Patti Gower has been a member of PhotoSensitive since we formed in 1990 and has contributed to over a dozen of our projects.
After taking a science degree and working in a hospital, Patti took a trip to Europe that changed her life and her career path. The trip awakened Patti’s love for photography and from that point on there was no going back.
“I think that when anyone travels they want to record their journey,” she said. “Just prior to my trip I bought a Nikon FE2, a 28mm lens and dozens of rolls of transparency (Kodachrome). I am not sure why I didn’t buy negative film but I think I liked the idea of paying for the film and processing all at once. During my year away, I would send the used rolls to my parents' house and got it all processed when I got back.”
So began Patti’s deep-seated interest in the photographic art and her experimentation with it. “I bought photography magazines throughout my trip and tried to experiment with timed exposure, depth of field and composition,” she told us. “With all the technical unknowns to me at that time, I was unable to see if I was successful or not until many months later, back in Canada. That just would not happen now with digital!”
Patti traveled throughout England, France, Spain and the Canary Islands and fell in love with travelling. “When I returned to Canada I enrolled in the photojournalism program at Loyalist College, thinking I would spend the rest of my life travelling,” she said. “The travelling life never materialized as I first thought, but I have had the privilege of meeting and spending time with so many people.”
After graduating from Loyalist, Patti spent eight years at the Toronto Star and four years at the Globe and Mail working as a staff photographer. From the beginning Patti knew that the more in-depth stories were the ones that appealed to her. “The day-to-day workings of the newspaper business didn’t always allow for this,” she said, “although I must say at both papers I was always encouraged to do so.
“Human lives and experiences are tremendously complex. You can tell some parts of the story wonderfully in a single photograph. But there are some stories that need and deserve time. And that is the only way to tell them.”
The travel bug never left Patti and she was fortunate enough to combine this with her commitment to more long-term projects when she was awarded an Atkinson Fellowship in 2001. Along with writer Margaret Philp, she spent a year exploring the world of Canadian adoption, a project that took her across Canada, to several American states and South Korea. “This experience really confirmed to me that this is what I wanted to do as a photojournalist,” she said.
In 2003 Patti left the Globe and Mail to get involved in longer, more personal projects that would normally be associated with NGOs or the Canadian International Development Agency. “When I left the newspaper business I really had no plan of action,” Patti admitted. “Life was also more complex for me because I have a husband and two children. The longest time away from them was three weeks and although I was always immersed in the story, I missed them. And I had to make an income.”
Much of that income came from shooting portraits, weddings, commercial work and some freelance work for magazines. This didn’t leave her very much time to work on and finance self-directed projects.
In 2006 Patti went back to school, to teacher’s college at the University of Toronto. Initially her plan was to teach photography to high school students, but when she graduated she got the opportunity to take a part-time contract job at Loyalist College. This meant spending the week in Belleville and returning to Toronto at weekends.
Patti soon discovered a love for teaching photography that rivalled her love of taking photographs. “I have discovered that I am just as excited and interested in seeing the progress of students’ projects without the need to shoot them myself,” she said. “I get to teach subjects that I am passionate about - multiple pictures in first year and documentary photography in second year.”
Although Patti still has ideas for personal projects, “in my head and in my heart”, which she knows she will get to do in the future, at the moment her time is monopolized by teaching and spending time with her family.
Patti continues to be a regular contributor to PhotoSensitive projects, a relationship that goes back all the way to 1990, at a time when she was working with PhotoSensitive founder Andrew Stawicki; both were at the Toronto Star when PhotoSensitive was formed.
“Andrew asked me if I was interested and there was no question,” she said. “It was an opportunity to work on long-term projects that dealt with complex social issues of our times. Again, it was really what I wanted to do as a photojournalist. But it was also the power of working with so many photographic voices that makes each project. Each one of us brings a viewpoint and a way of telling a story. I think this is why PhotoSensitive has had so much success with audiences.”
“Each PhotoSensitive project has given me an opportunity to explore a moment in someone else’s life,” Patti continued, “and although travel was what brought me to the career of photography, I have learned that many stories worth telling are just next door.”
For now, working on PhotoSensitive projects and teaching at Loyalist College are providing Patti with everything she needs. “I am really happy teaching and cannot see that changing any time soon. As for 10 years from now, well, I hope that I am healthy and happy. And whatever that may entail.”