Ottawa photographers turns lens on hometown businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Ottawa has been referred to as a big-small town, and when it matters most the community proves that by coming together to help others.

Local photographers are turning their lens onto local businesses to develop support.

At Tai Tea on Merivale Road, fashion photographer Leonard “Yoni” Sambo is framing up owner April Ou. 

Yoni is shedding light on his hometown; he wants to help businesses affected by COVID-19. Yoni too has been affected, many of his international shoots have been cancelled. He has now pivoted and is offering portraits of owners free of charge and posting them to social media

“It’s the best way I can give people their flowers,” says Yoni. “I want people to see their story without really saying much. It really goes a long way seeing the face of an individual but also coming to the space they’ve created for other people to enjoy.”

Ou’s bubble tea shop opened in October 2019, only months before the pandemic spread across Canada. Since then, it has been a struggle to maintain her business, the hours reduced and the small shop offering take-out only. She says government support has been good, but acts of kindness, like this photo shoot are appreciated. 

“We really need someone like Yoni to help local business”

The depth of this pandemic has visualized the importance to shop local, many are struggling to survive and are on razor-thin margins, so community support is critical. 

At Le Moulin de Provence, professional photographer and owner of Ottawaphoto Roland Bast has his focus on food and his subject, helping dozens of shops mainly in the Hull district of Gatineau and Ottawa’s ByWard Market. 

“Le Moulin de Provence is 52 years old and I think it’s important to keep around,” says Bast, who wants local businesses to survive. “They lose their business, they also lose their nest egg for retirement.”

Bast’s photos are also added to a popular Ottawa photography account, and it’s not lost on Moulin de Provence’s Justin Gauthier. He says the bakery has been struggling to adjust to the new COVID-19 restrictions. It’s an experience to see the baked goods and while they offer take out, spreading the message is tough. 

“I just think it’s really great that we have people who are really stepping up to help businesses like ours right now,” says Gauthier. “And they have the power to reach a lot more people than we could ever reach with our social media accounts and marketing.”

Town members helping one another and building a composition of a picture perfect community. 

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