All photos by Loni Schick – Story written by Michael Nguyen
Travelling is something many people wish for but only few actually get the chance to do. Loni Schick is one of the fortunate ones who was able to explore the world and experience some things that other may never get the chance to see. She and her SLR camera left her hometown of Melville, Saskatchewan after high school graduation to move to London, England. The scary part is that was only the beginning. Along the way, the 29-year-old photographer taught herself the ins-and-outs of photography all while seeing what the world had to offer. 21 countries, three continents later, she ends up in the city of Toronto, all while in the midst of what I would like to call, a “Toronto movement.” We’re in an era where the city is peaking in creative talent –photographers, designers, graphic artists, rappers, producers, you name it– and Schick is right in the middle of things. But how does she separate herself in an industry filled with go-getters, up-and-comers and established dudes? It’s through the influences of everyday life. Having visited places such as Vancouver, New York, Australia and Africa and seeing different lifestyles, cultures and behaviors must have done a lot in terms of real life learning experiences. It’s something no other photographer can say or take away.
In terms of Loni Schick’s work, the photographer –whose dad is responsible for her interest in capturing moments at a young age– keeps it real rugged, edgy and real through her documentation of urban street culture. Portraits of hip-hop’s stars in their natural settings, sneakers, girls (or as Kreayshawn would call it, “Bad Bitches”) and views of the city streets is what she brings to the table and it’s also reflective of herself. She’s a fan of hip-hop (read: the Creator, Tyler, below), she rocked some of the baddest Spizikes, Air Max and Dunks, fittingly while in New York, has a bad-ass tattoo of a camera on her thigh, and is always riding her BMX when the cold Toronto weather doesn’t crash in on the parade.
But shooting dope stuff isn’t all, in addition to her role as photo contributor for RESPECT Mag online, she’s also a writer and blogger for C.O.P Magazine. So it was a pretty unique situation when I had the chance to interview her, from one writer to another. Check out the full Q&A below as we talk about meeting Rich Hil, shooting pics with rappers, her dream photo shoot, what type of sneakers she’s into and of course, awesome travel memories. It’s safe to say the only thing more inked up than the girls she photographs is her passport. Peep the Q&A below.
First off, how was the experience meeting and photographing Rich Hil in Toronto a few weeks back?
Rich Hil is one of the most polite and chill artists that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and photographing. During the interview, the promoter, Lola walked in and handed him one of the show tickets, which had his face printed on it. He was so hyped that his face was on all the tickets that he stopped to snap a photo of it with his iPhone. I love moments like that. You know, the ones when you get to see just how much an artist loves what he or she is doing and is truly humbled and excited about their progress.
And what about some of the other rappers that you’ve been working with lately? And in the past, does any specific shoot with an artist stand out to you?
One of my favorite shoots was with Joe Budden for RESPECT. Mag. His manager was the coolest, most accommodating person I’ve ever dealt with in the industry. I had the entire right side of the stage to myself while the other photographers were on the left, and we were the only publication granted an interview after the show. Joe has incredible tattoos and one in particular stood out to me: the script on the back of his neck that reads “I’m doing better than I’m feeling.” My mission was to get a photo of that tattoo and fortunately after the show, he was willing to sit on the filthy dressing room floor while I stood on the couch behind him to shoot it.
As far as negative experiences go, I really can’t pinpoint any. If I have a camera in my hand and someone to shoot, I’ll do everything I can to make it a great experience. Even if it doesn’t necessarily go the way I had hoped or intended, it was likely a learning experience, which, even if it sucks at the time, is never, ever a bad thing.
Who are some of the recording artists that you would love to photograph in the future and why?
My dream shoot would definitely be with Kanye West – not only because I think he’s an incredibly talented artist but because he’s got this larger than life persona now and I’d love to photograph him raw, meaning: without a big circus crew of stylists, lights and assistants. As much fun as that circus would be, my favorite shots are almost always the ones that capture impromptu, genuine smiles, or shyness. Just Kanye, me, a camera and a walk around his old neighbourhood. That would be unreal.
Another artist I’d really love to photograph is Fashawn. Fash is easily one of my top 5 emcees. I’ve met him twice and have photographed his live shows here and in Holland but I’d love a one-on-one.
Oh, and Juelz Santana, Ghostface, Kid Sister, Frank Ocean, DMX, The Game, Pusha T, Mötley Crüe, Neil Young, and Lemmy (of Motörhead), because they’re also favorite artists of mine who I would really enjoy conceptualizing for and working with.
And what would the shoot look like?
Each shoot would vary dramatically depending on what the artist’s latest work is and how they are presenting themselves at that period of time.
So how did you get started in photography?
