of 2015 I have met many taxi drivers, and heard many stories of their work, and their feelings about the state of the taxi industry since the UberX ride-sharing service arrived here (UberX was not active in Toronto when I began my portrait series). This blog post shows a just a few of my best taxi images. I hope to soon find a venue to show a larger selection of my portraits, along with quotes from the many kind drivers who chose to be involved.

Swapan on Front StreetTaxi driver Swapan by Union Station on Front Street. Taken April 21st, 2016. (Taxi Driver Swapan in front of Union Station on Front Street. Taken April 21st, 2016.)

The City of Toronto recently voted to allow Uber to legally operate in Toronto. Ride-sharing services like Uber are clearly here to stay. No matter what side you are on – taxi or Uber – I feel taxi drivers, who are struggling to adapt to the massive changes in their industry, deserve our respect. To understand more of their position, take a moment to read this well-written article by a Toronto taxi driver with some 33 years experience. For a broader perspective on the complexities of the taxi industry, this article by Peter Cheney, is a worthy complement on the subject.

Rotimi in his cab.Taxi driver Rotimi, in his cab. Taken April 4th, 2016. (Taxi Driver Rotimi in his vehicle on Queen Street West. Taken April 4th, 2016.)

I hope that my taxi portrait series will help people understand a bit more about those who work around the clock to help their passengers – you and I – to reach their destinations. My many thanks to all the kind drivers I met. I wish them success in finding ways to adapt to the many changes now facing their industry.

The Cosmic CabAkber, driver of the infamous "Cosmic Cab". Taken May 4th, 2016. (Akber, driver of Toronto's one and only Cosmic Cab, in Kensington Market. Taken May 2nd, 2016.)

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Toronto Toronto taxi drivers portraits street photography taxi taxi driver photos taxi driver portraits taxi drivers taxis of Toronto transportation Wed, 11 May 2016 16:35:40 GMT
Toronto Photographer Remembers Rob Ford Every step of the way, we walk the line

Your days are numbered, so are mine

- Bob Dylan, "Mississippi"


Like many Torontonians, I am saddened at the news of Rob Ford’s passing. I want to express my condolences to his family and friends. I did not share his political convictions, but I was rooting for him in his journey of recovery from addiction and in his battle with cancer. It was clear that he was fighting hard. He left this world too early.

I felt compelled to write something with this news.  I encountered him in person – while I had my camera - on several occasions. Sorting these events out in a blog post somehow feels necessary to me.


Rob Ford Media Scrum - Jan 24th, 2013

I was in City Hall on January 24th, 2013, visiting a City Councillor, when Rob Ford spoke to the press outside of his office. It was the day before a three-judge panel would decide whether to uphold or overturn a previous decision that Rob Ford should be removed from office for conflict of interest. Things were no doubt tense as he awaited this decision. Rob spoke in his classic brash manner, but stated “I believe in the judicial system and hope for the best”. Click here for additional details of this moment from CTV News.

The panel ultimately overturned the previous decision and Rob Ford was allowed to stay in office.


Rob Ford Press Conference - May 16th, 2013

My second encounter with former Mayor Rob Ford was on May 16th 2013. I was visiting a City Councillor, and as a press conference was about to begin, I was invited to come observe. There was a bank of cameras lined up to capture the event, and I was able to take photos as well. Rob Ford had been pushing hard for a casino in the Portlands, but as the provincial government would not support his vision, he gathered the media to state he was backing away from the idea.  A video of the event can be viewed here.

Mere hours after this press conference Gawker announced news of a video that showed Mayor Ford smoking crack. The rest, as they say, is history.


East York Canada Day Parade - July 1st, 2014

On July 1st, 2014 (about 13 months after my last Rob Ford encounter) I attended the East York Canada Day parade with my family. I naturally had my camera with me. It was a municipal election year and many politicians were present and engaging the crowds, including Olivia Chow and John Tory.

The parade seemed to be over when we noticed a cluster of people and cars off in the distance, further north on Coxwell Avenue. As they approached, I recognized Rob Ford's infamous Cadillac Escalade leading the group. He had chosen the East York Canada Day parade to make his first appearance after entering rehab a short time earlier. I took a series of photos of him and his entourage, and, knowing this moment would be of media interest, approached two newspapers. The Globe and Mail immediately expressed interest and my image was on the Globe’s website by early that afternoon.


Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit - July 4th - 6th, 2014

Exhibiting my images at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit.Exhibiting my images at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit.

A few days later I was fortunate to be exhibiting my art images at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit (TOAE) in Nathan Phillips Square. One day while there, a member of the Ford family entered my booth, saw the below image, and told me they wanted to buy it – as a gift for Rob Ford. I had heard from staff in Toronto City Councillor Janet Davis' office (who has a number of my Toronto images on display in her office) that Rob Ford, or staff in his office, were interested in one of my images. It was the same image that one of his family members bought from me at the TOAE, as seen below.

