Saturday, June 18, 2016


Ivaan never went anywhere without a camera. He had a massive collection of classic cameras, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s - over 700 film cameras, not including the various lenses, flashes and accessories that accompanied them.  To say he was an inveterate collector was an understatement.  He subscribed to magazines devoted to reselling camera equipment, and in 2005 when we got our first home computer, Ivaan discovered eBay.  He'd often buy the same camera he already had, forgetting what was in his inventory.  He rarely sold one, but several times I've had people tell me they treasure a camera Ivaan gave them.

In 1995, a young man we knew named Laas Turnbull, who was making a big name for himself in the print media industry, mentioned Ivaan to John Macfarlane, the editor of Toronto Life magazine.  He explained that Ivaan took a different camera out every day and shot a roll of film, just documenting who he saw on the streets of Toronto.  These weren't necessarily homeless people, but they were the people that who are part of the urban streetscape. People we pass by every day. We don't know their names but we've all seen them.  Ivaan did this every single day for a decade: a new roll of black and white film, which he then developed and printed.

Over the years, he came to know many of his subjects and gave them copies of their photographs.

Laas Turnbull borrowed some sample photographs from Ivaan, showed them to John Macfarlane, and suggested that Ivaan do a first-person account of his photographs for Toronto Life magazine.  John agreed.  Photographs were selected and the accompanying text was written.   It was published under the title No Fixed Address by Toronto Life magazine in July 1996.  Ivaan wasn't happy about the title.  He had wanted it to be called World Class City: an ironic commentary on Toronto's well-documented inferiority complex, as well as an acknowledgement that his subjects were not necessarily homeless.  But Toronto Life felt its readers would be offended by Ivaan's choice of title.

I was pretty excited.  We were newly married, about to head to the UK on our honeymoon, which was a dance holiday in Torquay with our ballroom dance friends, so I could bring copies of the magazine to show off to all my relatives. Best of all, Ivaan had asked me to photograph him for the masthead of the magazine.   It was extra sweet that Ivaan wanted to ensure that his wedding ring was prominently visible in the photograph: not solely to signal that he was married, but because he had made the ring, and he figured that it would be good advertising.



The following year, No Fixed Address was nominated for Canada's National Magazine Awards.  We attended the awards banquet. I am usually pretty well behaved in public, but it's no exaggeration to say I was screaming with excitement when it won both a Gold and a Silver.  I remember Ivaan going up to the stage - twice - to collect his awards.  He thanked Laas Turnbull most particularly for having championed his work, and he thanked John Macfarlane and Toronto Life magazine for having the courage (well, that's not actually the word he used) to print his photographs.

The photographs were controversial, and people wrote letters to the editor saying that Ivaan was exploiting his subjects. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.  The one thing that people lack when they are on the margins of society is photographs of themselves.  Years later, when Ivaan was in a wheelchair, I'd be wheeling him along Queen Street West and people he'd photographed would rush up to us, hug him, and pull out of their pockets large folded photographs of themselves taken by Ivaan.  These were among their most prized possessions.  When you have photographs of yourself, it's proof that you exist.

In 2001, Toronto Life published a 25th anniversary edition entitled Great Reads.  It was a compilation of the best articles that had appeared in the magazine over a quarter of a century.  No Fixed Address was one of them.

The previous year, Ivaan suffered the first of five strokes and he was feeling uncertain about the future.  The success of his article buoyed him up immensely, and in 2003, following his second stroke, we decided to mount an exhibition of his photographs as part of the Contact photography festival.  The photographs from Toronto Life magazine were the foundation of that exhibition, which was called - you guessed it - World Class City.

The most prominent photo in the exhibition was the one above.  I got to have a small supporting role in the exhibition, as Ivaan asked me give titles to each of the photographs.  This one was called World Class, My Ass.

After Ivaan's death, his collection of street photography was acquired by the City of Toronto Archives.  It formed the backbone of their highly successful 2014 exhibition, entitled Life On the Grid.  I appreciated the irony in that choice of name, because at the time Laas Turnbull, who had put the wheels into motion, was the publisher of an excellent Toronto newspaper called The Grid.  I ran into Laas on the street a few weeks ago. He lives in the tonier end of my neighbourhood (a few zeros away, as Ivaan would say). I thought of Laas in recent weeks, as Canada's National Magazine Awards were again in the media.  I realized it has been 20 years since Laas stuck his neck out for Ivaan.

Ivaan and Laas,  this blog post is a tribute to the pair of you: two people who were never afraid of a little controversy.

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