Toronto-based music label Arts & Crafts celebrate their 10th anniversary this year. A new photography exhibit highlights one city resident's connection with the label, as well as Toronto's place in the international fashion and music scenes.
On now through June 15th at the Arts & Crafts pop-up shop at 1093 Queen St West, Arts & Crafts X Norman Wong offers a myriad of candid shots of the label's best-known artists including internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Feist, Broken Social Scene co-founder Brendan Canning, electronic artist Robert Alfons (aka Trust), urban troubadour Gentleman Reg, and many more, taken during photo shoots, tours, and concerts.
The exhibit (travelling to the label's outdoor concert June 8th at Fort York and Garrison Common, and part of this year's Contact Photography Festival) is part of A&C's celebrations marking their tenth anniversary. Label co-founder and President Jeffrey Remedios noted in the exhibit's press release that he's "excited to share some of the intimate, candid moments that (Wong) has captured over the past decade.”
Wong has been on the Toronto photography scene for just about as long. In 2004 he worked in the city's commercial film production industry assisting producers and sales directors. Wong's passion grew as he began shooting artists and creators on the set of many commercials and music videos. His first formal assignment was doing behind-the-scenes portraits at the Canadian Live 8 in 2005, and from there, documenting Toronto's independent music scene, particularly rambling band Broken Social Scene, a large collective featuring an ever-evolving who's who of Canadian artists including co-founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, Feist, Charles Spearin, Amy Millan, and others. Toronto art space Gallery TPW awarded Wong its Emerging Artist prize in 2006, and by the end of 2008, more extensive commercial work came calling.
Arts and Crafts co-founder (and one of the founding members of band Broken Social Scene) Kevin Drew poses for photographer Norman Wong.
Since then, Wong has gone on to shoot acclaimed musical acts like Metric, Stars, Gentleman Reg, Feist, Holy Fuck, and Land of Talk, and has become the exclusive photographer for Canadian model management firm Elmer Olsen. His work has been seen in international fashion magazines including Dazed And Confused, Under The Radar, and Flare. Current affairs site blogTO recently called him "possibly the most trusted man in the Canadian music industry."
Between setting up for his show last week, and continuing assignments this week, Wong shared his ideas on music, art, and why he doesn't like the word "photography."
Amy Millan and Evan Cranley of Stars, who will be part of the A&C Field Trip, a concert in Toronto on June 8th.
I see a huge mix of influences in your work - who are your favorites?
My favourites are Juergen Teller (who shoots the Marc Jacobs campaigns), Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, David Sims. My personal work is really inspired by Japanese photographers Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki.
Al Spx, lead singer of the critically-acclaimed band Cold Specks. In 2012, their debut album was short listed for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize.
Have you experimented with celluloid?
Yes, my Tumblr is dedicated to my personal work with film photography. I tend to use it more for personal work and some specific publications - have done film shoots with Bad Day magazine, I Heart Magazine (in Paris), SUP (in NYC), and most recently, a shoot with Elle Japan and (Toronto-based artist/photographer) Petra Collins. Film-based photography just works better with the aesthetic of some magazines.
What role does music play in your inspiration?
Fashion is my trade and I pursued working with musicians to satisfy my personal creativity. I find working with musicians can be more substantial -the images can have longer-term value.
Trust is the alter-ego of Toronto artist Robert Alfons. who's garnered critical acclaim for his unique electronic sounds.
What does Arts and Crafts mean to you?
They represent a specific type of movement in Toronto & Canadian music, and, they represent a specific pocket of musicians that I find really exciting. A&C have a strong voice –they’re not for everyone –but they’re always undeniably themselves. It’s like a jazz label or Motown: their music represents a place and a time, and a distinct group of people that I am fortunate to have fallen in with. They gave me a reason to pursue music photography. It wasn’t forced; I felt compelled to shoot them.
How have you seen Toronto's photography scene expand in the last few years?
It’s been pretty amazing, I'm a big fan of people like Mark Peckmezian and magazineslikeBad Day and The WA that have come out of my hometown. I am happy they exist and are from Toronto -they give it a certain style & aesthetic that I like.
Gentleman Reg (real name Reg Vermue) has had a prolific output, with critics likening his work to that of Aimee Mann and Cat Power.
What's the best thing about digital photography for you?
Full control in terms of post-production and manipulation for your image. I don’t call it "photography"; I call it image-making.