Line of ScrimmageLine of Scrimmage© Henry VanderSpek /

The Ford family member told me that Rob and Doug Ford are art collectors, and they were certain Rob would appreciate this image. I did not mention to the Ford family member that my photo of Rob was on the Globe website just a day or two before. I also only told a few close friends about the sale at the time. I wasn't sure what to make of the whole experience.


Nada - March 29th, 2016

On Tuesday March 29th, the day before Rob Ford’s funeral, I was shooting photos for another project on Spadina Avenue, and a friendly lady started a conversation with me. Her name was Nada, and she had come from Hamilton that morning to pay her last respects to Rob Ford in City Hall. She was very kind and said how much she admired him.

"He was good for Toronto. He was a man, man you know? He did good things. He was for the little people... The people do love him. They did love him, do you know that? It is sad to go that way, because, you know, early age, because the life is not lived, fully life. It would be nice to see him again in some way, it really would! I'm getting emotional now, I'm sorry."

I am not certain what my encounters with Rob Ford, or his family members, mean entirely. His passing has certainly given me reason to reflect on the brevity of life, how each person has the capacity to create change, and how our actions echo in those near to us long after we are gone.

Despite his failings and struggles Rob Ford was admired and loved by many people - kind people such as Nada from Hamilton - and that will not easily fade with his passing. There will only ever be one Rob Ford and he will not be forgotten.

Rest in peace Rob Ford.

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Ford Ford Nation Rob Ford Toronto Toronto photography Toronto politics Thu, 31 Mar 2016 19:03:56 GMT
High Park Nikon Photo Walk On Sunday February 6th I had the pleasure of joining a High Park photo walk organized by Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) and sponsored by Nikon Canada. The event was organized as part of PFR's Snap and Share Contest and open to those who registered in advance.

There were a large number of particpants. I enjoyed meeting a few new photographers as well as a photographer friend from East York, Peter Visima. Kristian Bogner, an incredibly talented Nikon Canada Ambassador, hosted the walk, and led us through some tips before we went out for the walk.

Even without any snow that day, it was still a lot of fun exploring High Park. Several Nikon Professional Services staff were part of the walk, two of which had the new Nikon D5 and D500 DSLRs available to hold and try out. As a Nikon shooter I made sure to give them a try and was very impressed with their capabilities.

Below are some of my favourite images from the event. I hope you enjoy them! (Please allow a few moments for the slideshow to load. It will advance every five seconds or you can use your right arrow key to advance the frame.)

Many thanks to Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff, Kristian Bogner, and Nikon Canada for the great event!




]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) High Park Kristian Bogner Nature Nature Photography Nikon Ambassador Nikon Canada Nikon D5 Nikon D500 Nikon Professional Services Photo Walk Toronto High Park Toronto Photo Walk Toronto Photography Fri, 04 Mar 2016 22:01:38 GMT
Favourite Photography Moments of 2015 2015 was a good year of photography for me. I engaged with new clients, explored my creativity in new places, graduated from Ryerson's Chang School of Photography, and found new audiences for my images. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order, that I am happy to share. (To see these images in a gallery or slideshow format, please click here.)

1. Street

I love getting out to do street photography. One of my favourite street photo moments of 2015 was catching a lone commuter with a bright red bag in a classic Toronto rush near Union Station.

To see some of my favourite images from around Toronto, please click here.

Union Station

2. Graduating from Ryerson Photography

I was thrilled to graduate from Ryerson's Chang School of Photography in June of 2015. I learned a lot from excellent instructors, but also made many friends and photographer colleagues through this program. I will continue to work hard at sharpening my skills, but this program was a real help in my development as a photographer.

More about the Chang School Photography program can be found here.

Graduating from Ryerson in June 2015

3. Non-Profit Documentary

Having worked in the non-profit area for some 15 years, I love to document organizations that are making a real impact. I am especially thankful for the opportunity I have had to document a number of Greater Toronto Area non-profit organizations who partner with World Vision Canada's Canadian Programs.

One of my most memorable 2015 photo assignments was in Hamilton with the environmental charity, A Rocha, as they served newly arrived refugees. I was so impressed at how A Rocha's community kitchen and garden programs not only teach such practical skills, but also strengthen bonds of inclusion and community participation amongst newcomers. How essential for a welcoming country such as ours!

Documentary photographyDocumenting A Rocha, a partner with World Vision Canadian Programs.

