In anticipation of Norman Wong‘s exhibition for Arts & Crafts 10 year anniversary that will open Thursday, May 23 [tomorrow] and run until Saturday, June 15 at 1093 Queen St. W. (Unit 2), and will also show at Field Trip Music & Arts Festival and the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. We got a chance to talk to Norman about a variety of topics from his humble beginnings to working with some of the biggest names in Canadian indie rock.
Bizarre Beyond Belief: As a photographer who began to work primarily as a hobbyist, when did you realize that this would lead into a lucrative career path?
Norman Wong: It was definitely Elmer Olsen and his team (Richard Campbell and Ryan Greenwood at the time) who really started to push me towards the career I have now. Elmer runs one of the best modeling agencies in the country, and he definitely pushed me to realize that what I do can turn into a wonderful career!
BBB: Many photographers attend institutions or use various methods of training to gain recognition in the field, do you feel as if these are necessary steps considering your success without it?
There is no right or wrong in attending any institutions, as long as you are passionate and skilled with a good attitude, you will succeed in anything you choose to pursue.
BBB: Arts & Crafts and Elmer Olsen are highly regarded companies, what was the origin of those relationships and how did they form?
NW: I got introduced to Arts & Crafts through my relationship with Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene. I met Jeffrey Remedios who runs A&C and his team very early on, and they really did welcome me right away. It wasn’t until Brendan Bourke, who joined A&C briefly, really started commissioning me to do press photos for some of the A&C projects.
Elmer Olsen on the other hand, took me under his wing very early on, and he was really the one who gave me my big break. I photographed a test for a fashion designer I got recommended to by a friend, and she used one of Elmer’s models – he literally called me the second he saw the photos and brought me into his office. He was the first one who started to pay me to do test shoots for all his models – he firmly believed in me and I am forever grateful for that. It was Elmer, Richard Campbell and Ryan Greenwood who really helped bring me up into becoming a working photographer, and Broken Social Scene/Arts & Crafts who helped me stay interested and engaged with my work and helped me evolve. I never wanted to be a photographer, but meeting these people helped push me to this insane career.
BBB: As a Canadian photographer, do you feel it’s a more difficult community to achieve success as opposed to larger cities like London or New York?
NW: I can’t really say, I’ve never tried London or New York although sometimes I wish I was born in those cities. I would say there isn’t too much of a big difference, since people are breaking internationally here without being in London or New York. Take a look at people like The Coveteur and Tommy Ton – they have made big waves in the fashion world without being located in any of those cities, and they’re all from here!
BBB: Considering you work with a variety of different publications that vary immensely in style and aesthetic, what are some of the challenges, if any, you face when completing works for the different companies?
NW: I’ve never had an official website, so I would sometimes get confused as to what attracted a publication to assign me a project. I really just sometimes have to ask them directly how they would like me to spin this story, but most of the time they just give me free range and I work accordingly within their world.
BBB: Working with both the fashion industry and the music industry, how does your approach to the subject differentiate?
NW: Fashion is a little trickier because it serves a purpose and an objective: to show garments. It’s a fine balance you have to dance with when working with fashion clients, between finding the right vibe or mood that works with the objective. On the other hand, music is all about the vibe and mood and it’s about the artist or band. This is speaking from my experiences working in Toronto, it’s a different story elsewhere.
BBB: As a man who works with very well-known and established musicians and models, do you find that the creative process is more difficult than if you were to work with lesser recognized individuals?
NW: Not one bit.
BBB: Considering the magnitude and exceptional success of the Arts & Crafts label over the past 10 years, what does it mean to you to be included in this event?
NW: It’s a very special moment for me; I’ve been working on these portraits for over the past 8 years and I did them for myself. It’s a very personal collection.
BBB: We know what you will bring to the table in regards to photography, are there any other surprises that you, or Arts & Crafts have in store for the 10th year anniversary?
NW: I’ve been hearing talks about some interactive/video projects that have been developing in relation to a special album, but that’s all confidential.
BBB: Has there ever been a time in your career where you have needed to jeopardize your artistic integrity to make ends meet or is it more important to create work you truly love?
NW: Both – I do work all the time to make a living and I do work all the time that I truly love, it’s all about balance. I often finding myself taking on assignments that have no relation to my personal work, but take the opportunity to make the best of it and use the money to fund my own personal projects.
BBB: Your work is generally created in black and white, is there a particular reason in your decision to work in such a method as to colour?
NW: This is mostly relating to my personal work, my commercial work is actually quite colourful and bright most of the time. I really do enjoy working with black and white film – it has a tone and texture I can’t achieve with anything else. It’s hard to convince some publications I work with to use black & white film, but I’m happy to have a nice separation between my personal and my commercial work sometimes.
BBB: We understand you have a highly anticipated upcoming show for the Scotia Bank Contact Photography Festival, what else does Norman Wong have in store for the near future regarding projects and events?