Toronto Through Henry’s Eyes
We immediately recognized the Toronto locales in these photos when we spied them on DesignTaxi earlier today. So we called up part-time photographer and Toronto nanny Alex Neary to get the full story and discovered that, as wonderful as these poses and concepts are, her two-year-old charge Henry is the one calling the shots. Literally. It’s entirely up to him how each photograph is composed and shot.
We talked to Alex earlier this afternoon (with snack-crazed Henry munching on oranges in the background) to get the goods on each one of these images. Enjoy this tour of Toronto through Henry’s eyes from their series together, Henry’s Concepts.
“I’ve been his nanny for about a year and a half now. I look after him Monday to Thursday and then I do weddings and portrait sessions on the side, during weekends. This came about because well, since I started nannying him he’s had to put up with me taking his picture every day.
I used to tell him where to stand and everything at first, and then one day about two months ago we were at the park, and he just lay over this dump truck and said, ‘Hey Alex! Take a picture of me like this.’
And then he started asking me, ‘Show me how to take a picture. I want to know — you show me!’ and so I showed him how to hold my iPhone so he could take a photo of me. And then it just evolved.
It surprises me every time he picks a pose. I don’t know how he sees things or where he is getting the ideas from. It’s not anything we do with him at home, either me or his parents.
It hasn’t been going for very long actually — it started at the end of October during that warm spell. We go on a lot of long walks through the city. We really like the alleyways in Toronto. Every day he just decides, ‘I want to do a pose here.’
That’s what we call it: ‘Doing a Pose.’
I say to him, ‘Let me know if you see somewhere to take a picture.’ Our usual routine is walking to Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Sometimes he will say, ‘Stop, stop!’ Or even ‘Back up, Back up!’ Since I’m pushing him in the stroller, I just go back to the spot until he says, ‘Here.’
This is in the greenhouse at Trinity-Bellwoods. They have an adopt-a-tree program and we adopted a tree this summer. You have to go in and water it once a week.
He placed the bucket there, he moved the cart there, and then he crawled inside of it. He will set up the whole scene and check out all the things that are there. There is another photo from the greenhouse where there was a stack of stools. He unstacked them and lay them all out, and unwound some twine.
This is just in one of the alleyways. I don’t even know if he saw those shadows, he just said, ‘Stop, Stop!’ as we went by. I usually say to him, ‘Let me know if you see somewhere you want to take a picture.’
This is in the alleyway that runs in between Queen St. W. and Richmond St. W. It think it’s known as Graffiti Alley.
As far as actually taking the photos goes, he got it pretty much right away. I gave him my iPhone and said, ‘Just hold it on the white part and keep your hands steady and press the icon with your thumb.’
We did this one the day after he went to the aquarium for the first time. There is an alleyway in Kensington Market with a bunch of different painted garage doors and graffiti art, etc. Henry said, ‘You have to open your jacket — and ROAR.’
There is a ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ painted garage door in the same alleyway
This one is by Nathan Phillips Square. You know that spot where you walk up the big ramp that goes up City Hall?
This photo included an instruction: I was supposed to grab a handful of rocks, hold them up and drop them onto my head. I was all ready in the pose, waiting for him. He wouldn’t take the picture until I dropped them onto my head.
Usually what happens when it’s time for him to take my picture is that a lot of pedestrians suddenly appear. And no one ever catches me taking his picture! So of course they all ask, ‘Do you need help? Do you want us to take a picture of you?’
Then I have to explain that we’re doing this on purpose.
This is inside High Park. We were just walking around, no stroller. I think this started as just a weird handstand pose but when he took my picture he had a hard time keeping the camera still. When I saw it later, I was impressed: He created that blur effect!
This is another alleyway off College St., it’s probably close to Bathurst St. This is one where I suggested that he use a different location: I thought the wall opposite was cooler. If I ever try to come up with an idea he always shoots it down. So I just say, ‘Pick your pose and tell me when you’re ready,’ and he does.
This one was very difficult for me. He’s so small; he could easily hook his toes. I found it so hard to balance my body upside down against a door like that.
This is at the ROM: that room is kind of a hidden just off the main dinosaur room. I take him everywhere. He loves it.
I take him to a drop-in centre that used to be at Givins/Shaw School (re-opening soon at the Artscape Youngplace next door). We went into the sports utility closet in the gym and he chose all the hockey equipment.
This is a great park on Euclid St. just south of Harbord: Healy Willan Park. We have a special name for it, well, Henry chose it: Newclid Park. You’ll notice in this picture that all the cars are lined up in front. He went around the park and collected them and then put the big car behind it and got in. I did my best to cram myself in.
This is upstairs at Bathurst Subway Station, right before you pay to go in. Every now and then we use the photo booth at Bathurst Station, and then we go for a subway ride, just for something fun to do (especially when the weather is bad). We were waiting for our picture to print out.
We walked past this one and I guess I said to myself, ‘Oh, that’s cool’ and he heard me and asked me, ‘what do those words say?’
I explained and he said, ‘Okay, I want to do a pose.’
Okay, so this is one of the most recent photos and I actually chose this location. It was fairly new, it wasn’t there when we walked past before. But he chose the pose. I said, ‘Okay, do your pose!’ and he just stood there and said, ‘This is the pose.’
It’s presenting some challenges now because, like anything with a two-year-old, he’s starting to lose interest. He doesn’t really care. I want it to remain fun for him, and so if he doesn’t feel like it we don’t do it.
I don’t know if doing this with him has taught me anything in terms of taking pictures, and I don’t know that I’d necessarily do anything like this with clients. It certainly has given me a lot of joy and happiness. It is just a lot of fun.
Alex Neary is a photographer and nanny based in Toronto. This photo series is called Henry’s Concepts. You can find her site here and follow her on Instagram here and see more adventures with Henry here.
interview by Helen Spitzer