“Toronto changes, but it also stays the same. And so, when I come home, there’s such a specific feeling to Toronto for me. There’s no city like it,” says Michelle Groskopf. Her experience as a street photographer has taken her all across the globe, to major cities around the world, but there’s something about her native Toronto–the air, the punk nature she feels it possesses–that keeps her coming back home. And, for her latest project, she did.
Her focus started in Vaughan, where Groskopf described herself as a “lost teenager.” In high school, a teacher pushed her to channel her energy into a creative pursuit, which quickly found the young Groskopf behind the lens of a camera, as well as behind old video cameras, shooting whatever caught her eye and making Super-8 short films. After a short-lived stint at York University’s film school, where she says she “quickly got bored,” she turned her sights on the big city, setting out for a place that can make or break a budding filmmaker: New York City.
In the Big Apple, Groskopf would find herself on walks, focusing her energy and getting acquainted with her new home the best way she knew how: with a camera. “I never thought of myself as a street photographer in any way. I didn’t even know what it was, and I didn’t tell a lot of people I was doing it. But I would just like to go out on my own. Any chance I got I would just take photos around New York City. And so that was like a common practice for me. But I never took it seriously,” she says. But, after 10 years of working as a media producer for different outlets including Vice, Groskopf decided it was time for a new home, and set her sights on the shimmering stars of Los Angeles.
The move was a lonely one, leaving Groskopf feeling isolated and regretting her decision. Again, she turned to her companion, her camera, to fill the void. “I was like producing in New York and I was like really dissatisfied with like producing and I wanted to be more creative and I recognized that I had gotten so far away from my original intentions of making my own stories and telling my own stories,” she says. “I would wander around LA and take photographs of people on the street. And that’s kind of the moment in time where I really dedicated myself to photography, not necessarily with the idea of a career line, but definitely, as a creative outlet to keep me going.”
Even still, it didn’t give Groskopf quite the respite she wanted from her loneliness, though it gave her a better understanding of her passion. “I started at Tumblr, and I had a lot of work up on this Tumblr, and I would spend all this time documenting the streets of LA and the people of LA and the details of LA but also I felt very lonely in it,” she says. Until she researched people who were doing the same thing she was. “I finally came upon this like, notion of street photography, and there was this huge community in history. People doing this kind of public photography. And I just fell down the rabbit hole and fell in love with it and ended up really pursuing it with a passion.”
It gave Groskopf an outlet to discover her city and, more importantly, understand her own views. “Even though I was doing street photography, which is a common genre, I felt at the time that my style that I was doing, or the things that I was exploring, was very different from my peers in it. And I really just put a lot of time and attention into figuring out what I had to say in this genre and how I wanted to represent myself.”
Her research and dedication worked, quickly catapulting Michelle Groskopf to fame and a successful career as a photographer. She has photographed the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jojo Siwa, Barbie Ferreira and more, as well as continuing her passion for street photography. This brings her back to a place she’s familiar with, and always had an affinity for Yorkville.
A few fall days when Groskopf returned home, the itch to shoot her native city, the streets she was most familiar with, came calling. It found her in Yorkville, in Kensington Market, the places that she connects with most. “There’s a very specific aesthetic to Toronto, I would say, definitely in the suburbs. I know things have changed a lot but there’s a specific aesthetic that was imprinted on me,” she says. In short, she looks for photos that evoke a sense of nostalgia in her.
Now, Groskopf’s latest commission by Prisoner Wine Co. looks back on her roots and includes a combination of street photography as well as photos of artists who have shattered boundaries and made a mark for themselves in their field, including Benny Bing, Jon Vinyl, Melissa Falconer and famous drag queen Lemon, known for competing in Canada’s Drag Race.
“I think everybody had a good time,”
Groskopf says. “We had got workmen involved, we had strangers coming up and like just being enamoured and it was such a fun moment. There were so many characters there.”
Beginning on December 7th, her works will be displayed at Yorkville’s Atelier Munro House, located at 19 Hazelton Avenue. “I’m happy that this experience happened. I think it’s really cool,” Groskopf says. “I’m glad that I got to celebrate Toronto in my personal way.”