It all started with an old Pentax K1000 that his grandfather used to lend him when he was a kid. A much smaller Pat Croteau would hold the hefty camera with both hands, taking pictures of this and that as he wandered around looking at things. From then on, the magic of photography had him — which is lucky for Ottawa’s queer community.
Croteau has donated uncounted hours to celebrating and documenting our lives and events through photography over the past five years. In fact, his community work has led to him being named the official photographer of both Capital Pride and Mr Ottawa Leather. He has also photographed just about every queer community group in Ottawa — at drastically reduced rates.
“In all honesty, I’m not a blindly generous person,” says Croteau. “But I find doing the right thing rewarding. Community groups can’t afford to pay full rates, but I can still provide them with something they need — and, in return, they can help my business stay afloat so I’ll be there next year.”
For Croteau, this ethic of mutual support goes even further than his volunteering. He also sponsors local events through his photography business, and is committed to being as environmentally responsible as possible. In fact, at 36, he has never had a driver’s license and bikes everywhere he needs to go.
“People ask me why I make such a point of being environmentally friendly,” says Croteau. “For me, it’s not so much about the environment — it’s that my actions affect other people. If I throw garbage on the street, somebody else has to deal with it. If I use a vehicle that emits pollution, I’m polluting someone else’s air.”
It could be said that community, responsibility and representation are the three main convictions that fuel Croteau’s life — including his sex life. Both his volunteering and his photography have been especially focussed on promoting visibility of Ottawa’s kink communities, such as Breathless and the Ottawa Knights.
“I’ve been into kink since I was 19,” says Croteau. “So I’ve been in and around leather, kink and fetish for a long time. These communities are something I really care about.”
Which explains his ever-deepening involvement with Mr Leather Ottawa. While Croteau has been an attendee and supporter of the event for several years now, he’s taken it a step further this year by offering to chair the 2008 competition. Croteau’s first step in this role has been to shake things up a bit.
After holding brainstorming sessions with the community to find out what people would like to see at the annual event, Croteau made a number of changes to the way the 2008 competition is being approached.
“After getting feedback from people, I thought, ‘We can salvage this, we can renew it and make it a great event again,'” says Croteau. “But we really need to reconsider how things are done and create links with other community groups.”
This year’s competition is aptly being called (R)evolution, the major change being that men with all kinds of fetishes are now welcome to compete. For the first time, contestants will not be required to wear leather. As the organizers put it: “Why only drool over leather, when you can drool over so many wonderful things?” They invite contestants to bring their fetish gear of choice for the new ‘Full Fetish’ segment.
“Leather competitions throughout North America and the world are dying off,” says Croteau. “Ours is doing better than most, but we’re still seeing dropping attendance and less money. We need to freshen things up — I think it’s really important that we keep events like Mr Leather going for visibility’s sake.”
Croteau is concerned about what will happen if those who are interested in getting involved in kink have even fewer fetish-friendly events or public spaces to go to in the Ottawa area.
“I’m unusually open about what I’m into, so a lot of people come to me asking questions,” says Croteau. “They’re coming to me because there’s a void out there. It’s reminiscent of when every gay man, lesbian woman and bisexual was in the closet, and it was all done by word of mouth. There have to be places you can go.”
But until we live in a kink wonderland where every second shop has information and products that help people to live out their fetishes and fantasies, Croteau will be taking photos to help spread the good word.