Henry is a Toronto photographer who creates art imagery in a street context and who documents small business people and their stories. He works with both digital and film formats and is moved to capture layered street scenes where objects, symbols and human figures exist in tension and combine to create something visually engaging.
He enjoys delving into the world of documentary work in order to tell stories that provide insight into larger themes and issues. His 'Taxi Drivers of Toronto' project (Contact Photo Festival, 2017) told the stories of Toronto cab drivers through images and their voices, and came at a time of great change in the industry. His upcoming project "Old World Shoes" features the stories of older shoe stores of Toronto and will be exhibited in December 2021 with Artscape in Daniels Spectrum.
All of his documentary projects aim to celebrate hard-working small business people and what they bring to enriching the life of communities and the city.
Taking a cue from the wildly successful series, Humans of New York, Humans of the Danforth is a series of storefront installations that put a face and a human story to the businesses we love, or maybe haven’t yet gotten to know. In partnership with the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA, and featuring images and interviews of local photographer Henry VanderSpek storefronts in GreekTown will be transformed into gallery spaces for the full month of August, allowing residents and visitors a chance to explore the large scale portraits and stories while remaining socially distanced. Come and join us this summer on the Danforth for a celebration of the people who have made this one of Toronto’s most vibrant communities!
We asked each artist a series of questions to get to know them better. Here's what we found out:
Is there a local Toronto or Canadian artist who you’d say is your dream collaborator?
I would love to work with accomplished Canadian photographer George Webber. He has such a wonderful body of work artistically documenting Western Canada. His images evoke so much character and sense of place. I would learn a great deal working alongside someone of his talent.
Which local artists are inspiring you right now?
I am inspired by so many local artists including Patrick Skals' layered paintings, Amanda Arcuri's flame-illuminated imagery, Wenting Li's wonderful illustrations, Renata Janiszewska's electronic canvases, the vibrant positivity of Unicorn Shannon and the documentary and street imagery of Bidemi Oloyede.
Is there a medium you’d like to try that you haven’t already?
A mixed media approach that incorporates adding layers of paint to my photos might be fun to explore. My imagination is often captured by the wonderful illustrations that The Globe and Mail, and particular magazines, commission artists to create. These leave me inspired to try learning digital illustration tools, just for my own enjoyment. All that being said, I feel that art and documentary photography are vast fields offering me almost endless opportunities to expand my skills and to grow my craft.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Much of my inspiration comes from classic photographers such as Andre Kertesz, Fred Herzog, Vivian Maier and Gordon Parks, as well as living talents such as Jamel Shabazz, Joel Meyrowitz, Sally Davies, Vineet Vohra and Rinzi Ruiz. The sense of atmosphere, composition, character, light and shadow and of story in each of these artists' work continually inspires me as I seek to bring the same into the images that I create.