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My Father’s Son

Photography — especially street photography — is, in many ways, coming full circle for me.

I was reminded of this when I had posted a few recent images on Facebook and my cousin Kwoi commented that my dad would be proud of my work. I mentioned to my partner Kenneth what a compliment it was, coming from Kwoi — a professional photographer and filmmaker. Because of their mutual interest in photography, my dad and Kwoi were pretty close. “You didn’t tell me that,” my partner said. “Did you get into photography because of your dad?”

No. Well, maybe.

I was still pretty young when my dad took up photography as a serious hobby. I don’t have much recollection of it, other than remembering that he belonged to a camera club in Toronto’s Chinese community, and that they would go on photo walks. I think I might have gone with him a few times, but I probably didn’t understand the attraction of taking photos of boring buildings and trees. He was pretty into it – my sister still has a few of his cameras that he left. He even had a Hasselblad, so I don’t feel so bad splurging on my Fujifilm — I don’t even want to guess how much he spent on his gear.

My dad passed away in 2004. It was quite sudden – he became ill and within days, he was gone. In the years since then, there have been many moments when I realize how much I am my father’s son.

I already knew that at an early age, as I demonstrated a keen talent for drawing and sketching – just like my dad. At one point, I even considered going to an arts high school. But being the practical man he was, and not wanting to see his son become a “starving artist” (he was a commercial artist himself), my dad was just as happy when I decided not to go.

It wasn’t until Grade 10 that I fell into what would become my early calling – journalism. It was sheer luck that my school happened to have journalism class. It was also luck that my school happened to have a school newspaper, of which I became editor in the following grade until I graduated.

From there, it only made sense to attend Ryerson which was one of a handful of schools offering a program in journalism at the time.

Taking photos was part of my first job as a reporter and that’s when I really picked up a camera. My editor at the time was quite skilled at photography and taught us the basics of taking decent enough shots of people and places to accompany our stories.

And now, here I am, instead of reporting about events and writing the “first draft of history,” I’m documenting every day moments in people’s lives with a camera, trying to capture a story with a picture.

The above image is one of my recent favourites and I think my dad would have liked it. I don’t know what he would have thought about street photography in general – I think he would think it’s mostly strange for me to take photos of strangers on the street. But I also think he would have recognized my passion for it, and in his way encouraged me, but not discouraging me — as is the Chinese way.

So this is for you, Dad. Thanks for passing on your talents, and for encouraging and teaching me through the years.

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