There is something to be said about trying to share a bit of a person’s story when that story is far too vast to narrow down. That something is, “It’s hard”. How does one try to encapsulate the magnitude of experience had by someone who has spent their every moment treading in an alloy of expedition and adventure? It is certainly not easy. Where do you begin, really?
Today, I’m here to introduce to you Freelance Toronto Photographer, Nick Wons.
If you live in Toronto and are part of one of its thousands of creative communities, you understand that the dynamic of these collectives are always very close knit, in the sense that everyone knows everyone, or knows someone who knows someone. Networking and creative comradery is something I find very special about this city. Emersion into the population of whatever niche you are involved in is to meet creative individuals of all walks of life. And more often than not, you cross paths with someone with such a profoundly grande, impactful, and unforgettable dynamism. If you know someone of this calibre, you know what their presence is like; step asides, all Alphas in the room, because the commander and chief has been designated.
Raw, open, pulsating… this person is like the lava stream you can’t peal your eyes from while watching from the solid rock bed that surrounds, catching the heat as they move. And if you know Nick, or have seen his work, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The dude’s blood is T.O+, therefore he encompass this rhythmical combination of Homespun Urban Animus, Gentleman Rapscallion, and a Wicked Sage Rudeboy. He’s hard to forget.
Our own meeting dates back to the beloved days of Loaded Fridays at Inside, Down One Lounge, and when Toronto Jungle was a Nina Spade staple. It takes a certain type of respected, genetic debauchery to keep up with it, and I’ve since understandably bowed out of the lucid scene aspect. Nonetheless, I will forever remain, at heart (and through my Sol Republic’s and bright orange bandanas), a ‘ginjie junglist’.
Nick gracefully and vociferously commands the Drum N Bass community here in Toronto, as well as frequents the Montreal scene, capturing titillating events on his DSLR, and charming comrades with his jocularity. With a sizeable creative projects and collaborations catalogue, he has experienced working with some of the City’s finest. The inventory can include the likes of TELEFILM Canada, TIFF, ETalk Canada, Montreal Gazette, Narcity Toronto, and more. His talent has lead him to shoot the likes of Skrillex, Action Bronson, Bag of Trix Crew, and an extended list of celebrities, musicians, and performers, claiming to “feel at home” amidst the hustle and bustle of events, festivals, night clubs, and red carpet events. And for me to sit here and attempt to list his credentials is not possible. He has, successfully and masterfully, done so much.
One thing that I must certainly make mention of, is his magic on social media. Dubbing himself ‘The Puddle King’, Nick probes Toronto neighbourhoods, armed with his gear, to shoot the fabric of our City, having a particular fondness for puddles and reflections. His Instagram (@nwons) is a marvel that must be followed, as well as his additional social media on Facebook and Twitter. Also, be sure to check out his photo collaborations with Eckhart Soul, ANSER, and Vice x Virtue.
I met up with Nick in late October to not only shoot his segment, but to also discuss what I feel is a true testament to his creative savvy and capability: His involvement with Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s annual all-night celebration and multi-exhibition of art installations. Its exhibitors includes well-known, independent, local, and international artists, and our 2015 edition featured the likes of Inside Out Project artist, JR, having installed one of the top 5 featured exhibits of the evening. Nick was selected to shoot JR’s installation, and over a beer, and followed by a righteous meal at Barsa Taberna in Toronto’s historic St. Lawrence district, we discussed precisely how he was able to land the gig.
And so, Spade On The Street’s first interview segment was born.
Nina – So tell me about the shoot you did for Nuit Blanche, how did everything unfold? How did you manage to get that gig?
