Alex D’Addese has always tried to find ways of expressing himself artistically.
D’Addese, a third-year sport media student, is the varsity sports photographer for the Ryerson Rams. His work, both in school and on the sidelines, has given him something he didn’t always have as a child: a focus and an outlet with which to apply his creative mind.
“He liked to doodle a lot, I was always finding doodles around the house,” Judi D’Addese, Alex’s mother, said. “I bought some pieces of furniture for him so he could doodle on that instead of my furniture.”
Nearly seven years after getting his first camera, photography has now become Alex’s vocation. On Sept. 29, D’Addese shot his 250th Rams event: a women’s soccer game that ended in a 3-0 Rams loss to UOIT.
After countless hours of shooting and editing, D’Addese has eyes on an even loftier target.
“500 [events] is still the goal,” said D’Addese, who as of Monday, had shot 265 Rams events. “It’d be a nice accomplishment.”
From doodles to a DSLR
In addition to taking pictures around his house, D’Addese remembered spending time as a child shooting at his uncle’s cottage. “I was shooting the lake, shooting flowers, the same kind of things that most people start out shooting,” he said.
“My parents couldn’t get the camera out of my hand.”
Judi D’Addese said that Alex’s “impetus” for entering the world of sports photography was his younger sister Natasha. Around the same time Alex got his first camera, Natasha — who was 10 at the time — began playing rep soccer. While Natasha’s parents were watching her games, Alex was shooting them.
“He was one of the older kids [who came to watch], and it was often just girls there, so that wasn’t of much interest for him at the time,” Judi said. “[Taking pictures] was a way of keeping himself busy, but also recording her journey.”
Judi still has some of Natasha’s old soccer photos. She remains impressed at the things her son captured.
“He tells a story with his pictures, and he’s always testing to see what he can do,” she said.
A change of scenery
In addition to taking pictures of his sister’s soccer games, D’Addese took two photography classes while attending Thomas A. Blakelock High School in Oakville: a general photography class followed by a yearbook class. Hoping to make a career out of his creativity, D’Addese packed his bags in the fall of 2013 to attend the University of Windsor for their visual arts and communication, media and film program.
Shortly after his arrival in Windsor, D’Addese got in touch with The Lance, the university’s newspaper, to ask about shooting some games. “I got a press pass and it took off from there, that’s when everything sparked for me” he said.
But the spark that D’Addese had found shooting at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) level couldn’t be found in the classroom. The program and the distance from home weren’t what he wanted. D’Addese withdrew from the University of Windsor after his first semester and headed back home to Oakville.
A fresh start back home
In the new year, D’Addese enrolled in night school classes at Ryerson’s Chang School of Continuing Education, and also started taking pictures for the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL). Under the watchful eye of many of the league’s veteran photographers, D’Addese made an excellent first impression.
“This kid had an infectious optimism and it was contagious,” Tim Bates, the director of photography for OJHL Images, said. “Our turnaround time for pictures was super quick, but Alex held his own for a young guy we didn’t know.”
D’Addese still had a desire to return to school full-time, but he wanted a program closer to his interests and a school closer to his family. Ryerson’s sport media program, a new program that was starting up the next school year, was an obvious match.
“Once it was posted he was very interested,” Al D’Addese, Alex’s father, said. “Alex loved sports and it was more in line with what he wanted to do.”
Alex got accepted to the program’s inaugural class. Since coming to Ryerson, his whole family has seen a huge difference in his happiness.
“When I look at him and when I visit him downtown he just seems like he is at home and he is comfortable,” Natasha D’Addese, 17, said.
“I see him super happy where he is and it just makes me feel better.”
The dream job
Entering his first year at Ryerson, D’Addese knew that he wanted to shoot OUA sports like he had at the University of Windsor. D’Addese got in touch with Jim McLarty, Ryerson Athletics’ communications and new media coordinator, in search of an opportunity to shoot.
“Long before the position was posted, he reached out to me expressing his interest,” McLarty said in an e-mail. “He definitely had a passion for it but more importantly a passion for learning and becoming a better photographer.”
D’Addese credits McLarty for giving him lots of creative freedom — and for having the belief and trust to let him “just do what I do” when shooting. By building his portfolio with the Rams, D’Addese has been able to get hired to shoot at events like the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship and the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
“I think [his experience shooting major sporting events] speaks volumes about his growth over the last two years,” McLarty said.
“There is nothing he can’t deliver.”
D’Addese’s goal of shooting 500 Rams events is no secret; he mentioned it in a blog post on his website in February. But both his target and his progress came as a surprise to his family.
“That’s crazy,” Natasha D’Addese said when told of her brother’s progress. “But those numbers make sense, he’s always working.”
“It’s an amazing number,” Al D’Addese said. “He’ll always go running to the next game, the next event … he loves it.”
Bates, who has worked in the industry for over two decades, said he is impressed by D’Addese’s ability to balance all of his commitments, adding that his intuitive eye and focused mindset have the potential to lead him to a very successful career in photography.
“No matter if it’s your first game or your 500th game, if you have that same passion or flame lit inside of you it’s amazing what you can produce,” Bates said.
“It’s not just another assignment, it is a labour of love, and it shows in his photos.”
More than ‘the guy with the camera’
D’Addese said that he’s taken “a couple hundred-thousand” pictures during his time as the Rams’ varsity sports photographer. Of those, he’s edited and sent tens of thousands to the athletics department for posting online and in other materials.
Of all the connections D’Addese has made within the department, he said the “highest compliment” he has received came from Aaron Best. Best graduated last year after five seasons on the men’s basketball team, but not before proposing to his girlfriend after his final game.
“He kinda made a joke about wedding photography [in the days after the game],” D’Addese said.
“He said ‘Man, if you’re down I would gladly hire you’ … even for him to think of me as that … for him to say ‘I want you to shoot my wedding,’ that’s something I take pride in.”
Leaving a legacy
D’Addese said that some of his photos will be alive in the athletics department and the university for a long time because of their significance to the school. As for his personal legacy at Ryerson, “Lord knows what it’ll be,” D’Addese said.
In his e-mail, McLarty wrote that D’Addese “set a new standard” for photography in the athletics department.
“Alex is a Ryerson Ram,” McLarty said. “He has just as much pride and dedication for his role as our student-athletes.”
Bates said he is confident that D’Addese “has a brilliant future in a very tough industry.” Bates has kept a personal file of his favourite shots that D’Addese has taken, a file he expects will continue to grow in the years ahead.
“When you want to see incredible images and have an opportunity to see photography at its best, look at this kid’s images,” he said.
“He’s just amazing.”