2018 Year End Review - My Documentary Photography Comes Home

How do you even begin to encapsulate a year? It’s 365 days of living and being and breathing and it all goes by so fast. As a photographer, the photos I take are not only momentos of the little moments that went by but also memory place holders that let me look back and recall a time in my life: the smells, the sights and even the sounds.

A brief slideshow encapsulating my 2018 year. What a year it was! Read on below for more details :)

This year marked a major change for me personally with the birth of my daughter. It changed the way I see the world  and how I play a part in it. Being a father is at some time really tough but also other times very rewarding and I truly enjoy the reward of being a new Dad.

Seeing my wife give birth was an experience unto itself… but hearing my daughter’s first cries changed everything about who I think I am.

Seeing my wife give birth was an experience unto itself… but hearing my daughter’s first cries changed everything about who I think I am.

The Chinatown Project (Documenting Chinatown) grew externally this year. I was taking less photos and spending a little less time in Chinatown compared to before but I got a chance to exhibit photos at the Sun Yat Sen Courtyard pop-up exhibition and also talk about this long-term project at the ARC Experience photography conference in Vancouver this year. It’s also the year that I started creating the first book of my documentation of Chinatown and I look forward to making it available for sale next year. 

I worked with many families this year as well as wedding couples and it was amazing as always to be a part of people’s lives and document their day. I truly enjoy being a documentary photographer and creating photographs from the “mundane” and “unseen” moments. To be able to create authentic and honest photographs are why I do what I do every day. 

As I look back and try to pick a few “highlight” photos for this slideshow and blogpost, I’m reminded of all the good times in 2018, all the rough times and also all the celebratory times. As in previous years, I’m so thankful for all the people I worked with this year, from clients to photographers, to the people of Chinatown, to event planners and brides and grooms to the Chinatown Associations, to all my friends I’ve made at the ARC Experience to the families who’ve allowed me to document your lives. Thank you all so much! You all make my photography more than just about photographs.


The Birth Of Our Daughter:

The Documenting Chinatown Project (Photos from 2018):

Family PhotoSessions:

Documentary Wedding Photography (and some Styled Photoshoot Projects):

Mount Lehman Barn - Great Gatsby Party

A while ago, I had the opportunity to take photographs for this amazing event. I’m a huge fan of vintage things (especially vintage cameras!) and I really love the style of the past century so when I was offered the opportunity to be the photographer at this event, I jumped at the chance.

The event took place at Mount Lehman Barn, which is also where I had photographed part of Kevin and Julie’s wedding and it was decorated to the theme of the 1920s classic Great Gatsby. As part of my own preparation, I watched scenes from the newer version of the movie “The Great Gatsby” featuring Leonardo Dicaprio as Mr. Gatsby and was instantly inspired. Seeing everyone dress up and the entire venue decorated “to the nines” really created an amazing atmosphere that I felt had captured the essence of what I would think would be the 1920s… but we did have some smartphones so….

As part of going with the vintage vibe, I rented a 1960s Polaroid camera and shot some expired Fuji 3000B Instant black and white film so people would have photos for their home (the result was an instant professional black and white photograph). The camera was a beast to carry around and setup but the photographs that resulted were beautiful.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Hatley Castle and Empress Hotel Victoria Wedding

First, huge thanks to Ryan Flynn Photography, who took me on as a seconding photographer for this assignment of his. Ryan is a great guy!


As I am based close to the city of Vancouver on the British Columbia mainland, heading to Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria is always a treat. I love the feel and sense of adventure and travel when I make my way out there. In order to make the ferry to get to the wedding on time, I had to wake up at a very early hour (i.e. it was still dark and it was Summer time) and make my way through some winding roads. Eventually, I managed to get to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and soon relaxed once my car and I were on the ferry and on our way across the water.

The first part of this wedding took place first in the Empress Hotel and the ceremony took place at Hatley Castle. My day started with the groomsmen at the Empress Hotel, where the groom and his groomsmen were hurriedly putting on their clothes in order to make it out the door in time. Once we boarded the wedding bus, I met with the bride and the bridesmaids inside Hatley Castle and documented their time hanging out together moments before the ceremony took place. Hatley Castle and the castle grounds surrounding it are beautiful. I later found out that Hatley Castle was used in some of the original X Men movies (the ones with Patrick Stewart)!

After the ceremony, I went with Ryan Flynn and the videographers to Beacon Hill and photographed some of the in-between shots and documentary moments while the more posed photos were taking place.

Story continued below…


The second part of the day led us back to the Empress Hotel in Victoria. At one point during the night, the couple strolled along Victoria’s Downtown Harbour at sun set and had a band on a neighboring dock play their first song dance while they danced to it. The night ended with dancing to an amazing band (to who’s names I did not catch unfortunately) and I went back to my hotel room satisfied that I had been a part of an amazing wedding.

