Everybody wants their picture taken. Meet the team capturing the next generation of Toronto’s social scene through the growth of a city.
Was a party really worth being at if there are no pictures? Yup, that’s really the motto that seems to bind the social fabric of Toronto. Alongside the blogger boom, the condo boom, and basically every other boom in The Big Smoke over the past five years came the photographers—amateur or otherwise—to capture our every drink, our every meal, our every smile, our every night out. Seriously, a party might not have a DJ or, hell, even a media member in sight these days, but there will always—always—be someone at the ready to take a picture, or 300, because, well, Instagram isn’t quite the equal substitution that an iPod is for someone spinning records.
If you’ve skulked around Toronto’s social scenes, you’ve probably run into Ryan Emberley, the man behind The C Daily, a local website that houses the idealized images of our fair city’s fairer glitterati, like an accessible digital medium for our ever-rampant, beautiful narcissism. The online portal of pretty people and places and parties was founded in 2009 (originally as The Compendium Daily) by JJ Thompson, a stoic-y Toronto transplant from across the Atlantic who biked around town looking inside storefronts to find out who was doing what, where. “I was just really blogging for myself, killing time as I waited for a work permit,” reflects Thompson. “[My focus] narrowed as the events became more popular. To be honest, I was shocked anyone was reading my WordPress-hosted blog.” The Compendium came at the right time: Toronto’s hoods were exploding with shops and restaurants, up Ossington Avenue and along Dundas West, hotel after hotel.
Emberley, who was working as a television producer with an interest in photography, met Thompson at a party for Warner Bros. and a mentorship was born. “I had just purchased my first DSLR, and JJ suggested I shoot some parties for him,” he recounts. “So I got out of television and spent the next six months shooting parties for free, learning the dos and don’ts of making people look good.”
In the year that followed, the internship-like opportunity—along with the things to do in Toronto—multiplied into a steady stream of business for the two and the Little Blog That Could turned into a legit avenue for procuring new clients. “The website is like an outlet that publicizes our work,” explains Emberley. “I mean, it does provide a service for people who read it and follow Toronto’s social scene, but it’s doubled as a showcase for our work and those of upcoming photographers now.” Eventually, after Thompson became a family man, he stepped back from Compendium to focus on Media Needs, a boutique, client-focussed photography atelier born out of the blog, leaving the day-to-day operations to Emberley, who then gave it a facelift and rechristened it The C Daily.
Although it’s really quite easy to write off a collection of photos of pomp and circumstance as frivolous, it’s more enticing to look at the The C Daily through a cultural focal point: it represents the fusion of Toronto’s high society with new society, the next gen if you will. It’s also a time capsule of where the city’s been and where it’s going. “Toronto, someone said to me, is really a ‘party town.’ And I think it’s become like that, especially over the past four or five years,” muses Emberley. “Other cities have a strong nightlife, and so do we, but it’s something entirely different.” Emberley, who usually takes 700 photographs a night, feels there’s a big merger happening between social classes, where galas and fundraisers once only frequented by the rich and powerful have become more open, democratic spaces. “The stratums are crashing into one another more rapidly than ever with bloggers and Twitter winners and all that, and they’re all interacting and getting to know each other,” he says. “[Torontonians] have a culture here that sort of hates fun, but all these events are making a big case against that and people want to be part of it, and they can.”
This also effects interest: “We used to joke that the site is only for the 300 or so people who attend these events that care about seeing themselves, but traffic”—averaging about 20,000 visits a month—”shows differently.”
Photographing parties is hardly haphazard: it’s calculated, it’s art, it’s effort. With an average of one picture for every minute of a party, and with more lensmen fighting for the best shots (see: Power Ball), it’s a bit of a jungle out there, like destructive photographers exhausting the guest of honour out of taking any more pictures, or those who flat out steal a frame altogether to make two photos indistinguishable. But I have found that there is this weird level of “patient confidentiality” among them: you won’t find out who has the worst cellulite or ill-fitting rug, nor will you see photographic evidence of “classified situations,” like a certain star doing a certain substance at a certain TIFF party. Shhh.
No, no, The C Daily is not some outlet for douchey club pics that barely belong on Facebook. There are standards: no beverages in view; no men with their possessive arms around women; no suggestive, silly gestures. “I’m attracted to the ‘peacocks’ of the party: people who are well-dressed, engaging, or those who contribute to the various landscapes of Toronto,” says Emberley. That includes everyone from bloggers and downtown babes to philanthropists and business leaders. Oh, and celebrities: Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, and Stevie Nicks are just a few of the names you’ll find on the site. Among Emberley’s favourite locals are pixie blogger Casie Stewart (“she’s always willing to ham it up with the product”) and socialite Sylvia Mantella, one of Toronto’s real desperate housewives who is “so darn nice.” Jian Ghomeshi is another face you’ll see often, as is fashion designer Lucian Matis, “a real personality in a sea of wannabes.”
What I find most noteworthy about The C Daily raison d’être isn’t necessarily its glossy galleries, but more so the community of photographers Emberley helps mentor, support, and employ. Several weeks ago, I sat in one such group initiative, “PhotoTalks,” a free, semi-regular speaker series that gathers shutterbugs, aspiring or otherwise (and mostly on the Daily roster), to talk shop and hear advice from pros like Thompson. In an industry that has, until recently, been dominated by veteran George Pimentel, who appears to leave no heir or protege, the men behind the Daily make it a point to foster new talent, especially power femmes like Becca Lemire and Tara Noelle that will likely roast the sausage-y fest that is event photography in Toronto. This new crop of photographers represent the spirit of my generation, high society be damned: community, growth, divertissement, boundary-breaking.
Above all, The C Daily has become a scrapbook of memories, a visual documentation of a city in flux. It celebrates its third anniversary and relaunch tonight (June 18) inside Marben restaurant’s new basement bar. Ready for your close-up?