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Labour Day

My Son on Labour Day - JVLphoto
Labour Day signifies a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For many, it marks the end of summer, the last long weekend of good weather, time to close-up the cottages, the pools, the umbrella’s and sombrero’s. It’s back to school for the kids. It certainly is for my son, who is now a freshly minted Grade-Oner. It’s been a rough go for him, I mean, this is all relative to our world experience. But my wife and I have struggled with him, emotionally and physically over the years. His first days were certainly trying for everyone involved. At three and a half pounds, I’m sure he had the worst go of it.

Quinn - preemie

Still, he was strong, and he grew without any major physical complications. We were all pretty lucky there; it’s not something you talk about much, but there’s so much loss out there, so many babies that don’t quite make it. He also wasn’t alone. He had a big brother who had some experience with this kind of stuff, and it wasn’t too long until he had a little brother too.


That might be the last time they got along.

As many of you know, in December of 2010 I was laid off from my desk-job and made the decision to stay home with my sons to help raise them, as best I could, for as long as I could. My schooling, in general, is nothing to note, and I have no formal training in Photography either – at the time I was unemployable beyond a threshold that daycare would cost. About $15,000 a year here in Ottawa. Sure, I could have maybe picked up a job that netted me cash at the end of the year, but for what quality of life? My wife and I made the decision that I’d stay at home and try and earn money on the side through my photos.

I had a few clients that year, early in what I’d consider my career, who believed in my work: Ian Capstick from Mediastyle, Mark Buell from CIRA, and Roy of RND Construction, Adrian and Nas of CanvasPop (all of them, at the time of this writing, have twitter profiles that I’ve photographed). They have been incredible clients, and good friends in my own journey as I learned to be a better photographer.
It was difficult, as any stay-at-home parent knows. I became listless, anxious, and was compelled to create. My own search to learn and take better images manifested in experimentation at home, it was well received as my “Stay at Home Dad” series and “Extreme Family Photos” brought me the attention of many on the internet.

Ottawa Extreme Family Photographer - Justin Van Leeuwen

If clicks, links, and likes were dollars, I’d have had a great year. But a few Flickr Explores don’t pay the bills, and by all accounts our family was building up massive debt, even without paying for daycare, and we were not going to cut it as a single-income family. Thankfully, I had decided, in my fleeting youth, to save more than spend, and to make some deals that would ultimately save future-me from financial ruin. I had a home in Toronto, my home town, that I had kept as a rental property. There was never any income left over after the taxes, mortgage and bills, but when my tenants left it was time to sell. In the end, I had enough money to pay off my debt, and put enough aside for both kids to enter daycare for a full year. On September 2nd 2011 I put my kids into daycare and presented myself as a full-time photographer. Make or break, this is what I was doing.

Ottawa Self Portrait Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen

I’m a professional.

Tomorrow morning is September 2nd. I’ve been in business for three full years. I can’t tell you how truly fortunate I’ve been, the breadth of people I’ve been able to meet, befriend, and photograph. Actually I can tell you – just explore this blog. I’ve kept the same content since I got my first Digital SLR, and it hasn’t always been pretty. That’s 8 years of blogging, 3 years professionally. I’m thankful for my clients. Humbled by my friends and assistants; everyone who’s helped me over the years.

In the end the labour I put into picture making isn’t anywhere close to what I’ve had to do as a father, the trials my wife and I have been through, the difficulties my son faces this year. As when he was born, he has no physical issues, but the mental ones can be far more difficult to overcome.
I’m glad I’m able to be there for him, to guide him as best I know how. And on the good days I’ll have the time to document it – his life – and maybe someday he’ll be able to look back on those images and think to himself”My dad was there,” “He was with me all the way.”

Because I am.

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