Written by AJ on . Posted in The Portraits

Mary Margaret is one of my best friends.  We met around the year 2002.  We were both working at sort of a ridiculous place in the television world… which could actually be anywhere in the television world.

That was good though, because T.V. production calls for long days and lots of downtime which leads to plenty of time to hang out, deal with and discuss some of the most ridiculous people and situations you’d ever encounter in a “professional” environment.  Television and the production world is like that.  It’s very serious, there is a lot money being invested and the time and effort to produce content is very demanding. You need to be a pro and to have pride in what you do… but to keep your sanity, you need to have a good sense of humour and realize, for the most part, you’re not saving humanity, you’re making TV.  Mary knows this.  She’s one of the funniest people I know. But she’s also one of the most professional.

Currently Mary works for CBC News on the french side of things as a videographer. She’s got skills.  She’s not just someone who stands in the studio lazily pointing a camera that’s been set up and maintained for you (I should know, I did this at the Shopping Channel).  Mary works in the field.  She takes her reporter and goes and gets the visuals, then edits them together to tell the story.

The job is not easy. It’s physically demanding. It’s technically demanding. It’s creatively demanding. You could definitely get routine about it if you let yourself, but Mary wants to be awesome at what she does, so she sets out to prove herself every time she covers a story.

Television production is still a very male dominated field. I’ve personally seen and heard some of the things guys will say to Mary and other women who work in the production field. It’s dumb. Sometimes shocking. And sometimes I’m pretty sure, against the law. Mary has had to deal with all of it. I did my best to address that and hear how she deals with that side of the business in the questions below, so let’s get to it!

Q.  How do you define success?

Setting goals for myself and seeing those goals come to fruition.

This can be applied to anything in my life. Whether it’s learning a new skill or being afraid to do something because I’m not sure how to do it, but forcing myself to do it anyway. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way I wanted but I try to learn from those experiences and apply them to “next time”.

I used to be really scared of failure and I think that fear drove me. Success for me does not just mean a career. It means being a good mother, wife and friend. Because at the end of the day those are the relationships that truly matter. 

Q. You work in a very male dominated field. A lot of times, women who do find success in a physically and technically challenging field, they get labelled one of 2 ways… Either as a “bitch” because, for some minds, that’s easier than saying “a professional”, or as someone who was given the job simply because she is a girl. Both labels ignore the fact that you earned your position by being the person most qualified, and more simply because you are good at what you do. What advice would you give to young, talented and qualified women trying to break in, stay strong and succeed in a male dominated field?

I would have to say that I have experienced some pretty crappy attitudes from men AND women while trying to build my career and it continues to some degree to this day.

I was initially told “TV isn’t about putting on make-up”, “the equipment is too heavy for you” and “we hired a girl once and she didn’t work out so we don’t like to hire them”.

It hurt and created horrible doubt but I kept telling myself this is what I really wanted so who were they to tell me otherwise. Sometimes people discourage others because they feel threatened, so learn to recognize those negative influences and move on.

My advice to any woman who wants a career whatever it may be is to NEVER GIVE UP. Prove them wrong. Learn whatever you can in your free time. Bug co-workers to teach you what they know. Know your worth and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. At times I stood my ground and it ended up working against me but I would rather be known as a “bitch” than let people take advantage.

I think its extremely important for girls and young women to know there is no limit to what they can do but I also think this starts with our sons. They need to be taught that girls are just as smart, strong and capable.

Mary is pretty cool! She’s also the mother of 2 awesome kids and married to a guy that has an equally, let’s say “creative” sense of humour. He doesn’t work in television, but he could so easily fit right in. I think those would have been some good times.  Mary is also an awesome photographer. You can check out some of her work at


Written by AJ on . Posted in The Portraits

Frankie Whyte is rock’n’roll.

She’s the leader of her band Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols, she helps other musicians realize their songs with Black/Whyte Music Group, and writes about real music like her feature article for Uber Rock UK on The Importance of Metallica.  She’s working her ass off to get where she wants to be. And to top it all off, she’s amazingly nice and down to earth. Which is pretty awesome… because she has toured with KISS. Yeah, that KISS. Like I said, Frankie Whyte is rock’n’roll. But realize that she is a total professional.

I got in touch with Frankie through a mutual friend and she made the trek up to my place and we shot these in my garage on a cold February day.  I think we both learned that a small space heater only heats a small space… not an entire garage.

These days Frankie is busy… ridiculously so. But she was nice enough to take the time to take part in this YSoStrong thing. Because she’s just cool like that.  So… onto the questions.

Q.  How do you define success?

To me, success is something that is refined more and more every day. However I think that at the root of it, no matter the outcome — the very act of trying is success. When you put yourself out there into the fold, that is success. Whether you gain the outcome you desire or you don’t, it’s not always the point. Rewards can often be found in the process. 

