For over 15 years, filmmaker and photographer Norman Wong has been showing us what Toronto music is like

For Norman Wong, making music videos is kind of coming full circle. When he started his creative career in the mid-2000s, Wong – now an award-winning photographer who’s shot celebrity portraits ranging from Drake to Cindy Crawford and worked with big global brands like Zara and Nike – didn’t want to be a photographer at all. He wanted to work in the cinema. To hear him say it, photography was just something he was into, in part thanks to, among other things, being an early fan of Broken Social Scene.

“I was a bit like that kid in almost known“, he says. “They kind of took me under their wing.”

Wong ended up documenting the band as they went from popular local attire in a town he says was “very sleepy and very desolate” at the time, to global stardom. This, in turn, gave him credit with what he calls the next generation of Toronto bands, bands like Death from Above 1979 and F—ked Up. From there, he started to cross genres, working with electronic musicians and metal bands, before doing the cover for Drake’s album. Scorpio. He says the range of artists he has worked with reflects Toronto’s musical evolution.

“There is no common thread in my career,” he says. “It’s always reacted to my surroundings. The diversity and range of the soundscape this city has produced over the past decade is extraordinary.”

Today, more than 15 years after the start of his career, Wong is back to working with moving images. Her music video for Charlotte Cardin’s song “Meaningless” was nominated for a Juno for Best Music Video. Wong says he is selective in the video projects he takes on, as he finds it to be more labor intensive than photography.

“Making a movie is not just about ‘showing up with your camera and feeling the vibe,'” he says. “It’s meticulous, painful. It’s a whole process that involves a lot more chess playing.”

In fact, even though he calls filmmaking his “first love”, he says he’s been turning down requests for video projects in recent years in order to really “master” photography. The last video he made before “Meaningless”, was the video for “Crater” by Gord Downie and the Sadies, in 2014.

“I didn’t want to be too diluted or smudged too thin,” he says.

He says working with Cardin was something he “couldn’t say no to” – in part because upon hearing the song, he realized it was an opportunity to fulfill one of his creative ambitions of long-running, what he calls, “a great pop dance video.”

“They originally had an idea that someone had pitched, but they weren’t totally sold on it,” he says. “I got a glimpse of the mood board of what they were looking for, and I didn’t really understand how that would apply to the song. When I listened to the song, I responded to it sonically. , that kind of shutting down and blowing up and what it does.”

After a decade and a half of documenting musicians, Wong says he’s at a stage where he spends a lot of time reflecting on his career. He says more than anything, he feels lucky to have seen Toronto become a place that produces world-class talent. He says that, from his perspective, what makes Toronto special is the fact that it is constantly changing.

“It’s a young city compared to New York, London or Paris,” he says. “These are cities with a lot of history built in. Toronto is almost like a blank canvas. There’s always room for diverse and interesting things.”