This Scarborough photographer shot portraits of Toronto artists along the TTC’s new subway extension

This Scarborough photographer shot portraits of Toronto artists along the TTC’s new subway extension

Anthony Gebrehiwot’s debut solo show, Communities of Love, is an ode to his roots as an artist. A self-taught photographer, he spent the past six years deeply integrated with RISE (Reaching Intelligent Souls Elsewhere), a Scarborough-based mentorship program comprised of writers, poets, dancers, rappers, singers and activists, who come together as a source of community and inspiration.

The portrait series, featuring fellow RISE artists, was shot exclusively along the TTC’s new line one subway extension. “Escalators and stairs are metaphors for life,” says Gebrehiwot. “You’re going to have times when you’re up and times when you’re down.”

Communities of Love is a companion piece to an upcoming documentary about the Scarborough arts movement. Here, Gebrehiwot discusses some of his favourite photos from the collection.

The activist

“Trevlyn Kennedy has done a lot of amazing community work in Regent Park—she’s been extremely vocal about the gentrification happening there and works with youth in the area. She’s someone who will go down in history because of the positive effect she’s had on the people around her—like a Canadian Angela Davis. She’s been through a lot, and I wanted to capture her on an escalator to show that she came out on top.”

The poet

“I’ve known Aliyah Suvannah for years. She’s a spoken word artist who writes a lot about human rights, morality, equality and love, but she’s always been a bit on the shy side. When she struck that pose, it took me by surprise—it was completely organic. What I really like about this shot is the composition and the narrative, where a beautiful artist of colour can freely take up space in a public arena.”

The dancer

“Daniel Burton wears that mask every time he performs—it’s his signature look. He wanted to do this pose for the shoot, but obviously you’re not supposed to breakdance on TTC escalators. We ended up doing it anyway because one of the main things I wanted to capture was not being bound by other people’s rules.”

The DJ

“Gee Soropia started coming to RISE two years ago. He has a jack-of-all-trades mentality: he’s an emcee, a DJ, a producer and he can make up a song on the spot with his beat machine. His style is unique, and I wanted to capture that here. Those are his signature shoes. He wore them the first time he performed, and they’ve been a part of his artist identity ever since.”

The singer

“I met Kevin Brathwaite on set. He works full time for the TTC as a station supervisor and customer service agent, but he’s also a freelance vocalist for weddings, corporate events and musical theatre. When he saw us shooting at one of the stations, he started telling us about how our work reminded him of himself back in the day, then he volunteered to be part of the project.”

The spoken word artist

“Paul Ohonsi is one of my best friends, and he’s also one of the the reasons RISE exists. I was in Montreal with a group of friends and got really sick while we were there. Paul kept me company and hung out with me while I was recovering. Out of the blue he said, ‘Yo, can I share this thing I wrote with you?’ It was a spoken word piece, and it was amazing. That got us thinking about doing shows. It was what got RISE up off the ground.”

The leader

“This is Randel Adjei. He’s a young king. Or at least, that’s how I see him. When he first started pursuing the arts, everyone—including his own mother—told him to go to school instead. He quit his job and dedicated his life to the growth of RISE. We’ve seen so much growth in the past six years, and it wouldn’t have been possible without him. I dedicated a whole wall to him in the exhibit so it seems like he’s looking over everything—just like he does in real life.”

Communities of Love runs until October 20 at the Contact Gallery.