The city of Toronto used to be referred to as ‘Toronto The Good,” because during the time well before immigration saw a major increase to make it the city it’s universally known for, today, it was a mainly suburban feel with an overwhelmingly white presence, and everything was easy going (to some respect), and crime wasn’t a thing that people thought of, but as time went on, and more people came into the city, and the little thing called ‘racism’ came more into the forefront, Toronto’s squeaky clean label evaporated with the strength of one Thanos snap.
As the city evolved from ‘Toronto the Good’ to ‘TDot’ to ‘The 6’ (much to my own dislike), the city has seen its own fabrics stretched out, shredded, re-sewn and strewn about in ways that has made it possible for all of the nations in the world to celebrate under one umbrella, and it’s a beautiful thing to be part of when you’re in the thick of it, but lost in the cloud of multiculturalism, there’s a dysfunctional narrative that diversity is the true strength of the city, which is the city’s motto, ironically enough. Through the years, we’ve seen Toronto photographed in much of the same frames, whether it’s related to our growing infrastructure (condos, galore) or the beautiful people who continue to populate our ever growing city and surrounding GTA, to the many events that take place that celebrate the diversity that the city claims it loves and supports all 365 days of the year, there are so many depictions, and yet lost in the shuffle, Black people, their stories, their humanity, and joys aren’t captured in ways that mirror their existence on a day to day basis. We see the pain through the media, whether they’re in video form or in print, but not so often the joyous moments.
“It’s called FILMFORFUN because it’s about people having straight up genuine fun. We live in a time where to go to functions and people just stand up on a wall looking bored as hell. Lame…. Just have FUN. What’s the worse thing someone could say about you? “Oh look at that girl dancing. She looks wack.” Okay but who actually genuinely enjoyed themselves? That’s all that really matters.” – Vonny Lorde
Vonny Lorde, a west-end representative, who’s been on her journey in the world of photography for as long as I’ve known her, which is roughly 4-5 years. Now, she may say that her journey hasn’t been quite that long, but with the constant flow of life that she’s been riding with, she’s a face in the city that deserves to have her shine, because she’s been capturing the likes of Black people and other people of colour in their element, in ways that haven’t been fully treasured in the city amongst first & second gen children of immigrants, because needless to say, the archives of Toronto Black History are damn near relics of time to the point where you even question their existence in the first place. With Black photographers like Jalani Morgan & Soteeoh breaking the mold in depicting the city and its Black residents in beautiful vignettes, Vonny takes on her own persona and captures the world that she knows, which is the ominous vibe that is Downtown, more specifically, Queen Street West & Kensington Market.
“The time that I started shooting, it seemed like all the party photographers were doing the same thing. Just capturing photos of people for the sole purpose of them getting paid— not because they actually enjoyed it. Because of this, I felt as if their images were soulless in a sense. A lot of these people don’t feel comfortable in front of party photographers because they’re just like “Wait, who are you and why are you invading my space?” because these photographers aren’t actually a part of the same scene as these party goers. They don’t really know these people like that. It’s a job to them.” – VL
Film For Fun (Vonny’s Photography Business name and title for her 2 published books) is determined to capture Black people and other POCs in their party element, which for many longtime habitants of Toronto, seems like a dying time, when at one point, it was all over the city. From house parties in each of the Ends (East & West), to the infamous and now defunct clubs: Frequency, Guvernment & Koolhaus, Wetbar, and Mansion (pretty sure that name has changed 8 times over, or so it seems), the dance scene/party era of Toronto was essential to establishing our own culture, and it’ll forever be immortalized in the forums and profile pages on TDotwire & Vibe.TO respectively. The photos lived online, but that era wasn’t captured in the ways that Vonny is taking her time in doing so now to the point where we can look back in 5, 10, or 20 years from now and say, ‘damn those were good times,’ instead of living vicariously through our Black American neighbours that lead us to call back to our fashion faux-pas in the early 2000s. Facebook in the Late 2000s & early 2010s changed all of that in terms of parties and such being documented for the world to see, but it was a different time, and for Vonny to capture the party life through film, there’s a different feel to it that gives the photos a timeless attribute.
“When I got involved in the “scene”, it was as a person first, not a photographer. So that gave me the advantage that I have now. People are already comfortable with me even if they don’t know me personally because I’m a familiar face. Thanks to this, it’s easier for me to capture people being genuine and having fun. They’re comfortable. That’s definitely given me an edge in my career.” – VL
We all live for nostalgia, so it makes sense that film is her preference of choice to itemize a time where, even if it was for a night, joy was in the air instead of the struggles and hardships of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world that has no signs of slowing down. At her event for the debut of Film For Fun 2, I took appreciation of the candid photos that she’s managed to capture, ranging from celebrity appearances from Jorja Smith (whom she tweeted months ahead that she wanted to take her photo in 2019), Ty Dolla $ign, Odd Future’s Taco & Jasper, Iman Shumpert, Jazz Cartier & Tory Lanez, just to name a few. The multicultural mosaic that City Councilors and talking heads love to chime about when it comes to Toronto’s claim to fame, it’s evident in the images Vonny produces, but there’s true diversity there because from the DJs, to the partygoers, and even the cameos from famous faces, it’s a wide range of people whom you wouldn’t think be in the same room together, or not at least in the same photobook. But that just speaks to the worlds Vonny can bounce between, whether in the party or in the corporate environments.
