Michael Semak

1934 -

In 1958 he received a diploma in architectural technology from the Ryerson Institute of Technology (now Ryerson University) in Toronto. Apart from several months of technical training as an employee at Canadian Kodak, Semak is a self-taught photographer. From 1963 until 1973, he worked as a freelance photographer, completing assignments for the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board of Canada, as well as photography magazines and books. Semak taught in the Department of Visual Arts at York University for almost thirty years, until his retirement in 1999.  

Michael Semak is interested in all aspects of the human condition. He has travelled the world capturing images of joy, innocence, love, anger, despair, cruelty, mental illness, poverty, and sexuality. Semak approaches this universal subject matter from his point of view as an interested observer, transforming what he sees into unusual images. Expressive faces, directed gazes, and areas of rich, deep black are all typical of his style. While there is a tension in his work between beauty and social comment, Semak does not intend the work to bring about social change. He seeks simply to show life.

Michael Semak’s work has been exhibited in more than 300 solo and group exhibitions, and has been recognized by numerous grants and awards, including the National Film Board of Canada’s Gold Medal for Photographic Excellence. Semak is currently exploring colour in his photography. 

Michael Semak

Birth name

Michael Semak


Born in Welland, Ontario, 09 January 1934




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Seeing Photographically (1 min 14 sec)

Becoming a Photographer (0 min 46 sec)

Teaching at York University (0 min 53 sec)

Working as an Assignment Photographer (1 min 37 sec)

Submitting and Selecting Work (0 min 38 sec)

Themes vs. Individual Images (0 min 25 sec)

People as Subjects (0 min 55 sec)

Equipment (1 min 25 sec)

Printing Rich Black Tones (1 min 5 sec)

Mood (0 min 33 sec)

Montorio nei Frentani, Italy (0 min 53 sec)

Couple, Skiathos, Greece (1 min 27 sec)

Social Change (2 min 12 sec)

The Role of Photography (0 min 49 sec)

The Role of the Viewer (0 min 49 sec)

Text and Images (1 min 17 sec)

Digital Photography (1 min 17 sec)

New Projects (1 min 0 sec)

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