If you ask anyone, anything before 2020 was unreal, considering all that we have come through as a global community. But now it seems we are watching the sunset of those uncertain and discouraging times. Communities emerged stronger, bonds between people changed drastically, and even our perception of who we are was questioned; we were all wondering how and what can be done for others in need. Last year, when everything was reopening, East End Arts, in partnership with Greektown on the Danforth BIA*, contacted Henry Vanderspek, a local photographer, to develop a project called Humans of the Danforth which aimed to explore the stories, and humans, behind businesses on Danforth Street. We went back with Henry to talk about the behind scenes of this project and the Greek community.
Henry Vanderspek is an art and documentary photographer. He worked with non-profit organizations such as Mathew House, in refugee settlement, and WorldVision, in Advocacy and Education. In 2017, he did a project called Taxi Drivers in Toronto as part of the Contact Photo Fest. Last December/January, he did another one called Old World Shoes showed at DesignTO.
During our conversation, we talked about his projects, and life, before Humans of the Danforth—it was interesting to note how he has nurtured a passion to engage with people and hear their stories. He stated: “Hearing people and their stories, and capturing what they do, is part of what I love to do, and that’s how ‘Humans of the Danforth’ project came to life, in partnership with East End Arts.” This project had the idea to celebrate people from small businesses that run across the Danforth, “They [East End Arts, Greektown on the Danforth BIA, and others businesses] wanted to celebrate the people and the community who have been sticking together to help people get through everything.”
Although things were reopening, this project aimed to show the community that there was still lots to be thankful for. It was a hectic process: get the interviews, take the photographs, and review the audio, but the result was rewarding for everyone.
Henry expressed that he can “walk into 26 businesses and have a good conversation with all because we have a story together now, I share something with them. To be part of and support people is what I love.” He also got to explore business like Fiorentina where “they have amazing baked goods and all are made locally, they gave me a bag of pastries.”
His work is meaningful for people that do not share a direct connection with the Greek community. His views while doing this work are proof of why this is an exceptional area: “There is a beautiful network of people that support each other where everyone wanted to see each other succeed.”
Henry commented about Greek Town, “it is diversifying, but there is a common story of a community that came, predominantly Greek, to a new start and supported each other. That nature in character extends and continues from the immigrants: they shape the foundation and continue to evolve in a very nice way.” He had a camera and a microphone to record those stories, but his curiosity and experience set a baseline for what others see in this community. He recognizes that their efforts to keep their history alive, while experiencing the constant changes of the streets, have not been in vain.
Now, the community in the Danforth area has footage to keep building its story through time. Thanks to Henry’s vision, Humans of the Danforth showcases just the tip of the iceberg of what the Greek community offers.
*Business Improvement Area
Sources: To know more about Henry Vanderspek, visit his website here: culturesnap.ca