Don River

I have been photographing the Lower Don River Valley in Toronto since November of 2008. Lower Don is part of Toronto’s ravine system and it separates downtown Toronto and the eastern part of the city. My focus has been on makeshift shelters that dot the Don River, its residents, and the people who use it for recreation in an area of roughly four miles long and one mile wide. One of the most urbanized river watersheds in Canada, the Lower Don is a prime environment for byproduct of urbanization. As Jennifer Bonnell of University of Toronto states on National Post (June 28, 2008), “It was a place that was out of sight for most residents. Because of that, there’s a long history of sewage, industrial waste and the city’s waste being dumped in the river valley. Alongside this history of material undesirables, there was also a history of social undesirables, people who are pushed to the edges of society.”

I was immensely moved when I first came across the makeshift shelters during summer of 2008. I had recently moved to Toronto as a landed immigrant. The recognition of “home” in these shelters immediately drew me in. I wanted to understand how people who do not have a home make one.

As an artist, I am interested in exploring the capacities of photographic language. In Don River, I am incorporating the language of time of the day, seasons, and the climatic conditions. The landscape at dusk creates an air of uncertainty and foreboding tension. Sweaty figures against the summer foliage capture the heat and humidity of a sweltering day. The withering branches depict the bone chilling winter landscape. By employing the above-mentioned language, Don River looks at inglorious history of Lower Don, homelessness, socioeconomic disparities, and effects of urbanization on the river. The work brings forth issues of land use in a time of “recession” both in economical and environmental terms.

I use a 4×5 view camera and the photographs are printed as archival inkjet prints. I intend to complete this body of work in September 2010.

About the photographer
Surendra Lawoti
was born in 1972 in Panchthar, Nepal. He is currently based in Toronto, Ontario, where he teaches Photography as an Adjunct Faculty at Ontario College of Art and Design. He received his BA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago (1999) and MFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design (2005) in Boston. He has received grants from Artadia, Somerville Arts Council, Community Arts Assistance Program Grant through City of Chicago and Ontario Arts Council. His work has been exhibited widely in Chicago and Boston in the US, in Toronto, in Medellin, Colombia and in Kathmandu, Nepal. Surendra is interested in the dynamics of social class, race, gender, religion and sexuality and how that affects individuals and social groups in a given historical time frame.

Photographer Surendra Lawoti displaying his vintage large format (4x5 View) camera.