the toronto islands


I came across a posting for a workshop series that was taking place here in May 2010 at the annual Contact Photo Festival in Toronto. The workshops are a week long and are led by a photographer from Magnum Photo Agency who helps the participants shape their photo projects through individual critiques, class reviews and by sharing insights into their own photographic practise and working methods. Our workshop leader was Stuart Franklin, an award winning British photographer who first joined Magnum in 1985 and who is probably best known for his photographs of a solitary man standing defiantly in front of a column of Chinese tanks heading into Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Before arriving in Toronto, I started researching story ideas weeks before and a through a friend who lives in the city, I was told about the Toronto Islands. These are a series of 7 small islands that sit in Lake Ontario and are just offshore from the most expensive and recognizable real estate in the country. The Toronto Islands act as unique and surprising set of functions within city itself. The parks, beaches, yacht club and fair grounds provide a popular recreational element to the city which is connected by a short ferry ride from the base of the CN Tower. While the islands also have a dedicated residential component that is the largest car-free zone in urban North America with only one church, one school, one cafe and one restaurant. What began as a series of camps and shacks on land leased from the city in the early 20th century slowly began to resemble a structured series cottages and urban homes until the city tried to expropriate the land for use as urban park land to replace what had been paved over in greater Toronto.

The Toronto Islands are a beautiful and weird set of urban contrasts. A defiant and eclectic community huddled against the pasteurized recreational spaces on the adjoining islands intended for the residents of the greater concrete city that rise up across the lake. Originally between the Magnum workshop participants, Stuart Franklin and myself we chose 10 images to try to illustrate this theme but I’ve added a few more that were my personal favourites to provide a slightly broader look at the Toronto Islands.