Q.  You’ve got an incredibly strong sense of self in how you present and express yourself. What advice would you give a young girl who is trying to figure out how to express her own individuality without caving into the peer pressure of her social scene?

You don’t need to be an artist to express yourself. Whether you sing, dance, paint, play sports, how you dress yourself, how you speak – it’s all expression. Do it and do it like you mean it. If you have a favourite shirt, then wear the sh*t out of it. And if the people surrounding you are pressuring you to be someone you’re not then they’re not your peers. Don’t let social pressures deter you from doing what you’re best at: being yourself.

Go check out what Frankie is up too. She’s got all kinds of cool happening.
Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols  |  Black/Whyte Music Group

Diana of DioTribe

Written by AJ on . Posted in The Portraits

I met Diana Studenberg last year through a composer that I have worked with in the television world. I was looking to shoot some musicians and he told me he knew a pretty cool one that he’d hook me up with.  Things moved along and Diana and I met up in the spring. She brought muffins and coffee… right off the bat, she lived up to the hype of being cool.

A talented musician and incredibly nice person, Diana started in Montreal, found her way to Toronto and is now making music and living life out in Vancouver.  Currently she is recording the debut record for her act, DioTribe with producer Dave Thompson.  Her and Dave were also playing cover shows this past winter as a duo called The Soul Alarm and is currently signed to Siegel Entertainment.  Diana also just had one of her own songs in the Showcase series Lost Girl and more recently the film Solomon’s Bridge.  Very cool to say the least!

So… to the questions!!

Q. How do you define success?

Success, to me, means doing what you love and benefiting from it primarily emotionally/spiritually and secondarily monetarily [though that isn’t a necessary aspect], and that having a positive impact on other people.

Q. Music is tough… being in anything that requires you to put your emotions out there for public consumption… there is a lot of negative feedback that you have to deal with.  What would be your advice to any young girl looking to get into a career in music or anytype of performing arts?

If feedback is negative for the sake of being negative, I tend to try and ignore it, but at this point I haven’t gotten too much of that. I’ve gotten quite a bit of constructive feedback, which has been very helpful, and has only motivated me to work harder. I definitely look forward to getting a ton more negative feedback, because when it comes in masses, it’ll hopefully be accompanied with a greater amount of positive feedback from people consuming the music!

My advice to young girls wanting to pursue a career in a creative realm would be to just pursue it without making excuses, if it’s something you love with all your heart. I’ve studied engineering and decided to pursue music, simply because I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t work towards what I love doing the most. It gives me purpose everyday, and also makes me feel like I’m constantly growing and have something to work towards, because I’ll never be the best artist I can be, which is exciting to me.

As if pursuing a career in music isn’t enough, Diana is also helping other artists manage their social media platforms, and pitching their music to film and TV.  So, as someone who rocks it the way she rocks it, you can find/follow Diana all over the web.  If you can, check her out and see what she is up to.

On Twitter @diotribe  |  Diana on Facebook  |  DioTribe on the Web  | On YouTube |  Soundcloud


Sandy Tam

Written by AJ on . Posted in The Portraits

A.J. Leitch: Sandy Tam &emdash; 20140527-_21A9791-Edit
Sandy is a photographer… a ridiculously awesome one at that and she specializes in wedding photography.

I made the trek to her house in Markham the other day and we hung out, talked photography, video (as her husband Albert is taking care of video services for weddings), and I think more photography. It was pretty photo nerd centric. But that’s cool, because we enjoyed it!

A.J. Leitch: Sandy Tam &emdash; Sandy 003

All in all, we had a good time hanging out and shooting some portraits.  Although… we both felt a little awkward… Sandy being in front of the camera (which most photographers really hate), and me trying to shoot an amazing photographer (without feeling way to incompetent).  It’s alright though, we both survived the ordeal.

So after the picture taking was done I asked Sandy a couple of serious questions…

Q. How do you define success?

This is a tough question.  Success to me is a moving target.  It changes as you reach different stages of your life.  When I was pursuing my accounting career, I thought that getting my CA and making six figures was success.  But when I finally got there, it didn’t feel like that at all.  I wasn’t happy.  That’s when I decided to pursue photography.  And one would think that having an established photography business with a steady referral base and fantastic clients is success.  I absolutely love what I do, don’t get me wrong.  But in addition to all this, now I want to work on more creative shoots and personal projects.  So as you can see, it never ends.

I think success is being able to freely pursue your dreams, to feel fulfilled all the time, whatever ‘fulfilled’ means to you.  And one can have multiple dreams and definitions of fulfilment.  To me, I feel fulfilled when I am happy, healthy and know that I’ve made a difference to someone.