Nick – First off, I hate heights. Absolutely hate heights. So I have been shooting for The City of Toronto for 5 years now. This year, JR was one of this year’s featured artists and so they gave us the option to choose, and I had missed the boat on asking who I wanted to shoot. I want to shoot JR, and they said well unfortunately, it has been filled, and I was like, uh! I love his work, I follow it all, they said okay, let’s see what we can do, maybe we can speak with the photographer, and try to switch it up. I was like, awesome. So, we go in for a briefing, and in my head, I pictured that they were going to do something there, at city hall, because if you ever look at JR’s work, it’s always shot from above, and it is always big scale. Initially, their plan was to project images that he had shot ONTO Nathan Phillip Square, so there was originally no wheat paste installation, so hearing that, it crushed my hopes and said, you know… I figured that there’s sure to be something cool I can get out there on social media. It wasn’t until the night before Nuit Blanche that… okay, I get on my social media, as always… get on my Instagram, Scotiabank is one of the people I follow, so I see them on my feed, and they post, “Getting Ready In Nathan Phillip Square.” And they show a photo of wheat paste being put down on the ground with people’s portraits that JR had been doing.
Nina – And that’s when you found out about the change in presentation.
Nick – Exactly. So I was like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,’ I mean, this was 8 o’clock at night, the night before… city hall is closed. And I need to try and get in touch with the right person ASAP because I need to get access to shoot this from above, because I know the angle, and there’s the fact that they are using a wet liquid to apply these portraits of people onto the ground… If you’re lighting it from 360 degrees the way that they did, you’re not going to shoot a single image of the installation that won’t have light reflecting off and glaring in your face at some point in the photo. So I was like, okay… I need to go to the roof. I put together an email and I emailed the reps at City of Toronto and told them-
Nina – This is the night before?
Nick – The night before, yes! So I said something like, I know that this is crazy last minute… at this point now, I think it might have even been 10pm the night before… knowing me… anyway, *laughs* so I said “We have got to get this shot. I just saw what Scotia Bank posted, this NEEDS to be documented from above, no ifs, ands, or buts.” They get back to me and mentioned shooting it from a window, but the windows have on them this… anti-bird-whacking material….
Nina – *laughs*
Nick – You know, that stuff on the windows, they’re like these little dots that are inches apart…
Nina – ‘Avian repellant’.
Nick- Yeah! So there’s no way you can shoot a photo through that window without getting at least one of these dots in your photo. I tell them again, this is the situation, this is what I need… I can’t be speaking to security, and they tell me I can only shoot this from a window. I CAN’T shoot this from a window, it NEEDS to be unobscured. I got a reply telling me they’d see what they can do. No promises, but we’ll see. And I said “Okay…. do what you can…. but at the end of the day? THIS is going to be the shot you want. And it will be the shot that, if you don’t get it, you’re never going to get it again, and you will regret that you never got it. And it’s always going to be one of those moments…”
Nina – Precisely.
Nick – I like to NOT have those moments in my life.
Nina – *laughs*
Nick – so at least I said something about it. My email was sent off to officials. We didn’t get a reply until 2 in the afternoon, day of Nuit Blanche. I needed to be on location, and shooting at 7pm. In 5 hours from then, I had to be at city hall, get up there, and shoot it. So the shot is taken at about 7:30-8:00 at night. And man, it was just so awesome. After I sent my final shot to them, I was like “and here you go”. I gave it to them that night, and said “I told you, it would be awesome.”
Nina – But it really was awesome.
Nick – Thank you. So that opened up to me asking them, “So, now that I’ve done this at night, can I shoot up there during the day?” And that is one really valuable thing that I have learned too, from this experience… you really don’t know what you can get away with until you ASK.
Nina – Absolutely. And that’s truly great advice.
Nick – Yeah, and I think that a lot of people are afraid to ask in many cases and it’s like, sure you can try to go about other ways of doing things, whether you’re exploring buildings or… I actually know somebody who’s a rooftop photographer in Toronto…. VERY controversial…. And instead of putting himself in a position where he could be charged with things like mischief, or a break-and-enter, he asks, you know? If you have a criminal charge on you, you can be indicted for anything in America, for instance, if you want to cross the border, and if you get a charge and you go to the states, they’ll say ‘we don’t want your kind here.” Anyway, so I ask, and I’ve got a lot of places that I have been permitted access too. I can’t talk about it right now, it’s confidential, but I got the permission to. I asked. They are high profile places that have been shot in the past, but the people who organize everything aren’t pleased with the shots that they have-
Nina – And they’re entrusting you to take new photos because they know you have the know-how, and know how good your work is.
