RODRIGO MORENO at G+ Galleries (50 Gladstone), to June 22. 416-535-6957. Rating: NNNN
It turns out you can go home again. When Rodrigo Moreno’s parents fled Pinochet’s Chile for Toronto, they landed in Lawrence Heights, a notorious Toronto project commonly known as The Jungle.
After a brief stint with the wrong crowd, Moreno was drawn to photography and entered the image arts program at Ryerson.
His first subjects for that first class were the kids from the area. Because he approached the camera with playful energy and wit, these pix of children between six and nine have an amazing freshness and vitality that belie the usual gritty urban image associated with their area.
Moreno’s rep grew. Work in Cuba won him the Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communications CAPIC/Lux Canada Award.
Then he came across his first forgotten shots and wondered what had happened to those children. To his surprise, many of them were still living in the neighbourhood. He showed them the photographs of their younger selves and asked them to pose for new ones.
The new photos once again contradict the usual gritty urban clichés about Lawrence Heights. Many subjects are success stories, their adult selves fiercely self-assured, and they’re at work bettering themselves and their community.
One chubby kid nicknamed Fatter is an imposingly strapping basketball warrior, now nicknamed Bruiser, with straight As from a Texas university.
One young girl has struggled to finish school and is now a mother and personal support worker. Other youths, dabbling with the drug economy and the gang life-style, have dropped out of school, but contact with Moreno has energized them to make a renewed effort to get themselves back on track.
Moreno shows that Lawrence Heights can be a supportive, vital and tight-knit community. It’s a positive story these youths tell with their wry, street-wise faces.