A.J. Leitch: Sandy Tam &emdash; Sandy 001

Q.  You’ve created a definite look and brand with your photography… What advice would you have for women trying to build their own business/brand, and ensure they are directing or controlling their own path?

I say this all the time and yes, it is cliche but I truly believe it.  Follow your heart.  Everyone has a personal style.  It comes across in the clothes you wear, the furniture in your home, the colour of your car, etc.  Spend the time to observe yourself, know your likes and dislikes, and identify your personal style because that will eventually become your brand.  Art is an extension of the artist and if you’re making it into a business, then the business is an extension of you.

I’ll say it one last time… Sandy is an amazing photographer.  As such, I was pretty nervous taking photos of her…  I didn’t want her to look at them and think, “wow… he’s so bad.” But I don’t think she did.  She was great about it.

Go check out Sandy’s amazing work at  Definitely take the time to check out her shoot at Yonge & Dundas Square.

A.J. Leitch: Sandy Tam &emdash; Sandy 002

A.J. Leitch: Sandy Tam &emdash; Sandy 005



Written by AJ on . Posted in The Portraits

A.J. Leitch: Natalie &emdash; 20140511-_21A0045-Edit

Natalie is jumping to the front of the line here in this YSoStrong idea.  She hired me for some portraits this past weekend and I think she kind of fits the the entire idea of what this project is about.

She is kinda the coolest of the cool. Successful in a career with a huge, world renowned corporate brand… all the while, starting and building a small (for the time being), crafty company in the midst of her downtown apartment.

A.J. Leitch: Leading Ladies &emdash; 20140511-_21A0001-Edit

The above shot was taken in that Toronto apartment.  In front of one of her own creations.  Yes she made the slate map of Canada.  It’s huge and very cool (and she can make you your very own).  Natalie works for the corporate side of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts by day, but when she gets home she gets all crafty and makes scented candles.  Really, really good scented candles.

I completely put Natalie on the spot and asked her a couple of questions…

Q: First off, how do you define your success?

You hear it all the time, but it’s totally true – find work that makes you happy.  For me, sometimes that means approaching my work in a different way, sometimes it means doing something different altogether.  I don’t necessarily mean that life needs to always be easy, but that I want to feel excited about something every day.

A.J. Leitch: Natalie &emdash; 20140511-_21A9984

Q: Any advice for young women?

Basically – be yourself and don’t stress out about how people qualify your actions as a woman. Society wastes so much energy trying to define what a perfect woman should be – just stop seeking that validation and you’ll get sh*t done.

That’s an awesome answer.

Natalie also threw down her favourite quote…

“A woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.”  – Mohadesa Najumi (read the article here)

Her company Smells Like Canada was recently discovered by Chapters-Indigo, and she is now selling those candles through their site. She’s rocking it out.

A.J. Leitch: Natalie &emdash; 20140511-_21A0011-Edit

A.J. Leitch: Leading Ladies &emdash; Natalie Gluic

Y So What?

Written by AJ on . Posted in The Portraits

So I’m getting older… I’ve got kids.  3 of them.  All girls.

It’s cool.  I grew up with 4 older sisters, no brothers.  It’s not as if the idea of girls in the house freaks me out.  Its doing my job as a good dad that freaks me out.  All I want is to make sure that my girls grow up with the knowledge that they are strong, independent people, who understand that they can succeed in life.  I don’t think that’s any kind of earth shattering desire for a father to have…  I guess what I really want them to know is that success is varied.  It’s out there for all of them.  They just need to work for it.

What is Y So Strong?

YSoStrong sounded like a good question and statement.   It’s my question and the ladies statement on what makes them so strong.  Plus… its catchy in the world of the web.

So what is this going to be?

Good question.  I work in television and do a good amount of photography.  Luckily, I get to meet a number of really successful people, both men and women, in my line of work.

These people I meet are successful in a whole bunch of different fields.  I have been fortunate enough to photograph a number of these people.

I’m planning on this being an ongoing photo project, portraits of successful women.  Portraits of women who are cool with who they are.

I want it to be something interesting and hopefully inspiring for my 3 daughters to look upon one day.  I want them to see women who are achieving success.  I want them to know success is not just a pop-singer (especially a crap one), not a fashion choice, and its definitely not achieved by following… It’s achieved by having an open mind, seeing the world, being confident in who you are and working towards your goals.

Sounds lame, but I’m a dad… I’m allowed to sound super duper lame.

These are the 3 reasons for the project…

A.J. Leitch: Underground Styles &emdash; Underground Styles
A.J. Leitch: Underground Styles &emdash; Underground Styles
A.J. Leitch: Underground Styles &emdash; Underground Styles