By Marissa Tiel
The last thing I expected on an April work-from-home day was a phone call from Toronto. Yet here we were, me sitting at my kitchen table on Vancouver Island, Graeme Roy, the director of photography at The Canadian Press somewhere in Toronto, talking about an internship to take place at a future date (it is a pandemic and all.)
Normally, the internship takes place in Toronto and begins by the time the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) rolls around in September. But, as others have pivoted and adjusted this year, so too did the crews at The Canadian Press and the Canadian Journalism Foundation to make this internship happen.
The internship took place in Vancouver for the first time in its decade-long history. I was thankful to be able to take part in the internship on the West Coast of Canada and work with staff photojournalist Jonathan Hayward, as well as stringer Darryl Dyck.
In November, there were no sports in Vancouver, nor were there many news assignments. Without many assignments, we came up with ideas on what to shoot. That meant feature hunting pretty much every day; bonus if the feature was related to COVID-19.
My first news assignment was photographing Meng Wanzhou at her home on the way to court. I learned that while it appears to be a simple photo – a woman walking out of her house and down a driveway into a car – it can be challenging. With the situation rarely changing day-to-day, I was able to learn from the previous day’s frames and compare them with what photographers from other outlets produced. This exercise proved invaluable and by the end of the week, I was pleased to see the Associated Press picking up my images as well as seeing them used by media outlets across Canada.
One of the first stories I pitched and worked on was about the Canadian National Whitewater Slalom team. With the 2020 Olympics postponed and international racing and training opportunities closed, the team decided to train closer to home, on a natural river near Chilliwack, B.C. At its surface, it seems like a sports story, but as with everything else this year, the COVID angle creeps in. The story was more about showing how these high performance athletes were training during a global pandemic. The images were featured in the Globe and Mail and on CBC Sports.
Other photo packages I pitched centred around how COVID-19 regulations were affecting another business sector: dance studios. A pole dancing studio kindly let me photograph a live-stream class in its empty Gastown space, while a high performance dance studio also used live-streaming for its popular ballet class. At the time, dance studios with classes for adults were struggling with the constantly-changing regulations from the government of B.C.
With Christmas creeping closer, I switched focus to pitch a few more pieces relating to the holidays. Johnny joined me on a trip to Abbotsford to photograph a Santa Claus who was offering porch visits as the typical mall engagements were cancelled this year. On that sleepy Sunday afternoon, Johnny hammered home the importance of thinking about your deadlines. Our time zone on the West Coast was solidly three hours behind Toronto. To make it into the next day’s papers, you had to be mindful of their deadlines as well, so submitting a photo at 3 or 4 p.m. PST was not doing yourself any favours. We shot and edited a collection of pictures and immediately filed from a nearby parking lot.
With the challenges of working during the pandemic, Johnny and I figured out a system early that put us in the same bubble, allowing us to travel to assignments together and share tables at coffee shops allowing indoor customers, so we could file together in a warm, dry place with toilets. Johnny also shared his cleaning routine, which has so far kept him healthy while covering the pandemic on the street.
It also meant that we had a lot of time travelling together and I was able to hear the plethora of stories that Johnny had to share about Tom “Tommy” Hanson. I was thankful to learn more about the man this award is named in honour of, from one of his close friends.
I’m incredibly thankful to Johnny for welcoming me into his bubble and generously sharing his knowledge, tips and tricks. Thank you to Darryl for always being willing to answer my questions; to Joe and Megan for the ongoing support from Toronto; and thank you to the selection committee for allowing me this opportunity to improve myself as a photographer and journalist. I will be forever grateful.
Check out the details of the Tom Hanson Photojournalism Award.
The Tom Hanson Photojournalism Award is generously supported by: