For 365 days, Diane Walton has been snapping photos of everyday life in Leslieville during routine morning walks with her dog, Sunshine. Sights and scenes from Queen St., portraits of locals, the changing of the seasons and the day-to-day bustle in the community are regular subjects of her daily outings.
Aptly called 'A Day in the Life of Leslieville,' Walton shares a handful of photos online, often themed as a collection and accompanied by a thoughtful quote. They wind up on her website and the popular I am a Leslievillian Facebook group page. What started out as a personal endeavour to renew her passion for photography became a daily dose of neighbourhood pride for the community as the anticipated posts were published to clicks and comments each day.
The year-long project, in which she only missed a few days for holiday time (give her break already), is coming to an end Jan. 14. We caught up with Diane about 'A Day in the Life of Leslieville' and the photos and memories she's amassed through her documentation of the comings and goings of a year in the neighbourhood.
WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND 'A DAY IN THE LIFE OF LESLIEVILLE'?
I'd been a working photographer years ago — back in the days of film — and had been afraid to get into the digital world of photography. I’m not a digital native, I’m more a digital immigrant so I was kind of scared of it. I had a point-and-shoot for the last 10 years, and decided that I was being silly and went out and bought an SLR. I was surprised how much simpler it was than the old SLRs. A few months later, I had adopted my dog Sunshine. In the early days, I tried getting her to go up to Greenwood Park to no avail. So, we ended up walking around the streets of Leslieville. One day shortly after I thought, ‘Well, if she would rather walk the streets, I’ll bring my camera along and take some pics for fun.’ One day — Dec. 21, 2014 to be exact — I had taken a pic of a father and son and their dog. The dog was looking back at us, it was a cute pic. I captioned it ‘Day 1: A Day in the Life of Leslieville’ and explained the story above in a few lines. The photo seemed to be a big hit, and the project was born.
WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR?
The first thing that comes to mind is the number of new people I have met since I started the project. I built new relationships with retailers, restaurant owners and neighbours who I would see on the street and chat with. One in particular is Christiane Tetreault, who is the founder and operator of The Vandenberg House. She and I met on the street one day, chatted and became fast friends. She organizes The Eastside Pop-up Markets around the neighbourhood. We built a nice working relationship — I would take the photos of the markets and she would let me sell my prints and calendars at the market. She was instrumental in getting me the job as photographer for the 2015 Wanderlust with the BIA. Other highlights included being interviewed by Joanna Lavoie from The Beach Mirror and Joe Fiorito from The Toronto Star. Once I had been doing this for about six months, other people who liked my photography style approached me via Facebook and hired me for photography jobs. All of this was a huge bonus — I had no idea any of this would happen when I started. The aim was just fun but it has really changed my life.
HOW DID THE PROJECT CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE NEIGHBOURHOOD?
I've lived and worked in Leslieville for over 12 years. I knew the neighbourhood, but had not really noticed much of what was going on, who was doing what, where certain things were. I hadn’t noticed many of the things I do now after a year of daily photo journalling. I now see everything with a new set of eyes. As street photography is my passion, I love capturing a moment in time whether that be an old man reading the paper, a dad with his kids, an old building, a piece of graffiti, a crowd scene or just people strolling or running here, there and everywhere. I feel like I know every nook and cranny and every street in Leslieville like the back of my hand now. One thing that stands out is the interesting things people have on their lawns, porches, their doors, their outside pieces of art. Everything that makes this neighbourhood eclectic is found on or around the homes of the people who live here. There are some really unique things, if you just look. Really look. Mostly up. For example, did you know there is an owl sitting on top of the China Lily Soy Sauce building? Or the murals on the TTC buildings on Connaught? Or the fabulous graffiti art all through the backstreets and laneways?
WHAT'S YOUR SINGLE FAVOURITE IMAGE FROM THE PROJECT?
There are so many that I love but I would probably say my favourite is the man on the ladder painting the storefront on Queen St. near Greenwood. When I saw him, it was almost this perfect painting set before me. When I looked at the photo on my computer after I got home, it immediately reminded me of a street scene in Paris. It was very cool, and everything was there: the colours, the bicycle in the foreground, the tree. The perfectly constructed photo — organically. It reminded me a bit of the work of one of my favourite photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson. I thought Henri would approve.
HOW DID SUPPORT GROW THROUGH FACEBOOK?
It took a few months for interested members of the Facebook page to follow what I was doing, and I noticed early on there were some regular fans of the project. One day I sent a message to them — about a half dozen at the time — thanking them for supporting what I was doing. Some new friendships blossomed from that.
A DAILY PHOTO SERIES IS A LOT OF WORK — HOW DID YOU JUGGLE YOUR TIME?
As a realtor, my day doesn’t normally get started until after about 10 a.m. I’ve always had dogs so the first priority was to get up, get the coffee on, get the leash on and off we went. For over 10 years, my morning activity was to walk dogs. The 'Day in the Life' project took place in that window, so it didn’t interfere at all with my day job.
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO NEXT?
Well, as you can imagine, there is no way I can just stop taking my camera with me on our morning walks, so I will still take photos and post the odd special one. I’m feeling somewhat emotional about the project. Today was the final day — Day 365! — and the response has been overwhelming. It’s incredibly rewarding and heartwarming to read some of the comments and reactions. It really has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, thinking about the next project seems far away, but I do have something in mind. I have spoken to quite a few people in the neighbourhood since starting this project, and there are some real characters here in Leslieville, not to mention many unsung heroes who do a lot for the community without being recognized. So, I will be doing a ‘Humans of Leslieville’ project in which I will interview and photograph some of these people. Two such people are my neighbours, both in their 80s, who have lived in the same house for over 55 years. It’s incredible really, the original Leslievillers, so to speak. They’re a lovely couple, but I have approached them about being subjects in 'A Day in the Life' and they are both camera-shy. We laugh about it, and I’ve asked them a few times about doing a story on them and they say ‘Story OK, photos no.' So, I’m not sure that would work for this concept, but I might coerce them yet. We shall see...