Truly Being Seen – Barbara Stoneham Captures GPS

Barbara Stoneham, a Toronto-based portrait photographer, is driven by a genuine and compassionate love for people. It’s this passion that piqued her interest in 2018 to collaborate with the Village Community Foundation (VCF) to photograph the Global Pathways School (GPS). Intending to visit only once, she returned the two following years to see the work develop into an extensive, beautiful body of work that captures our students, staff, parents and community both at school and at home.

Despite being so far away from home, she saw parts of her own life in the people she met, remarking that “the settlements reminded me of my own childhood, children surrounded by loving adults, running barefoot, sweaty from the summer heat and trusting the community to help them grow.”

One photograph that Barbara feels reflects the spirit of GPS is the school community standing together within a big circle. To her, the image embodies the strength, joy, determination, and love of a community that truly works together and that characterizes GPS. She remembers the day vividly - she shot the picture at the end of a school day in the incredible heat, and nobody complained  - in fact there was fun; the experience inspired awe. These traits of the community are how the students and their families are able to build a better future, which Barbara witnessed first hand; “despite the scarcity of resources, I saw the joy and all the budding potential. Clearly, the greater GPS community feels supported and they are rising to meet the expectations of helping support their children to receive their incredible education opportunity.” 

Barbara is a natural traveller and explorer. Her photography journey began when she was given a Kodak pocket camera for her first year of summer camp. From there it grew organically, leading her to obtain her photography degree at Ryerson University, where she was able to form a clientele and develop her freelance practice. Barbara remarks that, I don’t recall there has been a time since without a camera at my side. It is the way I see the world.” 

From the beginning she has been inspired by female artists across all mediums. There is one photographer in particular, Julia Margaret Cameron, a famous 19th century portraitist, “her images are stunning, her work is authentic, and her career began later in her life which is an inspiration for any woman who has raised children.” Barbara’s deep understanding and appreciation of women, and in particular motherhood, can be felt through her photographs of the GPS community, where women have prominent roles in school and family leadership.

Reflecting on her time at GPS, Barbara says,“these are beautiful people, who like any of us, are best served, loved and adored.” This beauty and sentiment is readily apparent in her photographs of our community, which are invaluable assets to our school. When we asked Barbara what piece of advice she would share to a budding photographer, she said, “begin by pointing your camera at what you love.” 

Barbara looks forward to being reunited with her friends at GPS and says nandri to the people at GPS, in particular Sunbeam Viswanathan who with her generous spirit assisted in weaving and bridging, despite a language barrier, an understanding between Barbara and the community.

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