patchwork village: a journey into the esplanade by Laura Dittmann

I have been working with community arts group Jamii ( for 5 wonderful years, & our 2016 Patchwork Village project is the most ambitious, inspiring & exciting project I have been on to date.

Inspired by the 40th anniversary of the the St. Lawrence site-plan, Patchwork Village highlights the stories of 40 community members from different walks of life who have a strong connection to The Esplanade. Starting with a group of 20 enthusiastic participants, we conducted one-on-one interviews with each of our subjects, giving them a platform to tell their story & share their thoughts about the community. I was tasked with shooting all of these interviews over a month, & I had no idea how moved I would be by every single one.

Makeup artist & mother Toru tells us about her journey to The Esplanade & raising her kids as a "team".

Toronto MPP Glen Murray shared his thoughts on community as well as the challenges of being a gay man during the AIDS epidemic.

The stories I heard during these interviews were incredible. I heard tales of adventure, travelling from one side of the world to the other, searching for home. I heard about families torn apart & brought together. I heard about struggles & triumphs. I learned each person's proudest moment, their biggest fear, their personal truth. I cried many times, once from the beautiful imagery of a blind woman learning to water ski as a child, a few times during stories of torture & oppression, & often from the emotions of the storyteller themselves. I learned that literally every person is fascinating. No story was boring. I made 40 new friends, & I loved it.

After each interview, we took a quick snap of the participant & subject together. Often they had been complete or near strangers an hour before, but the connection between them after spending the time together was visible. (I almost wish we had taken a "before" photo as well to truly see the contrast.

Participant Georgia with girl's group leader & "new" Esplanadian Margot after their interview.

Participant Kai with Esplanade Community Group leader (& his uncle) Solomon.

Participant Shaaron with historian & tour guide Bruce Bell.

Participant Vivienne with active community member Mary.

Participant Peter with multi-generational community member Charlene.

Following their interviews, participants were asked to compose a short story (or poem) summarizing what they learned about their subjects. They worked diligently over a series of weekly workshops, crafting, editing & perfecting their pieces. In the meantime, photographer Charlie Lindsay ( worked on creating a stylized portrait of each subject based on their interviews. I can't show you those yet (but I can promise they're fantastic) - you'll have to check out both the photos & the stories at the CONTACT Photography Festival! Our official launch is this coming Sunday, May 1 at 2pm & the exhibit will remain on display through the end of June.

I hope you will check out this marvelous, touching project that I was honoured to be part of.
Happy 40th Anniversary, St. Lawrence!

field of dreams by Laura Dittmann

This beauty is one of my oldest friends, & I couldn't have been more honoured when she asked me to do a session with her "bump". This is absolutely my favourite image from the afternoon - I love the dreamy field & the perfectly flowing dress. Many more of the stunning Meagan to come!