What is the first thought that comes to mind when you see this photo?
Is that a wooden couch? Is it comfortable? Are those wigs on the wall?
These are all fair questions that I’ve been asked time and time again, so let me help you out. Yes, the couch is wooden and the arms are concrete. The couch weighs over 800 lbs and it took 3 men and a car jack to get in place. While sitting on this wooden beauty, Jon explained that it took 2.5 years to complete this piece. He’s the proud designer behind the couch but it was expertly crafted by local furniture genius Daniel Gruetter & concrete artisan Dave Solursh.
It’s pretty easy to conclude that this couch is not a snuggle up and watch movies type of couch, but it isn’t as uncomfortable as one would think. Jon said it best in the recently featured Toronto Life article on the photo series: “I don’t think anyone expects our couch to be comfortable, but it’s not the worst thing to recline on for 30 minutes.”
While the couch’s “uncompromising nature” may be one of the first things that jump out at you when you see this image, the wigs is what peaked my curiosity the most.
The display of 14 wigs on the wall above the couch is one of the most unique and interesting design elements I’ve ever seen above a couch. This wig installation is a representation of the residential school system in Canada that Jon’s father survived through. Jon wrote, “It superficially draws on associations of scalping with Indigenous peoples while actually highlighting how the first point of contact of indigenous children with the schools was having their heads shaved as a means of stripping them of cultural identity.”
This meaningful and strategically crafted space is an absolute gem. My photographer’s eye was immediately in love with the minimalist approach.
I was beyond impressed with the intention and execution of the pieces Jon put together considering most of my images in this series is busy and full of stuff. I’m confident in saying I’ve never photographed a couch or space with so much meaning behind it.
Jon explains the meaning behind his space the best. “I designed my space with the concept of exploring how the biomedical & modernity is often rooted in the oppression of people of colour. Because I’m a physician & a light-skinned indigenous person, I profit from these systems. So I did this as a reminder to myself to continue working towards mitigating and dismantling the problematic aspects of medical practice.”
Before I sign off, I must mention just how incredibly kind, engaged and welcoming Jon & Dillon were during this shoot. It was such a pleasure getting to know them, hearing their stories and witness their love first hand. They were even kind enough to let me do a quick portrait shoot right after.
To this day, this one of my absolute favorite couch photos. The space, the couch and the people came together so effortlessly to create one of my strongest couch images ever.
So far, the start of 2019 has been a great time for The Couch Series and me. Over the last few months, The Couch Series has received a lot of press around the city that has helped spread the word about this ongoing photo project that I’ve been working on for several years. But, the most amazing thing to come from all of the media attention has been receiving emails from people like David Lussier. David reached out to me after he heard about The Couch Series in Toronto Life’s online story about the project. He said he loved the series and casually asked: “yah want another one?” After seeing a few photos of his space, and his adorable cat Princess, I knew this had the makings of an engaging and unique couch portrait. So, of course, I did not hesitate in setting up a shoot date.
Within minutes of showing up for the couch shoot in Toronto’s east end, a rush of excitement hit me when I walked in and was stunned by the busy, colourful, visual spectacle that is David Lussier’s living room. There is just so much to take in in this space. The countless framed photos on the wall, his adorable 20-year-old cat, and the odd coloured fuzzy banana on his shirt are just a few elements that catch the eye. However, for me, the detail that grabbed me the most was how perfectly his pink jeans matched the pink suede couch. I mean, how often do you see a pink couch in someone’s space, let alone a pair of jeans to match?!?
David bought his couch from Structube back in November 2018. A fitting piece to go with the incredible display of photos and art on the walls. According to David, this beautiful pink couch gets a lot of use, mostly for the obvious sitting and napping. He’s an avid PS4 “gaymer” and loves watching movies and listening to music as he chills out on the L-shaped couch.
