Celeb photographer Michelle Groskopf and The Prisoner Wine Company showcase Torontonians defying convention
“As a photographer, I often feel like a bit of an outsider — I don’t necessarily take traditionally beautiful photos. I love doing things differently.”
If you haven’t heard of Toronto-born and -raised Michelle Groskopf, you’ve definitely seen her work. She’s captured everyone from Bill Gates to James Turrell to Charli D’Amelio, making a name for herself through high-energy portraits that let the subject’s character shine through. But while she’s known for shooting the stars, street photography is still her passion which led her to a special project with The Prisoner wines.
The Prisoner is a luxury wine brand that defies convention and was founded on the philosophy that fearless thinking leads to bold ideas. In a special photography display commissioned by The Prisoner wines, a high-end wine brand, that will be featured at the Atelier Munro boutique on Hazelton Avenue in Yorkville, Groskopf took to the city’s streets to showcase Torontonians who stand out for challenging the status quo—be it through bold, boundary-pushing drag performances like Canada’s Drag Race star Lemon or exploring gender and identity through illustration like Benny Bing.
We sat down with Groskopf to chat about staying inspired, shooting some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and partnering with a wine brand born from bold ideas and defying convention.
How did you get your start in photography?
I started doing photography in high school at Mackenzie thanks to an amazing art teacher named Susan Morrison. She helped me develop an interest in documenting people on the street. From a very young age, I was running around downtown Toronto capturing everything and everyone on a film camera.
Eventually, I ended up living in New York City and working as a media producer and as a professor of filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts, but I always had the intention of starting my own creative practice one day. After 15 years, I decided to move to Los Angeles to start doing more creative work for myself.
It was a rough, slow start. It was really hard on me. To keep my spirits up, I bought a camera and started photographing people I’d see in LA.
I started getting attention for that work. At my first show in Los Angeles, the photo director of Wired Magazine showed up. She gave me my first big assignment — shooting their 25th anniversary issue. I set out on the road for two months, starting by photographing Bill Gates and ending with Zuckerberg at his home. It jump-started my career. I went from taking photos of random people in the street to shooting the Apple headquarters from a helicopter.
Your career really took off from there.
I’ve shot from boats, planes, trains, from Hawaii to Boston to New York. I’ve shot the Oscars, the Vanity Fair party, the Kentucky Derby and Coachella. A few weeks ago, I was in a room with Steven Spielberg. After that, I flew to Arizona to spend the day with James Turrell for Smithsonian Magazine. It was a special experience. He’s so gracious and such a big kid.
You’ve shot so many major names, yet you still go out to shoot strangers in the street?
Public photography is really important. It’s so important to document our lives and how people interact with each other. Seeing what public life was like, what people were wearing, what the attitude was — it’s a very important form of documentation.
This is part of what made this collaboration with The Prisoner so appealing. The Prisoner represents bold and original winemaking ideals and the brand engaged me to use my street photography experience to identify people who stand apart from the crowd. This was a daring assignment that reflects The Prisoner and its commitment to defying convention.
My happy place is being able to bring street casting into projects and showcasing not just celebrities, but every day people who are amazing and unique.
Is that what you’ve done for this new photo series with The Prisoner?
As a photographer, I often feel like a bit of an outsider — I don’t necessarily take traditionally beautiful photos. I’ve been told that my photos are untraditionally beautiful.
I’ve always been creative. I love doing things differently.
When I was introduced to The Prisoner and what they stand for, I realized that they’re like me. I’m a creative outlier. When collaborating, they allowed me to do my thing and showcase other creative people who elicit a response in me. It’s very bold of them — The Prisoner could have picked a simpler photographer to shoot bottles of wine on beautiful tabletops. But they didn’t.
My goal is to capture something special, a vibe that I pick up on from my environment and the character of the people in it. I’m lucky in my life that I get to shoot in the way I like and for the people I like. The Prisoner and I share a desire to create something original that gets noticed.
How did the shoot go down?
We had a really fun two days shooting this. I wish it hadn’t rained — I couldn’t use flash, so it became more difficult. But a big part of street photography is that it’s a moving creature.
Street photography is so special. It’s taught me everything I know. Being able to come to my city and capture folks on the street is exciting — any work coming out of that is going to be energetic. I only shoot people who inspire me, and there are so many amazing folks walking the Toronto streets.
Find the photos displayed at The Atelier Munro House at 19 Hazelton Avenue in Yorkville, beginning December 8 through to the spring.