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Steve Carty – Visionary Photographer

He defied all limits and blazed his own trail in the photography industry.

He defied all limits and blazed his own trail in the photography industry

NameSteven Wallace CartyBirthJuly 17, 1970BirthplaceToronto, OntarioEthnic OriginsMoor tribe from the Ivory Coast via Antigua, Dominican Republic, New Brunswick, TorontoOccupationsPhotographer, Teacher, Mentor, Content CreatorWebsitestevecarty.comShare

Toronto-based photographer Steve Carty is known for his understated but bold images and has been working in photography for over 30 years. His signature style has allowed him to work with some of the biggest brands in the world, like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks Canada, to name a few. He’s photographed many celebrities, from Kanye West to Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke. He was also Canon Canada’s first brand ambassador.

Being Black, he’s always faced racism and having Crohn’s disease was another challenge. Carty is also legally blind. Despite all that, his accomplishments are ongoing, he perseveres, he’s dedicated to his craft and continues to captivate and inspire.

Kanye West by Steve Carty (Photo courtesy of Steve Carty)
Pharrell Williams by Steve Carty (Photo courtesy of Steve Carty)

Early Life and Career

The 52-year-old photographer was born in Scarborough, the youngest of three children and raised with older brother Leslie and sister Kathy, in Toronto’s East York neighbourhood. His passion for photography blossomed when he was 14, attending East York Collegiate Institute. “I needed a way to express myself creatively and finding photography was that outlet for me,” Carty says.

Growing up in predominantly white schools, Carty faced racism from his earliest memories. “I experienced racism throughtout my school life back as far as grade one, which is why I’m an observer. It’s how I became who I am, how I developed this visual OCD,” he explains. At 17, Carty saw his first Vogue magazine and knew that he wanted to photograph high fashion models and celebrities.

Throughout his childhood and in high school, Carty pursued an interest in hockey but a Crohn’s disease diagnosis when he was 18 changed that. “Crohn’s changed my life and instead of becoming a serious hockey player, I chose photography,” he admits.

After graduating, Carty took a year off, shifting between working at a local camera store and shooting models. Soon after, he was accepted into one of the top photography programs in North America, at TMU, previously Ryerson University. He later dropped out, preferring hands-on work in the field instead.

Explaining his dilemma, he recalls that Professor Bill Scanlon said, ‘Carty, don’t let school interfere with your photography education. It didn’t start here, and if it ends when you leave, you’re missing the whole point of photography.”  That motivated Carty to go for it.

 

 

This special section creates a spread of 2 photos that will jut out into the side margin.

 

 

Thom Yorke of Radiohead (Photo courtesy of Steve Carty)
Thom Yorke by Steve Carty (Photo courtesy of Steve Carty)

I’ve experienced racism throughtout my school life back as far as grade one, which is why I’m an observer. It’s how I became who I am, how I developed this visual OCD

Breaking Barriers

As a young, aspiring Black photographer in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Carty struggled to get his foot in the door and was often passed over when opportunities came along.

He still remembers the mocking he experienced at one meeting he attended for a fashion photography gig when he was 18. “The woman opened my portfolio, laughed, said, ‘oh my God’, laughed again, went into the back room, showed the other agents who laughed, came back and gave me my book.” She then thanked Carty for the “good laugh” and walked away.

Despite the obstacles, Carty remained unhindered, continuing to work hard and pitch himself. His talent and dedication paid off. He began shooting portraits of rising stars and established celebrities from Colin Firth to Kanye West and quickly gained a reputation for his unique and simple style of portrait photography.

It wasn’t until he met an agent named Celia Sears that all of this was made possible. She gave him the keys to his career, helping him break into the industry at 18, giving him his first photography job. Carty approached her, saying he wanted to be a fashion photographer and needed a break to prove himself.

Sears, who is Black, said to Carty, ‘There aren’t enough Black photographers and although you have a lot to learn about portfolios, I’m gonna help you,” Carty explains. Sears, who was the Penny Noble Models Management Director at the time, showed him what top photographers’ portfolios look like and then gave him models to shoot.

We reached out to Sears to ask her what she saw in young Steve Carty, who she described as determined, talented, and forward-thinking.

“It was serendipitous,” says Sears. “I saw that he obviously had talent, but also had the desire to really move forward. I thought ‘what the heck, I’ll give him a test and see how it works out.’  He tested one of our models and it was fantastic,” she remembers. “He’d always thank me for giving him his first break. I thought it was important for me, a woman of colour, to open the door for him,” she adds. Today Sears is the President of the Italy-based company Show Division and she and Carty still keep in touch.

(Photo courtesy of Steve Carty)

He’d always thank me for giving him his first break. I thought it was important for me, a woman of colour, to open the door for him.

Even at the top of his profession, Carty continues to deal with racism and discrimination. “It happens to this day,” he says. “People will hire a white face rather than hire me.” 

Carty elaborates on the long-standing phoniness and two-faced nature of the fashion industry and how he still doesn’t feel truly appreciated. “I don’t want to be the token Black. I want to be there because of my work,” he asserts. He never let racism stop him from pursuing his dreams, believing the obstacles along the way made him stronger, which photographers have to be. “It forces us to be unbreakable,” Carty adds. “There’s nothing anyone can do to stop me.”

He remains hopeful for a future with less racism and discrimination, believing change is in the making. “It is systemic,” he says, “but this, and the previous generation of kids, are changing the perspective.”

Influence and Legacy

Carty teaches and mentors young, aspiring photographers from all over the world. “Around 2006, I started a workshop, mentoring emerging photographers. Through COVID-19, I started live streaming,” he states, highlighting his two YouTube shows, ‘Behind the Picture’ and ‘Ask a Pro’ and shares he’s been teaching photography in Toronto schools since he was 25.

“My professors invited me to lecture at a school I dropped out of,” he reflects. “I’ve also lectured and taught photography at TMU (Ryerson), Humber, Sheridan and OCAD”

Looking ahead, Carty plans to expand his YouTube content creation as well as continuing teaching and mentoring, with the goal of helping more prospective photographers achieve their dreams.

With his talent, passion, and dedication, it’s clear Carty will continue to be a leading figure in the world of photography for years to come. Sears says it best. “Steve Carty has a specific kind of energy that’s infectious. It’s been wonderful to watch him evolve,” she concludes. “He’s kept a step ahead of the industry, while staying true to his craft.”

Carty didn’t let discrimination stop him from achieving his dreams and doesn’t think anyone should. “Be spectacular,” he advises. “Spectacular knows no race, no colour, no language, no age. Everyone can recognize it.”

“It is systemic,” he says, “but this, and the previous generation of kids, are changing the perspective.”

(Photo courtesy of Steve Carty)

About the authors:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

About the author:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

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