There’s no denying that David has a unique style, and after scanning his photo wall, it doesn’t take long to learn a little more about his interests. The one obvious thing that stands out is his fascination for streetcars and transit. David’s love for streetcars runs so deep that he’s dedicated an Instagram account to his photos of TTC throughout the city. On top of that, there are subtle hints of trains, transit maps, tunnels and bridges scattered around his walls. All of these understated details are a glimpse into David’s larger passion in life.
David Lussier is a 37-year-old aspiring Urban Planner. Having worked very hard to receive his degree in the field, he moved from Quebec to Toronto several years ago to actively pursue a career in Urban Planning. Luckily, through the ups and downs that inevitably come from moving to a big city hunting for that dream job, he has always had one constant in his life, his cat Princess. This furry, sweet-faced 20-year-old cat has been by his side every step of the way. His ex-roommate originally got Princess 1 year before they moved in together in the early 2000s. But, after years of living together under one roof, Princess and David were inseparable. So when David decided it was time to make the move to Toronto, Princess came with him.
My time photographing David and Princess was such a lovely experience. David patiently assisted me with moving his entertainment unit and flipping his dining table upside-down so that I could get the framing and lights where I wanted them for the shot. Photographing people on their couches in downtown Toronto can pose many challenges, but there’s nothing more challenging than the tight spaces I often have to deal with, and David’s space was no exception. Luckily, David was very willing to do whatever it took to help make my vision come to life.
I have shot over 80 couches since I started this project back in 2012. David’s couch was my first couch of 2019, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. There are so many elements to this image that keep me coming back to it time and time again. Princess and David really brought their A-game, and I’m honoured to have captured this moment in their lives.
Perched on the black shelving unit alongside their Oriamese cat, Artemis, sits a turquoise blue frame featuring a vintage-inspired embroidered sign that reads, “Homo Sweet Homo”. It’s a small detail but it’s one of my favourites as it perfectly captures the unique make up of this truly modern family.
Hailing from the east end of Toronto, these couch dwellers have one of the most beautiful family dynamics I’ve ever witnessed. Their sense of community and unconditional love is so genuine that it will make you feel a part of the family as soon as you enter their home.
Kris was the one who initially reached out to me and got the ball rolling for this couch shoot. She sold me right away when she described each member of her family and sent me a photo of their space. Kris is the woman in all black sitting on the floor. She’s a 32 year old artist, music director and student. But most importantly, she’s the proud mother of her two boys, Mylo & Dexter. Kris was so incredibly welcoming and excited to make this photo happen. I’m so thankful for all her hard work coordinating each family member’s busy schedule so that we could make this shoot happen.
Mylo is the 8 year old boy sitting just above Kris. When I asked him some of his favorite things to do, playing soccer, Nintendo and chess were all high on his list. When I arrived, he was playing chess with his “Papa”, Alex. He was so polite, inquisitive and took direction so well.
Dexter is Mylo’s younger brother. He’s 7 year old and, like his brother, he loves soccer. However, one of his most unique qualities, especially at his age, is his taste in clothing. I thought his parents dressed him up in anticipation for the shoot, but no — that was all him.
FUN FACT: Dexter & Mylo were born 364 days apart. So one day a year, they’re the same age and They’ve dubbed it “Twinsies” day.
Pip is the tattooed priest on the far right side of the couch. He is the proud biological father of Dexter & Mylo. At the age of 31, Pip is breaking the preconceived notions of what it means to be a priest. This Anglican priest proudly shows his tattoos and is happily married to his husband, Alex. Pip has such a cool vibe about him and is like no other priest I’ve ever met. His incredible stories and engaging personality make you want to attend one of his services, regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs.
Alex is sitting on the floor right below Pip. His floral designed shirt closely connects to Pip’s tattoo. Alex is a director and producer and has a really interesting documentary coming out soon about their family. He is the proud father of Dexter & Mylo. His role as a dad was clear from the first moment I entered the house. After winning in a game of chess with Mylo, he praised Mylo for all of the great things he did and encouraged him to keep playing. His sound fatherly advice made it evident that he was more than just Pip’s husband, but an integral part to their family.