4. Live Music

I love capturing live music, and have been doing so at Canadian Music Week and NXNE festivals for about four years now. When it comes to live performances, few artists entice music photographers to raise their lenses the way Rich Aucoin can. This Canadian artist is making audiences bounce, dance and sing along around the world. This image was taken July 14th, 2015 - one of the fantastic Pan Am Panamania concert events that were held across the city.

To see a selection of my favourite music images please click here.

Rich Aucoin at Panamania, Toronto City Hall

5. Air Guitar Canada Championships

Who knew that there's an Air Guitar Championships? Or that the winner goes to compete in Oulu, Finland for the World Air Guitar Championships? Well now you do! Here's the Canadian 2015 winner Jason "Thrust" McNeely performing his way to Finland.

Don't miss the 2016 competition - learn more here. (BTW, Air Guitar Canada supports the great work of Right to Play Canada)

Air Guitar Canada ChampionshipsJason "Thrust" McNeely, winner of the 2015 Canadian Air Guitar Championships

6. Chicago

I had a great time exploring Chicago in late September, 2015. The city's streets and architecture are very appealing for a photographer. Here is one of my favourites from that weekend. Watch for more Chicago images, coming soon on this site. 

Chicago Station

7. Art Shows and Exhibits

I have enjoyed showing and selling my images since 2010 and did so again in 2015. Analogue Gallery's Sound Image show, the Queen West Art Crawl, the Danforth East Arts Fair and the Black Cat Artspace were all highlights.

I am very thankful to Vistek for exhibiting my documentary work with Photographers Without Borders in Uganda at all of their Canadian stores. My images, as seen here, were shown in Vistek's three Alberta stores in early to mid 2015. More about these can be seen on Vistek's Photo Blog.

To see more of my art images please click here.

Vistek Galleries

8. Event Photography

I really enjoy capturing exciting events on behalf of clients. Here is one of several I documented in 2015 - the Reel World Films With Impact event at Artscape's newly opened Sandbox venue. It was packed with very creative and socially engaged film, radio and TV personalities and content creators.

I enjoyed working with my friend and colleague Warren Pot on this event who covered the Red Carpet portraits for the evening. Images from the evening can currently be found here.

To see more of my event images please click here.

Event PhotographyEvent PhotographySome of the many talented people at Reel World's Films With Impact Gala in September 2015.

9. Honest Ed's

In late 2016 the great eclectic shopping experience that is Honest Ed's will be closing. A sad day that will be for many. Here is one of my favourite images of Honest Ed's - taken in July 2015. I'm proud to say this image currently hangs in the office of Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton.

To see images of Honest Ed's final Turkey Giveaway, from Dec 2015, please click here. To see two more of my art images of Honest Ed's please click here and here.

"One More Thing" - street photo of Honest Ed's

10. Pan Am Games

The Pan Am Games were a real success for Toronto and all the cities that hosted events. I really enjoyed the energy and excitement. Here is one of my favourite moments from the games - capturing US long jumper Jeffrey Henderson in every phase of his long jump - an event he went on to win gold in.

More about Jeffrey Henderson can be found here.

Jeffrey Henderson Pan Am Long Jump Gold Medalist

To receive updates on my work throughout the year, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To contact me for a photo assignment, please click here.

Thanks for sticking with me! Here's to a great 2016!

Henry VanderSpek

P.S. I hope to do more blog posts in 2016. Watch this space for more!

]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Documentary Street Toronto photography Toronto street photography art art photography photo art Thu, 14 Jan 2016 18:26:29 GMT
National Camera Day... SnapKnot
Courtesy of: SnapKnot
]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Camera Day National National Camera Day Sun, 29 Jun 2014 12:28:47 GMT
Share your experiences with moon/lunar photography What is your experience with lunar photography? I'd love to hear. Please share below! Here's how my recent try went...

Using a budget tripod, and a stabilized 18-200mm zoom lens, I tried my hand at capturing the Lunar Perigee on May 7, 2012.

I headed down to a park in southeast Toronto near the waterfront, just before 11:35 PM Eastern time, when it was set to peak. I placed my Nikon D7000 on a tripod and set it to mirror lock-up mode, to reduce shake during image capture. My camera was set to ISO 100, F11 and 1/125.

Below is my best shot, cropped and slightly adjusted in LIghtroom.

Lunar Perigee May 7, 2012 - Toronto, ON, Canada

And here is my original uncropped image, for the sake of full disclosure...

Lunar Perigee (uncropped) - May 7, 2012 - Toronto, ON, Canada

I'm interested in what you do when capturing the moon. Please share your experiences and links if relevant!


]]> (Culture Snap - Award-Winning Photography by Henry VanderSpek) Canada Lowlight Lunar Lunar Perigee Moon Night Ontario Perigee Photography Toronto Zoom Fri, 11 May 2012 14:24:58 GMT