Someone once said to me “Joan, you will never be a great photographer until you put photography first.” As a mother of a growing family that ended up at eight children, I replied testily that I considered it more of a challenge to be a great photographer putting it second.
Starting in the 1960s Joan Latchford was commissioned by the NFB Stills Division to capture images exploring Toronto’s diaspora under the assignment headings: “Children of Canada” and “Middle Class Life”. Latchford, who was tired of seeing Canada’s minority communities documented as “poor, angry confrontational… reinforcing stereotypes” set out to photograph people living their everyday lives at home and on the streets.
Many of Latchford’s photographs from this era focus on the lesser seen lives of those who had recently encountered great geographical transition: Hungarian refugees unable to find commensurate work because of language barriers, American draft resisters seeking physical refuge and intellectual escape but prohibited from working until they had landed immigrant status and, most notably, her intrigue with Toronto’s booming Caribbean communities, newly immigrated to Canada through the era’s enhanced multiculturalism policies.
Joan Latchford, who had always been drawn to those experiencing transience and change, and the unique energies of shared and competing existence, captured the city’s spontaneity, growth and diversity in a way that had rarely been documented in Canada.
Born in Canada but educated in Britain, Latchford initially trained as a Public-School teacher in England. In 1958 she taught “emotionally disturbed” boys in Brixton. Her deep Catholic faith led her to enter the convent there where she became a nun for 7 years. She eventually realized that a different life was calling her and moved to Toronto. She started a drop-in every Tuesday evening for immigrants new to Canada to meet, drink coffee and engage in other activities with English-speaking people. It was one fateful Tuesday evening in her tiny apartment with 75 people in attendance that she met her future husband Frank. He proposed to her three weeks later and they built a family of eight children together, 6 adopted, 2 "home grown". Motherhood didn’t deter her ambition to engage with community and the Latchford home was open to any and all who needed safe haven. Through her photographs we see not only the depth of an era but also the interests and curiosities of a photographer who was called by all that urban life had to offer. Joan passed away in 2017 but her legacy lives on through her poignant images.