As far back as I can remember, my Dad had a video camera around, capturing all our cute and funny childhood experiences. He had one of those big bulky ones that recorded on a VHS tape…crazy right? I suppose my desire to document life, moments and people was instilled in me at a young age. I learned the basics in 8th grade when I was handed a Pentax, shown how to load film, then let outside to photograph some of my classmates. After that, I fell in love with the dark room. I actually just stopped by my photography teacher’s house in my Saskatchewan hometown over the Christmas holidays to say hi. I’ll be forever grateful for Mr. Durham’s 8th grade photography class.
Throughout junior high and high school, I continued to photograph my friends and family. I had made up my mind that I was going to study photography at the Art Institute of Colorado after graduation, however, after grad I decided I wanted to see more of the world. I applied for a work visa, packed a bag and my SLR and moved to London, England by myself. I instead chose to travel, shoot and teach myself the ins-and-outs of photography along the way. I don’t regret that at all. I briefly studied Cinematography in Vancouver but my heart just wasn’t in that city and program.
What about influences?
Ultimately, I’m influenced by things I see in my every day life. Whether it be in books, magazines, on my block while I’m biking to work, or a concert. There’s inspiration everywhere. I started buying Vogue magazines when I was 10. I was too young to relate to any of the articles in Vogue but the stunning photographs in the advertisements had me mesmerized. I was particularly taken by the beautifully-shot black and white Guess Jeans ads, which I wallpapered my bedroom with. I guess I’ve respected beautiful images from a young age and that respect and passion has only grown.
I wouldn’t say that I’m influenced by any particular photographer but I’m a huge fan of Martha Cooper, Nikki Sixx and Estevan Oriol. Images from Martha’s photo documentation of the NYC graffiti scene in the 70s have become iconic. Nikki has a passion for photographing subjects that are typically viewed as unattractive and he goes on to create these beautiful, striking images. Estevan’s portraits are top level to me. I’ve looked through my copy of “LA Woman” so many times I could probably be able to tell you which photo is on which page number.
There are many other photographers whose work I admire: Floria Sigismondi, Annie Leibovitz, Dan Martensen, Bruno Dayan, Ellen von Unwerth to name more.
What is it about urban culture (sneakers, hip-hop, street art, graffiti, etc) that makes you so intrigued by it and how does that translate into your work?
Because I grew up in a small town where none of these things existed, urban culture was foreign but intriguing to me. The only window I had to this world was Yo! MTV Raps, movies and the odd TV series. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I became really inspired by these things. I love creating excessively colourful images so it was only a matter of time before elements like graff and loud 90s clothing invaded my work.
A lot of your work has to do with sneakers. So what are some of your favourites and can you describe your style?
I have a lot of favorite sneakers but the ones I actually wear depend on the season, where I am, and what I’m doing. When I was walking around and shooting a lot in NYC over the summer, you’d rarely find me in anything other than Spizikes, Air Max or Dunks. Back in Toronto, riding my BMX I’m almost always in Vans SK8-His and through the winter Jordan 9s. However, since I bought a pair of bright blue Vans Authentics to wear as part of my “Tyler, the Creator” Halloween costume, I fell for their comfort and they’re the only sneaker I’ve worn since October 31st.
My style is like a garage sale, a mix of things that probably don’t go together. One day I’ll be in a shredded Motörhead tank-top (once a t-shirt), metallic leggings, leather jacket and heels and the next it’s a girly lace mini-dress, thigh high socks, fur collar and tons of jewelry. For the most part, it depends what I was listening to before I left my house. I listen to a lot of Dipset, which would explain why I have a custom Dipset crop top, a Juelz tank-top and gold Diplomats earrings. Music invades all areas of my life.
What are some of your favourite subjects to shoot and why?
I think I’d be better off listing the very few things I dislike shooting. I enjoy everything I get to shoot, from artists while I’m freelancing to cities when I’m not.
Before, during and after a shoot, what goes through your mind in terms of the creative process?
When I’m planning a shoot with an emcee, generally the first thing I do is check out their music and try to get a feel for their whole vibe – musically and aesthetically. I also do a Google image search to check out some of the photo concepts and poses they’ve done in the past, to avoid repetition. Often times, I’ll be shooting the artist in or around a concert venue before or after their show so I have to work with the spaces and backgrounds that are available. Sometimes I’ll be going to a venue for the first time so the ability to think quick and maintain a calm, chill and friendly nature is crucial. During the shoot, I talk a lot, which is funny because I’m not an overly talkative person if I don’t have to be. My objective is to make the artist feel the least amount of awkwardness, so I’ll ask them questions about themselves and their music in between directing and offering positive feedback as to how the images are coming out. In my experience, the more at ease the subject is, the better the photos will be, and in turn, the more likely they’ll want to work with me again.
Your site says that you’ve travelled to 21 countries and lived on three continents. Where did you live and why did you move so often?
