By Sean Delaney
Randy VanDerStarren had just finished testifying before a senate committee on banking, commerce, and trade regarding a national retirement solution. While standing in the sun on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, he had an ‘aha’ moment.
“I worked for advertising agencies for a good chunk of my career and managed to become a client in the financial services area,” he said. “I was standing on Parliament Hill, and it just hit me. Here I was testifying on a national retirement solution and that kind of product, and at the same time, my degree was in film. I thought, there’s a huge disconnect here, what happened?”
VanDerStarren made the decision to get back to his roots in photography and film. He famously launched and executed the Take Your Seat project, which saw him create iconic images at various locations around the globe with a simple director’s chair as his subject for each photo.
The chair was representative of what he was trying to inspire with the photos.
“The director chair was chosen for a reason,” he said. “I wanted people to think of life the same way. Are you living the life you intended? Are you directing your life the way you want it to go?”
The chair is symbolic of an overall control of something. The movie director is the master of all aspects of a production. And you are the master of all aspects of your life. With the chair, VanDerStarren said, he could create a series of photographs that see people question why the chair is in these unique locations, but also inspires them to make those directed choices within their own life.
“I am the guy who should have taken this chair a long time ago,” he said. “So, when people see our director chair on the top of the mountain, it’s real. The labour involved to make one shot work is one aspect. But the chair doesn’t belong in any of these locations, so it begs the question, why is that chair there? When they ask that, then they become part of the story.”
The chair has travelled to 13 countries, had major shows in Turkey, Hong Kong and Ottawa, with Indigo planning to publish the first book this year. Now, the curator of the Take Your Seat project is going to be in Emery Village, photographing the iconic Red Oak of Coral Gable Drive. He is working with the City of Toronto on the ‘Together Project.’
This new project puts Toronto on display, with VanDerStarren and his crew attempting to access Toronto locations that are shut to the public now and show off how they are surviving the coronavirus pandemic.
A powerful symbol of survival, he said, the Red Oak at Coral Gable Drive became a picture he needed for this project.
“The Red Oak is also a symbol, and so much more than just a tree,” he said.“If you think of the history, this tree has been around longer than Canada itself has been around. That tree has been witness to all of it, and with the COVID-19 project we’re doing with the City of Toronto, which is very much about sharing what we’re all going through, but also how people triumph over it, I think this tree is a living, breathing connection. It is evidence we will survive this.”
VanderStarren said there are more specifically timed photos to get, such as the cherry blossoms the city makes famous, or a Rogers Centre crowd. Still, he hopes to see his latest project on the bookshelves in November, before Christmas and just in time for holiday purchasing.
All proceeds from the book will go to a GTA charity.