Anthony Gebrehiwot - My African story & life behind the lens


the force behind XVXY Photo


My name is Anthony Gebrehiwot. I am a self-taught photographer, entrepreneur, community enthusiast and the force behind XVXY Photo. The story of my life begins with that of my two parents; my mother Josee Gakara a beautiful and kind woman from Rwanda and my father Wondumu Gebrehiwot from Ethiopia. Their story, as I’ve come to learn and understand is quite unique. My parents met in Kenya many years ago,where my father was working as an electrician and my mother was running from the danger that was present in Rwanda at the time. I never had the luxury of meeting any of my grandparents. Three of them had passed before I was born and my paternal grandmother passed when I was about 5 or 6 years old. To this day, I can vividly remember the deep sadness and distress that filled our home when we found out of her passing. I do know though, that my mother’s father was somewhat of a big political figure in Rwanda and that he was quite an imposing figure, standing 7’0 tall. I just saw photos of him for the first time this year.


As someone who was born and raised in the heart of Toronto, my relationship with my family’s background has been interesting to say the least. I remember being ashamed of being from Africa literally all the way growing up until I had finished high school and maybe even while in University. In Elementary, I went to a school where there were only two African kids in my grade and only a few more in the entire school. Being from Ethiopia especially, was synonymous with being hungry and poor. Something I really loathed and didn’t want to be associated with. Thus, I often hid the fact that I was from there. On the other side, whenever I mentioned Rwanda most kids didn’t even know where that was up until Hotel Rwanda came out.

The fact that both of my parents moved to this country as immigrants with nothing much to show for didn’t help either. Even though they both worked really hard, growing up, our family always lived in a one bedroom apartment that wasn’t always safe. The kind of areas where many young black boys get caught up in trouble, so it was difficult to connect with my family’s history/background at first.

As someone who was born and raised in the heart of Toronto, my relationship with my family’s background has been interesting to say the least. I remember being ashamed of being from Africa literally all the way growing up until I had finished high school and maybe even while in University

In recent years and after learning more about my culture through friends/family and after visiting home for the first time this year, I am now extremely proud to tell people where I am from. Oddly enough, when I discovered my own joy in where my parents come from, I realized there’s a lot of people that have sincere and deep respect for both Ethiopia and Rwanda for different reasons.

Through all this, I’ve learnt of how unique my family must be, since I am yet to meet anyone who is both from Rwanda and Ethiopia. If you know of another Ethiopian/Rwandan, please tag them along this post. In general, people find it interesting when they hear about my background. It’s been a great way to start meaningful conversations and to connect with people.


Going back home this year at the age of 28, has been hands down the most profound experience of my life so far. For my entire existence, I’d heard stories about what this place is like and what it’s like to live there. So, to go there and experience it for myself was breathtaking. 90% of my family lives in Ethiopia, so I had the opportunity to meet family that I’ve never met before. What hit me really hard was how open, loving and kind they were to me, a sort of stranger whom they’d never known or met before.

The people, places and things that my eyes were able to digest was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Addis Ababa is relentlessly stimulating. There’s always something beautiful taking place. People are still but they’re naturally already posing for a photo. Kigali’s landscape is also breathtaking. If you find a good vantage point you can almost see the whole city light up because everything is on hills.

Even though I’m born and raised in Scarborough, both Ethiopia and Rwanda felt more like home than anywhere else I’ve been. Today, I proudly identify as an Ethiopian/Rwandan who was raised in Canada.

My life growing up in the inner city of Toronto could be perceived as unfortunate, but as a young boy, I didn’t know anything better existed outside my confines, so we made the best of what we had. Both my parents were first generations immigrants who moved to this country with very little and had to work extremely hard for what they earned. Our family always lived in a one bedroom apartment building that wasn’t always safe. I got into different kinds of troubles growing up but nothing too serious.

As a child, one of my best memories growing up was going down to the train tracks. We loved to play arcade games at the convenience store but we never had quarters. Thus, we would find some pennies and put them on the train tracks. When the train ran over the pennies they would become the size of a quarter and we would use those to play arcade games.

Anthony Gebrehiwot

Anthony Gebrehiwot

My photography journey has been a beautiful journey with lots of twists, turns, ups and downs. I started about 8 years ago back in my second year of university. My friend Brit was moving around with a camera around her neck quite a bit. After sometime, this camera pulled me in and I felt a draw towards it; so, I asked Brit if I could try taking a few pictures and lucky for me she obliged.