As I mentioned earlier, I moved to Europe when I was 19. A few years later I moved to Australia. I applied for permanent residence and planned on settling there but life changes and you roll with it in order to keep yourself happy. I’m not afraid to take opportunities as they come, if I believe it’s something that will result in increased happiness and personal growth. I actually thrive on that.
After a friend of mine passed away suddenly in 2006, I made a promise to myself that I would live to be happy for myself and not for anyone else. So, if an opportunity for a move to, say, Japan, presented itself next month, I’d probably take it. Why not? One of my favorite quotes is “Have a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing”. That may sound cold to some but to me it means that life is happening right now, things may not always go as planned but roll with it and keep your mind flexible and accept challenges. Change is your friend.
Can you tell us about any cool stories about some of the places you’ve lived or travelled to?
When you visit a landmark that you’ve seen everywhere throughout your life: in books, magazines, in movies and on TV, it’s such a surreal experience when you’re actually standing in front of them. When I saw the Sphinx, Berlin Wall, Eiffel Tower, Tower of Pisa, pyramids and Big Ben, it seemed like I was looking at some sort of optical illusion or remember those red 3D viewfinder toys where you pull the level down and it goes through the slides? It felt like looking through one of those. Those moments were my most memorable travel experiences.
One event, in particular, will always stand out to me as a favorite travel story though. It took place at a campsite in Tanzania, Africa. After a long hot day in the sun on a safari, I was chilling on a cozy bed of pillows in a gazebo when I heard branches snapping and water splashing from behind the trees. I grabbed my camera and went to investigate. I pulled back a branch that revealed the most incredible scene I’ve ever witnessed. Below on the plain, an elephant was crossing the river. What made this even more incredible is that the sun was setting so the water was sparkling gold and everything else was so quiet and still except for the splashes made by this grand animal as it walked across the water. That very moment and the experience of traveling through Eastern Africa, and sleeping in a tent for a month, changed my life.
So do you see yourself working on your photography in Toronto for the next little while?
I’m not sure that my definition of “next little while” is the same as most people’s. I haven’t lived in the same city for longer than 2-and-a-half years since I was in high school. This isn’t something that’s ever been intentional, it’s just the way it has occurred. My two-year anniversary with Toronto is coming up in March and as much as I like this city, I’m always open to new adventures and opportunities. We’ll see what happens.
You’re another name from Toronto that’s making it big with your work. The city has been buzzing lately because of the boatload of talent coming from recording artists, photographers, designers, producers, etc. What are your thoughts on the Toronto movement of rising talent as well as what it means to you to be one of those established names and working in the city?
It’s very humbling to have my name thrown into the mix, especially as I’ve only lived here for 2 years. Toronto is certainly full of artistic talent and although Canadian artists in the past have felt the need to head south for the border to achieve notable acclaim, I believe that we are now in a position where we can stay put, gain respect and recognition right here, and rep our city and our own country.
In addition to photography, do you also write? What made you get into writing?
I’ve been writing and blogging for C.O.P. Magazine since 2009 and I also blogged for Female Sneaker Fiend for a few years. I’m writing and blogging much less these days to allow time for more photo work and also to enjoy my hobbies and time with friends. On my days off, I try to spend a minimal amount of time on my computer.
I’m really excited about my most recent article for C.O.P. that will be in the next issue. It’s about Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle company. I visited her 160-room mansion in San Jose, California a few years ago and was intrigued by her story.
I began writing/blogging out of boredom after I left Vancouver and moved back to my hometown in Saskatchewan. I started up a blog where I wrote everything from very personal entries to sneaker releases. Through that blog, I met some really great people from all over the US – some of whom I had the pleasure of meeting on trips to LA and NYC.
Can you talk about some of the things you like to do outside of photography?
Oh man, there are so many things I love to do in my spare time. I’m a bookworm and especially enjoy autobiographies. I’m not all about movies like I used to be but I really love watching music documentaries. I ride BMX and work out 5 days a week. I’m currently learning how to play my the beautiful Fender acoustic guitar that my Dad gave me and I plan on obtaining my gun license this year as well. Aside from that, I love simple daily things like spending time with my friends, exploring Toronto’s neighbourhoods, shopping for antiques, being stoked and having fun.
Last question, what was your first ever piece of published work (and for which magazine/publication) and what was going through your mind when you saw it published?
In terms of published work in print, my first was in an issue of C.O.P. Magazine in Australia. I wrote an article about relationships/dating from a very sarcastic and crude perspective. I was so geeked when I received a copy, and more so when I kept getting great feedback about it. My first printed photo was in the following issue of C.O.P. in which I had interviewed and photographed Sibley, a recording artist in Los Angeles. The photo ran as a 2-page spread. I was so hyped on Ivee’s (the art director) beautiful layout and the entire piece. It was a very happy moment that opened the door to many more in my career.