Jimmy Jeong: It’s April 23, 2018 and reports started hitting social media and the news that a van was rampaging through the North York Business Centre and hitting people. Take me through that morning. What were you doing before you heard the news of what was happening?
Cole Burston: I was having coffee getting through invoices and awaiting the call of my girlfriend to pick her up from the train station. A friend had sent me the news alert and suggested it could be something big. So I ran home got my gear and ran to my car.
JJ: So you went to the scene before anyone called you?
CB: It wasn’t till I was 15 minutes away from Yonge and Finch that a photo editor from the New York Getty office called me and asked if I could cover some breaking news. I figured my phone would be ringing off the hook if it is in fact something big. I’d rather be on scene when I get a call then be sitting at home waiting for the call.
JJ: Describe what you saw when you first arrived.
CB: When I first arrived it was eerily calm. There were cops standing around over top of bodies covered in tarps. People in the area were all watching as everything unfolded. But an eerie calm in the air. So when I first got there, I asked them to tell me where the van was located. I wanted to keep up and follow the story as it was happening.
JJ: What was your first frame?
CB: The first frame I shot was cops standing over a body and people in the foreground watching.
CB: I then got the message that the van had been stopped near Sheppard Avenue. 2KM away at the next major intersection. I knew i wanted to follow the news, and not just make pictures of where I was. I started my 2km run to the van.
JJ: With full gear?
CB: Full gear - backpack, laptop, two kits, and a 300mm f2.8. I stopped along the way to take a couple more pictures of bodies ( I didn’t realize the whole 2km stretch was littered with at least 9 bodies.)
CB: I stopped into a Dairy Queen where a TV was playing the news. I filed a quick shot for the desk and then continued running. I finally got to the van. Shot what was there, filed it. Then started the run back to the main intersection. At this point I was dead tired but continued shooting. Eventually I needed a power outlet to charge my laptop so I stopped into an Iranian bookstore that was right off the main spot. We chatted. He was very kind, offered me water as I was sweating and out of breath from the run. In the days following, I’d stop in and see him. Just to make sure he was doing OK since there was a body pretty well across from his shop that day.
JJ: How did you end up working for multiple agencies?
CB: Getty wanted me on for the first two days and then their coverage was ending. The Globe called on the third day in the morning. And then CP called the fourth day.
JJ: Did you ever get a chance to pick up your girlfriend from the train station?
CB: No. She’s no longer my girlfriend. Just kidding.
Cole Buston is a photojournalist based in Toronto, Canada. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times, The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s Magazine. He is also a member of Rogue Collective. www.ColeBurston.com
Rogue photographer Amber Bracken was awarded a prestigious ICP Infinity Award in 2018 for Documentary and Photojournalism. We are so happy and honoured for her to be included in such a strong field of story-tellers. Since 1985 the awards have honoured major contributions to photography and include Lynsey Addario, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chuck Close, David Guttenfelder, Mary Ellen Mark and James Nachtwey, Eugene Richards, and Sebastião Salgado.
From the ICP site:
Amber Bracken is a member of Rogue Collective and lifelong Albertan covering assignments across the province and farther from home. After getting her start as a staffer in daily newspapers, she has moved on to a freelance career and the pursuit of long-term projects. She has since worked with many clients, including National Geographic, The Globe and Mail, BuzzFeed, Reuters, Maclean’s, The Canadian Press, Postmedia, and Canadian Geographic. In her personal work, Bracken’s interest is in the intersection of photography, journalism, and public service, with a special focus on issues affecting Indigenous people. With the rise of movements like Idle No More, communities are increasingly empowered to fight for a more just relationship with the government and non-native people. She is looking for ways to represent and foster that strength. With that intention, Bracken has been building relationships in Indigenous communities and starting to document important issues around culture, environment, and the effects of intergenerational trauma from colonialism.
2017 was a defining year for Rogue Collective. Like other photographers and photo collectives, we struggled with the changing media landscape and our role within it. But the biggest realization came when we stepped out of this crazy downward spiral. The pursuit was now focused on other avenues including going deeper into personal projects and allying with agencies that still believe in the power of photography.
Amber Bracken was recognized this year with a World Press Photo Award (and a POYi and several more awards) after repeatedly returning to Standing Rock to follow the story of the Standing Rock Sioux people who were defending their land and water. This led to further work including being tapped by National Geographic to travel to South Dakota. Jennifer Roberts worked with the Globe and Mail to travel across Canada to follow-up on their Unfounded series which discovered that one in five sexual assault cases are dismissed by police. Roberts also had a dream gig photographing Helena Bonham-Carter for Getty. And Christopher Pike worked on a dream assignment with Redbull hanging from the side of cliffs above world-class climber Chris Sharma. A perfect fit for his own passions for high adventures in climbing, scuba diving and deep cave explorations.
Jimmy Jeong headed to his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on a story about the Tran family who had fled after the fall of Saigon and were welcomed by Canadian sponsors. The youngest of the family became a doctor and now sponsors two Syrian refugee families. Cole Burston followed several stories for the the New York Times with their expanding Canada bureau. We predict there will be more expanding international media coverage here as our own publications are sadly cut. Tim Smith continued his focus on small fringe communities including travelling to the dying town of Uranium City, Saskatchewan for Maclean’s Magazine. The once boom-town of 5000 has dwindled to a population of 50 - a seemingly common trend for small rural centres in Canada. Leah Hennel also continued her own personal projects following the stories of communities in rural southern Alberta including Hutterite families and working cowboys. Her photo of a cowboy in the foothills near Pincher Creek won her a National Newspaper Award this year.
So as 2018 approaches we just want to thank our families and friends. A big bow and thanks to our allies and clients that tell such great stories. And a special thanks to this wonderful Canadian photojournalism community.