Photographer Randy VanDerStarren invites you to Take Your Seat

All photos by Randy VanDerStarren

Frank Capra said “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” Randy VanDerStarren had a hunch when he looked at a director’s chair and saw something that is essentially meaningful.

A chair offers repose and invites conversation. A collection of chairs support a meeting of minds or a loving family meal. A director’s chair is unique. It’s designed to be easily conveyed into endless scenes, and sits just that much higher than its fellow chairs to give the seated a wider view of the world. “Life is the biggest screen of all” Randy conveys, and he believes we can all sit in that chair and exclaim “Action”!

Take Your Seat is VanDerStarren’s photographic tour-de-force. Now in its third year, the on-going project is elegant in its concept and execution. Take a director’s chair and place it in as many provocative and stunning locales as possible. No theory, no academics, but then again, Paul Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire over 60 times with the sole intension of exploring the mind’s infinite powers of analysis. In this case, use a chair to sit and think about the infinite possibilities of existence and our potential therein; all this from an ancient little bit of craft that bears the human bottom when legs grow weary. But what sounds to be a simple creative venture was anything but simple to execute.

VanDerStarren sat in the director’s chair for years, globetrotting and shooting ad campaigns for global brands. A curious career pivot had the one-time writer/photographer sitting as president of a wealth management company. He can’t quite explain how that happened, but Bay Street has tall towers that afforded Randy a vantage point from which he saw the world and what was happening to it. The father of four wanted to be the kind of man whose kids said: “instead of talking about doing something, dad actually did something!” He quit his job, formulated a plan, and asked himself the toughest question of all: “Now what?”

Randy began with the solid foundation of a supportive family who knew he needed to pursue his newfound passion. His wife Eva encouraged a shift from talk to action, and kids Austin, Spencer, Randi and Evan saw that dad was on to something exciting and became his research team. Charlie Chaplin said all you need “courage, imagination . . . . and a little dough.”

Courage meant leaping off of a lucrative career cliff in 2015 and spending 2016 seeking proof of concept. There were doubts when vision and camera were at odds, but one shot from Ayutthaya, Thailand literally brought Randy to his knees. It was one of those timeless, spellbinding moments unique to photography, and so he rose to his feet and forged ahead. 2017 brought a series of high-profile exhibits and the launch of his Canada 150 series at Roy Thomson Hall.

A book was taking shape in his head, and Randy concocted a scheme worthy of Bob Hope. The Globe and Mail ran a piece about a fundraiser in which an auction was offering a lunch with Heather Reisman. The CEO of Indigo Books and Music was known to Randy as a woman with whom his project theme of “One People. One Planet. One Life” would deeply resonate. The question was how to get to her.

The scheme was to start bidding. Steely grit, 56 bids, and $1,750 later he had his lunch. Forget the lunch, he told them, because this was about pitching a book. What might have been a gracious but gratuitous meal for Reisman became a meeting of kindred visions. What is it that you want for your family and the human family of this planet Earth? What are the universal truths that we can seek beyond cultures and languages? And how can the photographic medium visualize these inquiries and universalize the outcomes? That was the pitch, and within 10 minutes Reisman was onboard as publisher. The book is in development for a fall release.

Randy VanDerStarren’s work is, like the man, remarkably real in a world where images are produced in astronomical quantity. His images are pure visual documents, subjected to minimal processing and virtually no fakery. We see the scene he sees, and the purity of the conception makes that director’s chair very inviting. Accepting that invitation to sit and contemplate the fragility and beauty of the myriad scenes we humans see every sacred day is exactly what Randy is striving for, so please, take your seat.

Be sure and join the 28 million people who will experience Take Your Seat if you are passing through Toronto’s Pearson Airport. A stunning 6-screen installation using state-of-the-art technology delivers dazzling renditions of the international photographs in Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. What better place to promote One People, One Planet, One Life.

To read and hear more about a chair’s role in promoting One people. One planet. One life, visit or @takeyourseatinsta.