I am a politically and socially engaged photo-based artist and documentarian. My photography practice is an engagement in living and being among my fellow humans in the world, of going out and photographing first hand, even if this has sometimes meant going into the line of fire in wartime. I am represented by The Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto. In 2014, I published my first sole-authored book, Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan—an interdisciplinary work about photography, language, technology and war—solidifying my reputation as a practitioner-theorist to be reckoned with.

My photography career hit its stride when I moved to Cambodia in 1997 to become a photojournalist. I had an MA in comparative literature in French and English and a lucrative career in the film industry as a lighting specialist and stills photographer. But I was driven by photography’s power to effect change and wanted to be a witness to history.

I spent the next fifteen years traveling to the world’s hot spots, winning awards and a reputation for intrepidness. I took some of the first photographs of Iraqi detainees in 2003 when the American government was still denying there was an insurgency afoot. In 2004, along with my good friend Adnan Kahn, I was detained and threatened with death by Saddam Fedayeen rebels—the seeds of what would later call itself ISIL.

Increasingly, I was drawn to more conceptual (“artistic”) approaches to story-telling than the ground-rules for traditional photojournalism allow. Now that the Internet and the smartphone have rendered the act of bearing witness almost universally accessible, there are fewer reasons for specially-designated photographers to make any kind of “straight photography.”

I moved home to Toronto in 2010 to accept a position teaching the history of photojournalism and documentary photography at the University of Toronto. The stability and intellectual stimulation of the university environment helped me transition from traditional photojournalist to politically and socially engaged photo-based artist.



Stephen Bulger Gallery

1026 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON, M6J 1H6 CANADA
T 416.504.0575






Rita Leistner CV 2016 (PDF)