By Kelly Skjerven
Ayesha Khan, a Toronto photographer, couldn’t have predicted that an Instagram post she saw a year ago would change her experience as a photographer.
The post was from an account called The Collective Art Project. It was a photowalk collective aimed at women, creating a safe space for them to learn about photography.
For Khan the collective was an exciting and needed change from the Toronto photo walks she had been used to, where she was often subjected to the condescension of male photographers.
“They always think they know better,” said Khan. “Or even if they are giving tips it feels like they’re looking at you in a very condescending way.”
The Collective Art Project, which Khan’s been part of for a year now, is the brain child of Ryerson Social Work graduates Sabrina Labbée and Amanda Mitchell. The project brings together women photographers to learn from each other and collaborate on photography projects in a safe space.
Khan was excited when she initially heard about the concept, especially because she finds the photography community in Toronto a “very male-dominated industry.”
“It’s just a good way for me to sort of experiment with my camera and get more into it”
The project came about after Labbee and Mitchell exchanged a series of texts while they were both at their work placements last March. They both saw the impact of art and photography on giving women control of their narratives. At first they intended on reserving the group for victims of sexual violence, but after seeing interests from lots of women, they changed that.
Mitchell calls the growth of the group “astronomical.”
Their first ever walk only had three women, but since then has grown to around 10 women for each walk and 40 members online on a Facebook group.
On one Sunday, members met at the corner of Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave. before walking to the alleyway. Although the sun was out, the photographers were still bundled up in brightly patterned blanket scarves and parka jackets.
Members came with cameras in tow, some new and some old. Some even used their phones to capture pictures. There were about six women there, they all took a couple minutes to catch up and praise the nice weather after a few cold days.
After waiting for other members to arrive, the group begins to walk to the Graffiti Alley, but before they start capturing their own photos they all huddle in to take a group photo. Labbée said it’s a tradition on every walk.
After the group photo, members scatter throughout the alley taking photos. Some focus on little things and get really close to the subject of their photos, while others take wider shots encapsulating the art covering the walls of the buildings.
A new member to the group, Ramya Muthukumaran, fiddles with her camera with the help of Labbée.
The group is so welcoming that Muthukumaran has no problem making instant friends with everyone.
“This is a good opportunity for me to learn about my camera but also go around the city and meet people,” said Muthukumaran.
Muthukumaran heard about the photo walk on a Facebook group she is a part of and thought it was a good opportunity to put her new camera to use.
“It’s just a good way for me to sort of experiment with my camera and get more into it because I feel like if I don’t have the option to go out I won’t, so it’s a good option for me to do both of those things at the same time,” said Muthukumaran.
Annie Duncan, a friend of Labbée, joined the group last year.
“She was taking photos of me at one point and I just decided to pick up my dad’s old camera and start shooting with her opposed to being a subject in her photos,” Duncan shoots outside of the group as well.
The group will continue to meet every month and welcome new members, who will share conversations of all topics as well as tips about photography.