Mason showed up late to the shoot, so I never got the chance to get some further insight about him. He is a 32 year old consultant and educator. He’s the proud owner of Rustle and is the latest addition to their crew, having moved in a year ago.
Vanity a la Mode A.K.A Kyle is a proud Drag Queen. While there are many layers to this image, Vanity a la Mode is definitely the focal point and brings so much life and colour to the story. Kyle is a hardworking 33 year old who is doing some great work as a development officer over at Rainbow Railroad. Rainbow Railroad is a Canadian charitable organization that helps LGBTQ individuals around the world escape violence and persecution.
When I heard about this shoot and learned that they had a drag queen in the mix, I was praying that Kyle would dress in drag for the shoot. I didn’t want to force it as I want my subjects to represent themselves however they see fit. But I must admit, I was so excited and blown away when she entered the room with her bright red hair in a black kimono. Just so happens she was given the kimono from a friend ages ago and could never find the right time to wear it until this shoot.
Pip was the one that initially found the family couch at “The Millionaire’s Daughter” in Aurora about two years ago. Upon seeing the couch, he immediately phoned Kris with excitement saying, “It’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever see. It’s like a pompous, Victorian, grandma couch!”
Since then, the whole family has been putting in some quality time developing grooves and making memories on this lavish couch.
Everyone is in agreement that it’s mainly used for family hangout time with Kris adding that they “have deep and meaningful conversations about life, love and how to be the best family we can be.” Mylo also made sure to chime in that it’s used for “playing Nintendo” too!
There is so much to love about this couch. The carved mouldings flow effortlessly from one end to the other. The white cushioned material has held up incredibly well, even with two young boys, five adults and two pets. It’s super comfortable and really compliments the other pieces of furniture that aren’t shown in this image. This couch was clearly created with love and precision — It’s an absolute beauty.
One of the most obvious and unique qualities about their space was the mix of old and new. Alex gave me the perfect rationale behind their choice of decor explaining that when his Grandfather died, the family inherited an assortment of classical furniture. Being a bunch of young people, they realized that the furniture didn’t reflect their age range. They decided to add some pop art above the couch. “Problem solved,” he said.
When you look beyond the couch, you can get lost in the many small details that fill in their space. The baskets of yarn & knitting needles was something that stood out to me. I wouldn’t really have pegged any of them as a knitter. Then you have the 3 superhero prints that at first may seem out of place, but once you get settled in, you see how the colorful yet classic prints really help round out the space.
It goes without saying that this group of couch lovers are unique. But, what fascinated me more than anything else was the story behind how this family came together.
Nine years ago, Kris and Pip were married and had a dream of starting a family. They had their first son Mylo and then, 364 days later, they had their second son, Dexter.
Shortly after Dexter was born, Kris and Pip made what they described as “one of the hardest, yet best decisions of their lives” to divorce.
“We chose authenticity and began the re-imagining of our family,” Kris explained.
A couple years later, Pip met Alex and the two fell in love. Two years after Alex entered the picture, the whole family found the “perfect little house to rent and became that modern family on the block.”
Shortly after they added a gorgeous Oriamese Cat, Artemis to their growing family. During that same year, Alex and Pip had “the most beautiful gay wedding ever seen”, explained Kris.
Once their perfect family came together, they opened up their doors to some friends. First came Kyle also known as Vanity A La Mode. And then one year later, Mason and Rustle moved in.
“Today, we all live for the hard, yet beautiful work of family: Of choosing family, choosing love and choosing commitment,” Kris said proudly.
Over the course of this project, I have been welcomed into so many incredible spaces and have met so many lovely people. However, this couch shoot will forever be one of my absolute favourites as I’ve never witnessed such a unconventional, yet cohesive and loving family.