Even though I’m born and raised in Scarborough, both Ethiopia and Rwanda felt more like home than anywhere else I’ve been. Today, I proudly identify as an Ethiopian/Rwandan who was raised in Canada.

After taking my first picture and seeing how it turned out I was hooked. For a while, I kept using Brit’s camera whenever I got a chance until I was able to save up enough money to buy my own. A canon rebel xsi (it couldn’t even record video) but it cost $875. At the time, I was working a job that I hated and wasn’t really happy with the way things were going, so photography literally changed the direction of my life. After some harsh life experiences, a whole lot of depression and some experimentation with my camera, I got the idea of starting a charity called “Shooting For Change”. An initiative where a few other creatives and I organized photo shoots and used all the proceeds made to feed the less fortunate.

When we decided to wrap up that project, I took a year off of photography to explore other art forms and discovered another life changing entity called RISE. To this day, it’s one of the greatest things that I’m apart of ( Being in this atmosphere inspired me to pick my camera back up and go all in with what is now XVXY Photo.

Since starting XVXY, Friends and colleagues have all been asking about why I chose to name my photography company XVXY – something of a symbol rather than a word? The simple answer to this is that I’m a visual person, so I wanted to create something that could be perceived visually instead of being pronounced.

Furthermore, most people do not know that my educational background is very much science based having graduated from York University with a Bachelors in Kinesiology. This also played a key role in coming up with XVXY. In fact, this symbol represents the genetic imprint that I put into each of my photos. XX in scientific language is understood as the male chromosome while XY is understood as the female chromosome. My birthday is on the 23rd of March and my life path number is 5. I then turned the 5 into a Roman Numeral (V) and that’s how we got to XVXY. I did all of this because I’ve really come to believe that photography is a core part of my life purpose. I really believe that I was given this ability to help add value to people’s lives.

Talking about photography, I think that there’s something incredible about being able to freeze and encapsulate a single moment in time. There’s nothing quite like it. I’m fascinated that we’re able to do that and I don’t know if that will ever get old to me. When I think of some of my lowest moments, photography was the only thing that caught me and helped me get back up. It’s become some sort of a personal savior!

I remember times when I didn’t feel like I wanted to hang out with anyone but I could still pick up my camera and go for a walk to take pictures. Photography really speaks to my soul and I can’t ever see myself not taking pictures for a long period of time.

Anthony Gebrehiwot

Anthony Gebrehiwot

Because of the internet, it is also a great time to be a photographer. The internet has provided so many platforms for photographers like myself to get their work out there and be seen by the entire world. Although there’s a lot of competition, I really believe if you focus on honing in on your own craft people will feel the growth. It’s really undeniable if you think about it. It all comes down to how much time you’re putting into your passion.

So far in the past three years I’ve done 7 different exhibitions and I’ve been able to work on projects for Linked In, HBC, The City of Toronto and Nuit Blanche. I’ve been featured in Elle magazine, Afropunk, Complex, Noisey, Yahoo, Metro, The Globe and Mail, Now Magazine and a few more.

My ultimate goal with this photography thing is to travel, document. experience and share stories about every country in Africa. I’ve already booked my next trip to Accra, Ghana where I’ll be working on a couple of cool projects and receiving mentorship from some of Ghana’s top photographers.

As well, in the next couple of years, you can expect to see XVXY expanding its business to work with other creatives, taking on more international projects and doing more shows when back in Toronto.

As an individual outside XVXY, I plan on continuing to create work that tells more accurate narratives around people of color. When it’s all said and done, I would love to say that I played a part in contributing with photos that make people think critically, create insightful conversations and most importantly bring people together. That’s what I would like my legacy to be.

I’d really like to finish this by thanking my parents who’ve been a great source of inspiration and whom I’ve learnt so much from. In particular, I’ve really learnt to be kind human being from my parents. Today, and as I move forward and continue to pursue my dreams, it is such a pleasure for me to know that my parents are both proud that they raised an independent leader who is trying to do good in this world. I know that they appreciate this because it comes up in conversation every now and then. I also know that my parents had an expectation of what I would be and I didn’t meet that for the sake of my own happiness and that they respect this and admire my resolve to shape my own path. I am forever grateful to you both for your love, understanding and support.

ByAnthony Gebrehiwot