When the second Ontario lockdown struck, Jody Shapiro, a partner at Toronto restaurant Antler, felt a strong urge to tackle it a little differently than the first, of which the memory was still fresh and raw. “If I stayed at my computer all day long again, I thought I’d go crazy,” Shapiro recalls. So, the former documentary filmmaker reached for his camera. “I wanted to try to document what was happening, as a photojournalist, to make a record of what chefs were doing — safely — to survive.” The project started on-site, in the kitchen at Antler, and, as originally conceived, was shared exclusively on Instagram. The response to his stark images of lonely, contemplative, masked kitchen workers was so overwhelming that it occurred to Shapiro that he could maybe go bigger, make prints of the haunting photographs and sell them to raise money for food-service-focused charities. Others readily agreed, among them noted photographic gallery owner Stephen Bulger and the reputed printmaker Bob Carnie. Both offered to help, gratis. “It got me through the winter,” Shapiro says of the burgeoning project, which saw him shoot in 14 other restaurants. Thanks to Bulger and Carnie, you will now find the results on the photographic art marketplace ffoto.com (just scroll past Robert Frank, Karsh and Chuck Close’s various Kates) — US$100 for an ordinary inkjet or US$600 for an exquisite silver gelatin print. All proceeds ($6,000 so far) are divided between the charities Save Hospitality and The Burnt Chef Project. What’s more, the initiative has spawned a Vancouver copycat project, Behind the Plexi, at breakingbreadnow.com.
Photos: Jody Shapiro