swatow toronto

Toronto man delights restaurant staff with photo he took of them

A Toronto photographer takes a picture every time he passes by a certain Chinese restaurant, and just delighted the staff there by deciding to gift them one of the photos.

Swatow is a Chinatown staple known for noodles and other traditional dishes, and Dave Bottoms really liked the most recent photo he took of the place through the window.

He liked it so much, he decided to print it, frame it and surprise the staff at the restaurant with it. Since posting his photo and story to social media, it's been engaged with hundreds and hundreds of times.

In the photo, staff can be seen working through the window, which also reflects the street scene outside, resulting in a layering of dual images with a distinct feeling of time and place. Bottoms has been shooting into the Swatow window for years, but this might be one of the photos he's happiest with.

"The kitchen is right up front and it's fun to capture the chefs preparing their delicious dishes for their customers," Bottoms tells blogTO.

"While many of the photos don't amount to much, every now and again I'll get one that's a keeper."

He first got into photography way back in 2009 when he was laid off from a crappy job and decided to take the summer off to study photography rather than look for more work, which actually inspired his "lazy photographer" handle on social media.

"Taking off the summer to learn a hobby instead of focusing on getting back to work seemed like a pretty lazy endeavour," says Bottoms.

It's actually become something of a misnomer, as Bottoms is quite prolific by now and has taken over 170,000 photos. Part of his mission as a photographer is to document Toronto neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Kensington Market, Little India, The Beaches, Regent Park and Little Italy.

"The hope is that one day decades from now people will look at my photos and through them get to experience the city as it was in the second decade of the 21st century," says Bottoms.

"A part of shooting these neighbourhoods includes shooting into restaurants and cafes from the sidewalk, when the light reflecting off the storefront windows presents an interesting play of light and shadow and reflection."

He was sure the staff at Swatow had noticed him taking the photos by now, and while he has eaten there he's not a regular and the staff don't know him personally. When he decided to gift them the framed photo, he was nervous about what their reaction would be.

"They were simply delighted. All the staff came up front to view the photo and they seemed truly appreciative, thankfully. Of course I couldn't leave without getting yet another photo of the chef holding the photo of him that I'd just given them," says Bottoms.

"Although he's wearing a mask, you can see that he's got a big smile under it. It was a very special moment for me, and for them, it seemed. I'm so glad I did it."

He's probably going to give Swatow a break from being his subject for a bit now that he's got a shot of it he really loves, but there are plenty of other grocery stores and restaurants in Chinatown he's going to continue to capture.

If you're interested in seeing more of Bottoms' work, you're in luck as he's working on several books of street photography, including one featuring Chinatown. He previously sold out of a limited edition book of black and white street photography.

If you're interested in getting involved with photography yourself, he's the moderator of the Toronto Street Photography group on Facebook with thousands of members, and also gives video talks on street photography to local photography clubs.

"One of the things people interested in street photography should know is it's usually random, candid and somewhat spontaneous, as opposed to staged or posed photography, like urban/environmental portraiture," says Bottoms. 

"Street photographers often try to engage in their art surreptitiously because they don't want their subjects reacting to being photographed. They're looking for that candid, decisive moment, and with a little luck it will result in an image that others might find interesting."

Lead photo by

Dave Bottoms


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