“I absolutely LOVE capturing people having fun. Like, it warms my heart. I often tell people that when they book me to shoot a gig, they’re booking a photographer AND a hype man. Because that’s what I do. I love it.” – VL
There’s a lot of facts in that statement, and it was one of the main reasons why my wife and I booked her to shoot our wedding. She makes people feel comfortable in any setting, but she encourages shenanigans, to make a fool of yourself, and genuinely enjoy yourself while she captures the beaming energy you not only give out, but what she pushes you to express. But it’s not always easy for her to do, especially when you deal with a mental health situation where you have to constantly be in people’s faces, when more times, you don’t even want to be outside.
“For those who are unaware, I’m bipolar… Some people might feel as if my energy is off or that I’m giving them attitude when I truly don’t mean to. Not to mention, I have really bad social anxiety. Having a camera in my hand is so calming because I’m not expected to actually participate in socializing if I don’t want to… sometimes I end up at gigs where I don’t have a choice but to be in crazy, intense crowds. I’ve actually have had a panic attack at a gig and completely passed out. To be completely honest, I still really haven’t found a ‘balance.’ It’s a work in progress.” – VL
Toronto is a city that has seemingly seen their club scene crumble into dust, but with small parties at ever changing venues, whether they’re Soca Fetes or House Party themed, they’re out there, but it’s not like making a plan to go down to one subsection of downtown and club hop. That was the excitement for people living all the way out East or West, to converge onto Downtown’s excitement and really embrace the atmosphere that had been hyped up. One of the venues that Vonny frequents and has played a part in shaping the new age sound & style of music & fashion in this city, is located in the heart of Queen West, and that’s Apartment 200. I’ve only been once, and it truly is a mash up of King Street suits, Queen West grunge, Midtown preps, and some of the who’s who in the music industry. It’s become a frequent spot for most celebrities to hang out, whether they’re on tour, or if they just happen to be in the city. That’s what makes what Vonny captures there, so impactful to the current social fabric.
“I think Apt plays an important role in Toronto’s youth culture whether anyone wants to admit it or not. You’ll see people cringe talking about Apt, saying things like “oh that place is for scene kids” but those people who say that still find themselves at Apt one way or another. It’s interesting. Being a photographer at Apt has given me some sick opportunities. I’ve shot Skepta, Dave, Jorja Smith, MadeinTYO, Popcaan, Aminé, Taco from Odd Future and so many more artists there. It’s also really cool to take photos of bigger artists just having fun— people forget that they’re human too.” – VL
It’s one thing to be a woman who’s a photographer, but to be a Black Woman on top of that, there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s been met with a lot of resistance and criticism, whether it’s loud or behind-the-scenes. To gain as much access as she’s created for herself, there are a lot of assumptions to be had, but when we had a few minutes to talk at her event, she simply put it, “a lot of it is finesse,” and that speaks to the hustler’s spirit of the city of Toronto, especially when it comes to Black Youth. You have to have your main gig, and then you have your side gig, and then a hustle that you work on that you eventually want to replace as your main gig. It’s not a concept exclusive to Toronto, but when you’re dealing with Subway fares constantly going up, rent is constantly skyrocketing, and the wages aren’t complying with that, you have to figure a lot of things out. A lot of kids don’t get the chance to make it out of their respective neighbourhoods, because on top of all that, they also have to contend with the fact that they live in one of the most competitive cities in the world, job wise, and to break into a creative field with little infrastructure as is to support said field, it makes it damn near impossible.
So, the remedy? Party. Blow off steam. Have a great time even for a short time, because it’s in those moments where you come together as disadvantaged youth, as the generation that sees the limited amount of opportunities because of the logjam at the top, because of nepotism, because of classism, and you know, racism plays a part. But for the few hours that the youth can escape the burdens of everyday responsibilities, they release themselves, and it’s Vonny who has experienced that grief (and in some ways, likely still does), but as well sought relief.
“I didn’t really think FFF would have the impact it ended up having. For me it was always “sick lemme take photos at all these events I end up at of people having a good time.” That’s it. It wasn’t until after the first show that I realized that I’m documenting our youth culture. I think FFF can and will play a huge role in telling Toronto’s story.”
Vonny’s an important piece of the larger puzzle that is the ‘scene’ of Toronto, because when millennials and future generations grow up and want to look back on how the city was for kids who looked like them, there will be hopes that there will be plenty of examples to look at, so that they can keep the tradition of documenting our culture in full frame. It’s imperative that we appreciate our artists while they’re here putting in the work because they love what they do, and not wait for yet more talent to leave in order to assign them value. That being said, go buy FILMFORFUN2 while copies are still available, and book Vonny for your next event. That’s a STiXXclusive endorsement.
“I’m honestly so thankful for my disciples. If it weren’t for everyone’s support, I wouldn’t be where I am now. The Lorde loves you.”