After reading about our city’s program Community Hotspots, featuring Etobicoke 2015, and Mayor John Tory’s objective to create a destination for live music in Toronto, Photographer Marie Byers was inspired to create a Community Event on Wednesday May 6th, 2015 at the historical Old Mill Toronto, a community hotspot for live entertainment.
Marie Byers was honoured this year to receive a Bronze Metal for Canada from the International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP) for her portrait of Jazz artist, Joe Sealy, 1997 Juno award winner for CD “Africville Suite” and 2010 Member of the Order of Canada for his contribution to Canadian Music. This portrait competed against 58 countries.
Joe Sealy’s creative and peaceful approach to bringing awareness to Canadian black history, and his lifetime dedication to music are what inspired Marie to enter this particular portrait titled “ Living Jazz” (aka Contemplation) into the 121st Toronto International Salon of Photography Competition.
Marie how did you originally get started in photography?
It started over 25 years ago, 1988 when my late husband handed me a catologue that had various gift items. The magazine featured elegant crystal, china, silverware but also a Nikon 401 camera. He said choose whatever you like. Instinctually without hesitation or thought, I chose the camera and although considered an antique today compared to Nikon FULL FRAME digital camera which I use … I still have it. Becoming a photographer and developing an eye, took many years of shooting as I travelled the world as a flight attendant. I’m basically self taught.
What is your connection with the Old Mill Toronto?
My photo work caught the attention of Michael Kalmar, the owner of the Old Mill Toronto, and he asked me if I would be interested in hanging my travel works of art in the hotel reception area. Subsequently I hung 4 pieces. After a period of time I recognized that a big part of the Old Mill Toronto was the Jazz entertainment in the Home Smith Bar — so I approached Mr. Kalmar, saying that an important part of Old Mill Hotel was not about travel, but about the jazz community. I said ” You need to get their portraits up on your walls.” He responded ” OK, will you do it. “ That then grew from hanging 4 travel photos to 18 jazz instrumentalists.
Up to this day I have gratuitously done the portraits of 55 jazz instrumentalists which are rotated in the Home Smith Bar. Each musician also receives a complimentary copy of the hanging image for their website to help promote their music.
What do you like to shoot?
Besides jazz artists because they’re such s joyful and passionate group of people , I like to shoot just about anybody. Often I see very interesting people on the streets of Toronto that I would love to bring into my studio. Of coarse I dare not ask. However, if I do a street shoot involving people – I’ll ask, and always send them a copy.
I do not usually shoot live jazz performances because I can’t keep the camera still and tap my foot at the same time.
What can you tell us about the Joe Sealy Portrait?
Joe Sealy was one of my earliest instrumentalists to sit for me. I was totally excited, for this man was not only a great jazz pianist but also was honoured with the Order of Canada for his album Africville. I admired how he brought so much light on the injustice in the black community outside Halifax in a small town named Africville.
After shooting for a while I noticed Joe getting tired. He was finally letting his guard down and slowly his head started to nod , relaxed, calm, his lips parted, his eye lids lowered. Excited with the naturalness of the image and hoping not to disturb him, I quickly started to shoot, realizing that ” THIS” moment is intimate, personal and very real. Perhaps it’s when the subject let’s go of the self image they wish to project and trusts the photographer, it’s when something sincere and real emerges to touch our hearts.
The reason I really like the image is because I recognize that same relaxed state when he plays a beautiful love ballad – eyes down, lips softly parted. Perhaps as he’s playing, he’s contemplating the jazz conversation? Hence it was titled ” Contemplation” Some may ask why I didn’t title it ” Joe Sealy” or ” Living Jazz” for the competition. Reason being is that I didn’t want my portrait work to influence the judges decision based on who the person was or what he stood for. However, after the competition it felt right for me to title it “Living Jazz” because that’s what Joe Sealy does. It says much more.
What the story behind FIAP International Federation of Photographic Art ?
I entered my first International competition in 2013 and received “acceptance”. I was told by fellow photographers to receive ACCEPTANCE is not so easy so I was pleased. In 2014 I entered a second time and received a Bronze for Canada in the category of Free Digital from over 4000 photo entries from 58 countries.
How did you find out that you won?
I found out sometime around 2 AM on Dec 12 last year. I was watching the news about social unrest in the American black communities when my thoughts wandered to Joe Sealy thinking “…whatever ever happened to that photo competition I entered.” Since I hadn’t heard anything I assumed I didn’t even get accepted to compete. But I decided to check the results on line in case there were any names I might recognize. I DID recognize a name– MY name– but it didn’t say ACCEPTED– it said BRONZE for Canada. What an honour! India got the Gold, Singapore got Silver and I got Bronze!
The next morning when I woke up and checked my emails, I received a general email addressed to All Participants, listing the results of the Toronto camera club 121st international salon competition. Then, I called my family and closest friends.
What drives you as an artist?
I’m not totally sure what drives me as an artist. I do know that I can get lost in the creative process forgetting that I need to sleep and eat. But when I’m finished a portrait I feel a great sense of satisfaction that I have captured something that is real and genuine about my subject. I love being told by those who know the subject well “That’s WHO they are” .
When I do a portrait I seek transparency, an honesty, a truth that we share as human beings. Photographic art is meant to move us emotionally, connecting us as human beings, — making us think – helping us to understand ourselves, our world– whether it’s positive or negative, making us laugh or cry — THAT’s what actually makes us FEEL alive. We NEED to feel connected in that way. It’s exactly what you do in an interview, except the dominate sense is hearing, not seeing.
Join the celebration on Wednesday May 6th @ 7:30 p.m. as we unveil the International Award Winning Portrait of a Canadian Jazz Artist in The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto.