Moss Park ‘through a lens’: Youth get behind the camera to capture their community

A group of young people snapping photos of Toronto’s Moss Park neighborhood over the past year say getting behind the camera let them capture a side of a downtown community that’s sometimes misunderstood.

The 15 youth had the chance to depict their community in a new light, and learn a thing or two about photography along the way, through a series of free photography workshops hosted by the non-profit organization Neighborhood Information Post (NIP) beginning in the spring of 2022.

Now, a selection of their snapshots will be featured in a photo exhibit.

Adnaan Haneef, 16, was one of the participants and says he hopes the exhibit will let more Torontonians get to know a neighborhood that’s often made headlines for the wrong reasons, including its homeless encampments.

“When you’re in Moss Park where everything is just [in] motion. Looking at it through a lens and through a camera kind of gives you a different perspective and makes you ponder on some of the more in-the-moment things,” Haneef said.

Undated photo of Adnaan Haneef.
Adnaan Haneef, 16, says he hopes the Moss Park photo book will help others understand his community better. (Submitted by Adnaan Haneef)

“Since it’s a low-income area and a smaller community, some people see it in a negative light,” Haneef said. “I think this photo book will help people look at it in a different way, especially being able to see the youth who are reflective of [Moss Park].”

A total of 20 photos were selected and compiled to be included in the photo book, which will be on display at Parliament Street Public Library for two weeks starting Saturday.

A ‘really special’ experience, says the instructor

Brian Gregory, program leader, said the project aims to introduce the art of photography to the youth in Moss Park and provide them with skills for both their personal and academic life.

Each participant, ranging in age from five to 21, was given access to a professional camera kit but could use any device they wanted to capture their photos.

Moss Park Apartments
‘The famous Moss Park entrance. It is like a northern light. If you ever get lost, look for the sign,’ says Mona Shire, a former program worker at the Moss Park Neighborhood Information Post. (Submitted by Brian Gregory)

“The approach we provided them with was something they could universally use, no matter what type of camera they used,” said Gregory.

“We saw immediate growth in the way that they could communicate their ideas, their thoughts,” he said, adding some of the photos included in the photo book “capture the essence of the youth in the community.”

Gregory said he taught students how to capture high-angle and low-angle photos, and how each makes the subject appear on camera.

A member of the Moss Park Photostory Program poses as the sun begins to set.
A member of the Moss Park Photo Story Program poses as the sun begins to set. (Submitted by Brian Gregory)

“Being able to show them these tricks and watching them go about acting them out on their own, it was really, really special,” he said.

“Not all of these kids know each other, so they got to build relationships and friendships with each other,” he added.

Camera kits will remain available for residents

Yahya Mohammed, a 17-year-old program participant and Moss Park resident, said taking part in the program was a unique experience.

“I learned a lot of new concepts, from composition to shutter speed,” Mohammed said.

Behind the scenes of youth program participants using the cameras to capture photos around the Moss Park community.
Behind the scenes of youth program participants using the camera to capture photos around the Moss Park community. (Submitted by Brian Gregory)

The camera kits used for the program will remain available to residents in the community even after the end of the project, said Gregory.

The point of this program, he said, was to provide an introduction to photography so that the youth “feel compelled to explore the craft on their own,” he said.

“Putting the camera in their hands and giving them the task of taking photos of each other was probably the most special thing,” he said.

“Seeing their perspective was a great joy for me.”

Drone shot of Moss Park with Toronto's skyline in the background.
A drone shot of Moss Park with Toronto’s skyline in the background. (Submitted by Brian Gregory/Elfred Kim)

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