Chinatown at Night

It’s been a while since I blogged about Chinatown… or blogged at all for that matter. Life keeps getting busy and taking the time to sit down and write stuff to a general internet audience sometimes (in all honesty) ranks a little lower on my list of priorities. Lately, I’ve taken to exercise more and stay in shape, I’ve attempted to learn to dance a bit, I’ve been catching up on personal film work from the last year and a bit and I’m trying to finally put together that Chinatown book I’ve been meaning to do.

However, as I sit down and dedicate some time to blog, I’m reminded of how therapeutic it can be to write your thoughts and share my photographs. Blogging is a chance to just sit and reflect, which I realize in this world of high tech and fast-paced smart phone notifications is a luxury these days… but is one luxury I intend to do more of. :)

I started my Chinatown blogging on my old blog at jonathandesmond.blogspot.ca but eventually moved it to this blog. However, a lot has happened between the old blog and now. My Chinatown project has grown into something much bigger than a photography project; it has become an immensely personal documentary project that I hope will provide a narrative of the last 6 years of Chinatown’s community, lifestyle and constant changes.

During this one particular evening, I met with some fellow friends from the Wong Association and we had some time to have pizza together and hangout. While we did, I took some photographs of Chinatown.

Obligatory (?) Window Selfie. Maybe I should trademark that…

Obligatory (?) Window Selfie. Maybe I should trademark that…

Chinatown at Night-3.jpg
The Chinatown Summer Market was on in full force last year. This year (2018) it was shut down.

The Chinatown Summer Market was on in full force last year. This year (2018) it was shut down.

This is the place where the old Daisy Garden used to be before a fire burned it down.

This is the place where the old Daisy Garden used to be before a fire burned it down.

Most of Chinatown is seen from the exterior of the buildings and on the streets. However, the inside of these buildings show signs of a larger and vibrant community. (Note: I only explore these places with permission granted from the owners).

Most of Chinatown is seen from the exterior of the buildings and on the streets. However, the inside of these buildings show signs of a larger and vibrant community. (Note: I only explore these places with permission granted from the owners).

The Mon Keang School at night

The Mon Keang School at night

Two chairs are lighted by the street lights outside.

Two chairs are lighted by the street lights outside.

Remembering Popo

I wrote this post originally in 2010 and don't recall if I ever published it. I'm putting it up here on my blog as a reminder of her and her impact on my life BUT also to recollect a time when I used to write without photographs. It also serves as a personal reminder for me that there are bigger things in life than all the minutiae and Angry Bird high scores and other distractions in our lives. Sometimes we just have to sit, reflect and be still… and write.

Not too long after I wrote this post, my Popo (Chinese for “Grandma”) passed on. It’s been quite a while since her passing but every now and then a photo of her pops up in my Facebook feed and I recollect some of the moments I had with her.


My car rumbled to a stop. Turning the key towards me, I promptly yanked it out of the key hole. I opened the driver side door, stepped out of the car, and felt the rain drops instantly. 

Looking to my left, I saw my destination only a few meters away from me. After work, I would normally either take the bus home, or get into my car in the train's car park lot, and promptly drive myself home. Today was different, though. I had putting it off for a while, but it finally came to the point where I knew that was my chance to do it.

I entered through the sliding doors and into the warm building. Old folks' homes always smell a little different than any other place.

I found my grandma walking back to her room after eating dinner. It had been a long time since we had sat down and talked. As she walked to her room, I showed her my work attire.

"I have to wear this to work everyday, Popo," I said, showing her my shirt, tie and dress pants.

It was usual for us to talk about many things. I would recall to my grandma the good old days when she would cook instant noodles a special way (which I have yet to replicate!), or when I found out about the joys of eating handfuls of dried apricots at a time. I talked briefly about my working life, and how it was very different and very time-consuming, yet very maturing. And of course, she brought up the topic of getting married and finding a good wife!

Then I brought up about how one day she'd be able to see great grand kids from me. Suddenly, she said "I don't think I will be alive then."

At that moment, my heart sunk.

"I know that my health is failing. I am sick, and my heart is 23 years old." 23 years previous, my grandma had major heart surgery. She went on explaining about how her health was deteriorating, and how she realized it herself. I don't remember exactly what was said as a flurry of thoughts were swirling in my head at that moment.

My response to this sudden change of mood was to lighten up with a joke: "Haha, I think you'll live until you're 200 years old, Popo." Deep down inside though, reality was setting in.

I soon left giving my grandma a hug. I walked out of the retirement home thinking more broadly about life; about how singleness and dating are only a portion of what are lives are for, about how futile some things are in our lives. 

I opened my car door and sat down in the driver's seat. With a turn of a key, the car rumbled to life. With my left foot, I pushed in the clutch, shifted into first gear with my right hand, and drove off.