Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Capturing Toronto’s artists

Brian Bantugan’s portrait series conveys the vibrance of Toronto's arts scene

Actor and playwright Spencer Charles Smith poses for Brian Bantugan's photo project, Pride. Passions. Portraits: Male Toronto Artists. Credit: Brian Bantugan

This winter Brian Bantugan will corral scads of creative figures — from writers to pole dancers — and display them in one room. That is, he will feature many contemporary male artists in an exhibit of his portraits, called Pride. Passions. Portraits: Male Toronto Artists.

Bantugan is an educator, advocate and artist originally from the Philippines. When he moved to Toronto three years ago, his love affair with the arts scene began. Freelance arts writing for Fab magazine gave him an opportunity to highlight many local figures but did nothing to sate his lust, resulting in his decision to promote many of the same people (and others) using a different medium. “I wanted to do it again, but in photographs rather than writing, because photographs can say a number of things that words cannot — it’s more poetic,” he says.

When choosing his subjects, Bantugan used a broad definition of "artist," focusing on anyone who employs creativity in their endeavours, whatever those might be. This allows him to more thoroughly represent the range of exciting work being done in Toronto right now. Some of the people featured in his exhibit include Ryan Anning (actor), Gary Horne (pole dancer), Eva Destruction (drag queen), Christian Jeffries (cabaret diva) and Spencer Charles Smith (actor and playwright).

Bantugan's earlier photographic work consisted mainly of candid shots of strangers in public places, like the subway or the street. This allowed him to portray “a slice of life; they’re not watching, they’re not aware.” In recent months, he’s shifted his focus to portraits, wanting “an opportunity to interact with [subjects] as a photographer” in order to “capture their personality in response to someone taking their photograph.”

This approach not only gave Bantugan greater opportunity to be creative with his work — he chose the angles, he elicited emotion in his subjects, he picked the best photographs from the sets, and so on — but it also helped him to better suggest the personality of his subjects and gesture toward their creative specialty. For instance, Smith chose to be photographed on the roof of Glad Day Bookshop, which gave Bantugan “the chance to capture images that reflected my choices with regard to the 360-degree view but also had [Smith] reacting to a place that is probably very sacred to him.” Bantugan takes it further: “his being an up-and-coming artist was more captured by the skyline and the horizons in the background.”

The result is a series of photographs in which Bantugan himself, his subjects and Toronto locales merge to give a sense of the array of exciting creative endeavours being undertaken in the city right now.