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making contact at CONTACT

As many people know, May is the month for the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. The photo festival of all photo festivals, with hundreds of exhibits all over Toronto.  This gets the blood of most of us photographers flowing with excitement.

This year, I have been thinking about the sheer variety of shows at the festival.  Documentary, Fashion, Fine Art, Political, Travel, you name it.  So many artists sharing their work — I’m curious what the motivation behind it is for participants, and what it means to them. As I have been pondering my own reasons for choosing photography as not just my livelihood, but also as my main form of self-expression, creativity and connecting, I have decided use this festival as a way to explore these questions for myself by seeing what other artists have to say.

I’ve started with talking to the artists of The Untold Stories Exhibit at the University of Toronto’s New College.  (45 Willcocks)  On display until June 6.  This is a collaborative show by World Vision photographers Alyssa Bistonath, Paul Bettings and Andrew Goodwin.





Question: How did you know this was the kind of work you wanted to do?

Andrew: Has always dreamt of being a photographer working for World Vision.  He and his wife have been supporters for many years.  He just never believed it would really happen.

Alyssa: She didn’t really have a choice.  It chose her. She always knew she wanted to go to Africa and work for World Vision, she just didn’t know in what capacity.  They called her one day, it was an amazing miracle.

Paul : Technically, he didn’t know. In fact, the first offer he had, he turned down, thinking he didn’t want to go. The next year, he had another offer, this one he took.

Question: Why is this kind of photography important?

Andrew: He does think that people in North America care, but he believes there is a distance, and it’s not always on their radar. This kind of photography makes the distance traversable.  It brings the reality of life in the developing world into their homes and periphery.

Alyssa: The photos of the three photographers are very different.  Alyssa likes to get very close to her subjects.  To really look at someone face to face, you can get a sense of who they are.  When you see a portrait larger than life, you can feel how intimate it is.  All four people in her photos let her into their lives and told her secrets.

Paul: It’s important because it gives these people a bit of a voice. They are struck silent because there is no way to reach people to tell them their story.  In fact, they might not even know that their situation is different than anyone in Canada’s situation.  This kind of photography gives them an opportunity to come out of their silence.

Question: Why is it important to YOU?

Andrew: He finds it grounding.  He gets to go abroad with World Vision a couple of times a year, and it keeps bringing him back to the reality of what life means on a more global perspective.

Alyssa: Her story is the most valuable thing she has as an individual.  She has all these ways to tell her story — and some people don’t.  It’s important to her to share that privilege.

Paul : It’s important to him because it’s about people. People who deserve better. It’s important for him to remember that people have ‘nothing’, often actually have everything.

Question: What does it mean to exhibit this work?

Andrew: He is very proud to attach his name to a big company like World Vision. At the same time, this is a chance to showcase photos that wouldn’t otherwise be seen.  Some of the photos never even got handed into World Vision.

Alyssa: It’s a relief!  When you shoot for an organization, you don’t always know what happens to the photos, and who sees them.  When you take them, the stories become part of your story, and you want to share them.

Paul: He feels it’s good enough for people to see what and how they see. World Vision has an image, and sometimes the images the photographers shoot don’t fit that mould.  For this reason, it’s nice to show their own work.


I will continue to seek answers from artists and cover more exhibits over the month.  For more info on the festival, or to see posts by other bloggers covering the festival, go to

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