News and Events

Rita Leistner Took the Road Less Travelled

Posted on September 26, 2017  |  Filed under:

Here's Where It Took Her

By Chantel Ouellet

Rita Leistner is living proof that there is not one carefully paved road to success. Instead, her story shows that success is ever evolving and that often it leads us down a series of winding roads in varied conditions. For Leistner, this journey has taken her from St. George St., to the war torn streets of Afghanistan, back to this beautiful campus and now on to the logging routes of British Columbia. Leistner has always been drawn to adventure which helps to explain how her jaunt has wound through so many interesting stops. As we welcome a new class to the Woodsworth College community, and watch as another begins the next leg of their journeys beyond school, Leistner’s unique story resonates. She shows that each degree is just one piece of a wonderfully large puzzle.

Rita Leistner began her journey at the University of Toronto much before she entered the Academic Bridging program. The tenacity and drive that would carry her through both her undergraduate and master’s degree pushed her to drop out of high school at sixteen. She wanted to explore and go on adventures while she was young. After finishing up high school through correspondence, she decided to try her hand at university with the help of Woodsworth’s unique Academic Bridging Program. With their resources she was able to graduate from the University of Toronto with a master’s degree in comparative literature.

 After finishing university in 1997, Leistner had the opportunity to go abroad and spend some time in Cambodia honing her craft as a photojournalist. In her own words she then “spent the next fifteen years travelling to the world’s hot spots, winning awards and a reputation for intrepidness”. It was at this time that she began photographing in the Middle East. While there she proudly recounts that she took some of the first photos of Iraq detainees. Around the same time she was detained and had her life threatened by a group that would later grow into ISIL.

Leistner is unique in her field because of her abilities to push limits. This could mean reinterpreting the relationship between photojournalism and academia on some days, and willingly putting herself in a warzone on others. Regardless, Leistner’s drive for new experiences and thirst for better understanding permeates. In 2010, Leistner returned to the paved streets of Toronto and began teaching here, at the University of Toronto. She credits this change in environment for her transition “from traditional photojournalist to politically and socially engaged photo-based artist”. Leistner has left the teaching environment of the University this past year. She now spends her time exploring the back roads of British Columbia as she photographs its tree planting and logging culture. At this point only time will tell where the next leg of Leistner’s journey will take her.

Leistner’s most current exhibit is showing on October 21, 2017 at Toronto’s Stephen Bulger Gallery. You can read more about her project in the current issue of Window.

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