Nick – I got a portfolio to show for it. I’m not just a dude with a camera. I’m actually a skilled professional who wants to come in and document it and make it worth your while.
Nina – One of the things that I was having a look at was other photographers from Toronto who are similar to the ones we’re talking about—rooftop-photographers. Those men and women who grab their cameras and scout the city for those perfect shots. And one of the things that I’ve noticed is there are similarities in their chosen locations. I do see a difference between your own style, and everyone else’s of course when you’re shooting the same locations. What do YOU think differentiates yourself from those who shoot like you, or maybe even mimic your method?
Nick – Hmm, interesting. Um. I mean, image wise, it’s tough to say. I don’t think there is much that differentiates me, other than it’s my personality. It’s my style and assets, you know. We have different editing techniques of course, I do try to look at things differently that the next guy… whether it’s my puddles, or my reflection shots, which is something I’ve really sort of become known for now. That’s the thing, it’s like it’s certainly my personality because I deal with clients and image wise… I get to tell MY story. I kind of share the way I see things and the way the world is the way I look at it. And we have all walked different paths, and if my photos are something that people can attach themselves to, and really appreciate and get a FEELING out of them–
Nina – Do you enjoy that there is this sort of ubiquitous connection between Toronto photographers?
Nick – Yeah!
Nina – There’s sort of a connected community there.
Nick – Totally. There is. I mean, there’s a lot of really good people out there shooting. Sometimes there’s a lot of ego, but when you strip it down, there are some really good people in the photography community in Toronto, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of them, and MORE as time goes on of course. Instagram has actually been a big one for me. Instagram has connected me with SO many Toronto photographers. It’s crazy. I’m going out this Saturday with four photographers I meet at a shoot for a clothing company that I got in contact with because they started liking my photos, and gave me a bunch of stuff to shoot people in. Instagram is a great tool. A picture speaks a thousand words. I mean, that’s more than I can fit in a Twitter 140 character limitation. Twitter doesn’t speak to me *laughs*. But Instagram does. Instagram is my twitter.
Nina – So here is the golden question: What is most rewarding about your craft?
Nick – The power that an image can have. That’s huge. It can invoke such a wide, wide, wide range of emotions. If a photo is personal, it can bring back so many memories, good and bad. To a person knowing the situation regarding a photo, and have a tie to the image, or even people who never had any connection with anybody in the image, or the situation…. I’ve lost a lot of friends in my life. I’ve been grateful to have been able to photograph a bunch of the friends that I’ve lost. After they pass, you know, it sounds really terrible to say it, but people don’t really learn the value of images of people until they’re dead. And it’s that sort of thing, you know… to see friends, family, loved ones… you use your images as an anchor. It’s something that can be grounding, and bring back good memories. It’s something people can come back to. I mean, that is incredible…. Wow…. I’m at a loss for words now even thinking about it… you know, images like that are better than any magazine spread, better than any paycheque…. It’s like that joke meme that goes, “I’m a photographer: My superpower is I make people immortal.” That whole thing really rings true when the sad things happen. And, of course, the GOOD things. I tell people “I’m going shoot you right now, you know. You’re never going to age. This place is never going to change in this photo. I’m going to capture this moment, and we are going to come back to it always.” Everything is going to stay the exact same. I’m able to capture, for a lot of people, including myself, a lot of emotion. The ability to be able to lock that down for people and give them that-
Nina – To take a finite moment and make it infinite…
Nick – Yes, I take seconds and I push them out for eternity. Not even seconds…. One two-hundredths of a second. One one-thousandth of a second! That power is just unreal. It pays the soul, which is most important. Its stuff like that that makes me keep doing what I do.