Boris Spremo

Boris Spremo,  

… a world famous photographer who treated everyone equally


Boris SpremoBoris Spremo, as a young eleven-year old boy, was given the simplest camera, a Brownie, and as the saying goes… the rest is history.


Spremo was also crazy about sports and considered himself a “successful photographer” when he finally earned access  to the best “seat in the house” by being right on the soccer field or near centre ice. He actively played soccer as a goalie and later picked up tennis with the same zeal and passion. His first tennis experience was at the North Toronto Tennis Club. He was warmly received and became a regular, especially for Sunday morning doubles until pressured by his family to buy a cottage on Lake Simcoe. His main resistance to that purchase was losing his beloved Sunday tennis and the comradeship that came with it.


Anybody close to Spremo never saw him without a camera; the perfect shot, he said, can occur in the most banal places. He was an extremely friendly and agreeable person except when “working” … when he would not take “no” for an answer from anyone: security personnel, police or whoever might stand between him and that perfect shot. Spremo was on friendly terms with world-renowned personalities, from heads of state to movie stars to sports greats. To the consternation of his colleagues he was known to exclaim: Hey Queen, look over here! Or Prime Minister, give me a picture – and they all obliged.


With all this, Spremo never forgot his humble origins. Those who knew him more closely experienced his constant friendship, kindness and humility; and international fame never changed his manners … Boris never lost sight of where he came from, Jessica, his granddaughter, said, He treated everyone the same.  Roaming the streets and byways of Toronto, Spremo came to know many homeless people and never went by them without bringing a cup of coffee or offering “help”.


Spremo has seen the best and the worst of humanity recording many wars: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the invasion of Grenada, refugee camps… Personally he was deeply affected while recording a famine in Africa (1983) when children were dying and, while powerless to help, he hoped that his photographic records would stir the world into action. And they did.


Spremo was a very devoted family man. Married for over 50 years to Ika and proud father of four daughters who gave him seven grandchildren. The doors of his house were always open; one never needed to phone beforehand or announce one’s arrival and if the family was at the dinner table an extra plate was immediately added.


Spremo was born in the former Yugoslavia and came to Canada in 1957 after stopping in Paris where he earned his keep by photographing tourists. Following four years at the Globe and Mail, in 1966 he joined the Star where he spent 34 years as a photojournalist before retiring in 2000.


When asked why he was so successful, Boris answered: “I think it has to do with personality and a particular talent …. I know people who belong to a camera club and buy cameras for 4,000 bucks, but their pictures are kind of  blah. It’s a feeling; it’s something like being an artist. Even without a camera, I look at how things can be framed and when you finally click that shutter you should have what you want. (Barrie Advance, Boris Spremo: Life through the lens, Nov. 20, 2007). 


The comment by the former Star photographer and senior editor Mr. Fred Ross

in the Star’s obituary sums up Spremo’s secret: He never took any pictures. He made pictures. Big difference…


Spremo won many regional and international awards for his work, including a World Press Photo award, the first for a Canadian. He was named a member of the Order of Canada (1997), the first photojournalist to receive the award. He was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in addition to many national and international recognitions and tributes. Spremo was never jaded in his work and it was important to him not only to have his photograph included in every issue of the Star, but to also to “make the front page”.

(Srebrenka, a long standing friend of Boris)

Thank you Srebrenka Bogovic for writing and submitting this post.

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