Vonny Lorde is a homegrown, Toronto Photographer and Creative Director creating opportunities by providing an affordable and safe space to amplify Black creatives.
Vonny’s not-for-profit organization, ExposureTO, is a 400 sqft photography studio located in Parkdale. The studio offers cameras, camera equipment, lighting and backdrops members can use, courtesy of Fujifilm North America and Henry’s Canada. “I went through a lot of things that non-Black creatives wouldn’t go through to get certain opportunities,” says Vonny Lorde. “I don’t want any other Black person to go through even half of the things I went through working in the industry, so what is it that I can do to help assist and amplify our people?”
Vonny recalls growing up in Toronto, not having any role models guiding her journey or providing affordable spaces such as ExposureTO. “I want this to be a safe and accessible space for us, by us.” A sentiment echoed in ExposureTO’s online presence which serves as a space to showcase featured talent; an ever-evolving list of Black photographers and videographers, and financial resources such as The Film Fund, an initiative to provide photographers with free film.
Vonny and I spoke over a zoom call one Friday morning (though I’d prefer to talk in person, this was an ideal scenario, given the constant precautionary reminders to social distance during this seemingly never-ending pandemic). During our conversation we talked about Vonny’s journey with photography, working in digital and analog formats, points of inspiration, and more.
AARON CLARKE: Has photography always been the dream for you?
VONNY LORDE: No, the original career choice when I was younger was Graphic Design. In High School, when everyone was trying to figure out post-secondary, I wanted to go to Ryerson but didn’t have the prerequisites for the graphic design program. Calculus and Vectors was the same class at my high school, and I knew there was no way I was passing it! It made me introspect; I asked myself, “What else do I really enjoy doing?” I used to photograph for my high school yearbook back then, and it prompted me to take it up professionally.
AARON: Did you get started in film? Was there the same interest in digital?
VONNY: I actually started off shooting digital. The person I was dating at the time had a Canon Rebel camera, he was a painter and used it to take photos of his paintings and asked if I wanted to use it; heck yeah I want to use it! That’s pretty much how I got my start into digital. It wasn’t until my 2016 trip to New York and visiting The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and seeing an exhibit that intrigued me that this artist, over the span of his life used different mediums. That’s when I said, “I shouldn’t bind myself to just shooting digital. The minute I get back to Toronto I’m going to start shooting film.”
AARON: What is your process for shooting film?
VONNY: Before I even get into the actual process, the first thing I ask myself is, “Do I want to shoot this on digital or film?” Quite often I’ll do both but I tend to lean towards the film photo. Film is nostalgic, and I think that’s part of the reason why it’s had such a resurgence. People who pick up film cameras, it’s really easy.
My process for shooting film: The first thing I ask myself is, “Point and shoot or SLR?” I also need to know what mood I’m going for. I try to tell people all the time that it’s so important to make a mood board. There are many times in the middle of shoots where I get mentally distracted and just a glance at the mood board helps reroot!
Whether I’m shooting film or digital, something that is really important to me is making sure whoever I have on set is comfortable. If one isn’t, or if they don’t want to be there, it transfers [to the set]. Anyone who’s working on set with me can attest to this. I’m usually goofy, I guess, tell them a one-two little joke here and there and make them laugh.
AARON: I wanted to talk about your Film For Fun series. I see a lot of life, laughter and passion in those shots. Is that curated intentionally or a by-product of the energy you’re around?
VONNY: That was definitely a by-product. At the time when I first started shooting film, I was mostly doing a lot of club photography. If you go to any club page, the photos seem really staged, so going into these spaces with a point and shoot gave me the ability to capture more genuine moments of people having fun and enjoying themselves.
AARON: I saw the crowdfunding on Twitter for ExposureTO and the reception from the community, how does that feel?
VONNY: I was super anxious but knew that this was something I wanted to do. I do, however, have this looming fear of failure, and what failure looks like to me is not being able to help enough people. So it’s definitely a bit of pressure I put on myself. Almost every time we have a booking I’ve noticed that people will always include how happy they are that we finally have a space for our people. That makes me feel good because that’s what it’s for.
Excuse me if I’m silent/not as vocal for the next couple of days.
AARON: I’ve read a few articles on ExposureTO and I found them incredibly inspiring. How do you feel about what’s been accomplished so far?
VONNY: You asked me earlier if I had any mentors, Brianna (Roye) is an OG to me. She and I went to middle and high school together, she was the only other Black woman photographer that I ever had around. I have a very special place for her in my heart so it was only fair that our first Featured Artist was her. I just want to help these artists feel validated.
It’s not something I really think about but I had a conversation with someone when I was doing the ‘film for fun’ books and they said, “Years from now, when there’s a documentary about Toronto (photography history), we are going to be the people that are talked about!” Art Foundation of the city, you know?
I’m just here to help. I’m not doing any of this for clout or to be perceived a certain way, I just want to help people.