Canadian photojournalism legend Boris Spremo dies at 81

Pierre Elliot Trudeau after winning re-election in 1980. Boris Spremo/Toronto Star

Pierre Elliot Trudeau after winning re-election in 1980. Boris Spremo/Toronto Star

 

From covering conflict and war zones, to capturing intimate moments with heads of state and celebrities, Boris Spremo always went the distance to get the perfect shot.

 

The legendary photographer, who racked up 285 national and international awards in his career, has died at the age of 81.

Born in 1935, he grew up in the former Yugoslavia. According to an obituary in the Globe and Mail, he spent a year in a labour camp at 18 for attempting to escape to the mountains of Italy.

Later, he did a brief stint in Paris where he started his photojournalism career as a street photographer before moving to Canada in the late 1950s.

He freelanced for years before securing full-time work at the Globe. After four years, he moved to the Toronto Star, where he spent the rest of his working life.

His granddaughter Jessica Spremo desribed him in a Toronto Star obituary as “the light of everyone’s life.”

“He was constantly cracking jokes. He never took anything too seriously. (He was) always looking for an adventure,” she said.

Colleagues said he was dogged in his pursuit of the perfect shot, with a style that was very personal and often had an element of humour.

Examples included the coy glance of a young Princess Diana looking out at the press from her vehicle, the dark theatrics of Alice Cooper and the exuberance of screaming fans at the height of Beatlemania.

Spremo managed to track down a young Margaret Trudeau at her sister’s place outside Boston after she disappeared from Ottawa. What was she doing? In Spremo’s iconic image, looking effortlessly cool hopping a fence in chunky heels while balancing two plates of food.

His long-time Star photo editor Peter Robertson explained Spremo’s astonishing detective work in the Globe. “She asked Bo, ‘How ever did you find me?’ … He replied, in his inimitable English, ‘Margaret, you go to moon, I find you.’”

He also famously captured her husband, in a moment of victory, snapping a rubber band (perhaps at an implied rival offscreen?) after winning re-election in 1980.

A prolific conflict and war zone photographer, Spremo’s work took him to places like Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq, Israel, Gaza and Iraq.

“He never lost sight of where he came from,” Jessica Spremo told the Star. “Having that perspective, he could relate to people . . . and have them, kind of, be comfortable, if only for a few minutes, in the situations that they were in.

“He treated everyone the same.”

 

Star reporter and photographer Jim Rankin, who is also the acting chair of the Star unit for Unifor Local 87-M, tweeted out after Spremo’s death: “A lasting memory of Boris Spremo for me is how, in 2000, the year he retired, he out shot everybody at an OCAP protest.”
 

In his golden years he could still be seen out with his camera, and driving around in his vintage Cadillac.

He died Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 from complications from a form of blood cancer.

Spremo is survived by his wife Ika, their four daughters and seven grandchildren.