The Two Camps of Photographers

I always believe that the camera is a tool and should be as seamless as possible.  The more transparent the camera is, the easier it could help us tell stories.  However, the reality is that most photographers do not think about this very much.   There are plenty of photographers who continually chase the latest and greatest gear, thinking that “if only” they had a sharper lens, or a faster camera, or any other number of reasons – that their photography would improve by leaps and bounds.  Of course, we all know that this simply is not true.  In fact, photographers are often split into two main camps, 1) those who always upgrade to the latest equipment and are gadgeteers at heart, and 2) those who are spellbound by the art of photography so much that they rarely seek out reasons to upgrade their equipment.

While we all love shiny new gear and better equipment can make our lives easier, they should by no means be the focus.  This does not mean to skimp on good equipment.  It simply means that the energy is best invested in creating art with photography.  Just like money, time is a currency, and is arguably even more valuable as it just so easily trickles away, never to be replenished again.  Undoubtedly, we could all choose to invest the currency of time in producing better photography.  Gone are the days when photography is a slow, drawn out process that requires tripods and long exposure times.  Creating art with photography is an intentional process requiring technique and creativity in spades.  At the end of the day, the camera is just the tool that photographers use to tell stories.  Similarly, writers rely on the pen and painters on their brush.  To draw some parallels with photography, it would be silly to think that a better pen would create better writing.  The only time that such would be true is if the writing is judged simply on its aesthetics and not at all on the ideas and stories created  by the author.  Now, that would be something else entirely!

Late last year, I was invited by Fuji X Passion magazine to write an article of interest, and in it, I explored the true meaning of photographs.  The story was published in issue #18 of the magazine where I decided to completely omit the camera settings used for each of the photos so that readers could adopt a similar mindset.  That’s a long, drawn out story for another time though.  For now, I hope you gathered a newfound inspiration for crafting your next photography project!  So go out there, experiment, talk to other artists, and try out different creative ideas for your photography.  Know that your equipment is not the limitation and be dedicated to the craft.  I promise you that your photography will improve by leaps and bounds!

 

 

Exploring Vintage 70s Vibes

What do the 70s remind you of?  For me, it is a period of optimism that followed from the golden age of newfound freedom in America beginning in the 60s.  Synonymous with this era is the music of Fleetwood Mac, with hits like Dreams and Rhiannon that is still remembered today.  Coincidentally, this period also gave us the boho vibes that is beautiful and still very much relevant today.  Brands like Top Shop and Free People continue to captivate us with this aesthetic.

And what about photography?  Most photos from this era carried flat, low saturation aesthetic that is easily recognizable when combined with the fashion of this period.  The portraits also tend to show a sense of genuine feeling and expression in the subjects for one reason or another.  Perhaps the times were simpler and the cultural and societal influences helped to create these honest emotions as well.  I guess there is an understated beauty that is difficult to describe but easily recognized.

Recently, I took this inspiration and photographed Niki from Want Management.  The wardrobe itself came from H&M and created the same honest emotions and mood that I remembered while studying the portraits of this era.  Although this was just a small shoot, but I look forward to exploring more projects like this with a similar aesthetic from this magical period of time!  Now, back to channeling more influences from 70s culture!

 

VPJ-Nicole-Nov2017-26

 

 

Cinematic Influences and the Story Behind Afternoon Embers

This month, I rewatched some old movies by Tarkovsky and felt inspired by the poetic harmony often described in his cinematic work.  Most Tarkovsky films are quiet, atmospheric, and contemplative in ways that may not excite some of today’s audiences.  However, also being a photographer, his films are centered on the philosophy that ideas and emotions do not always have to be through the spoken word.  Many scenes from his films embody a surreal and hypnotic feeling.  For example, in his 1975 film “The Mirror”, a women awakens to the sounds of dogs barking amid a beautiful orange sun, only for us to discover that the orange light was from the flames ravaging her house to the ground from a distance.  Here, she watched in complete silence while the fire engulfs her home, seemingly unfazed externally while a million emotions are conjured in the viewers themselves.  In a sense, the audience sees, the audience feels, and the audience even participates in sharing her quiet sorrows as the camera holds still on the burning house.  Undeniably, the stillness, photographic aesthetic of the frame and the heightened emotions from sound of crackling wood under the immense fire is utterly palpable.

Thus, it is with this philosophical approach to creating art that compelled me to explore similar emotions in a new visual poetry series of photographs.  In Canada this year, November was one of the coldest months of the year right before snowfall.  Finding a suitable shooting location became a challenge, but I knew I wanted to convey the multitude of emotions I felt during the house burning scene in The Mirror.  In film-making, we rely our visual and auditory signals to enjoy the story.  On the other hand, photography entrusts emotions to be communicated visually first, with all our other senses brought forth as a result of our experiences and perceptions only.  This is the challenge of photography, and yet it is also oddly beautiful when a photograph can communicate such deep, layered emotions in the viewer.

And so, on a cold but sunny November afternoon, our model Amy joined me in creating Afternoon Embers.  The wardrobe was sourced from TopShop, helping to create a free spirited coachella vibes of the 70s in the approximate period of Tarkovsky’s films.  We explored the interior of an old brick building, stumbling into hidden treasures along the way.  As the sun was beginning to set, the lighting was perfect as it peered through the hazy windows as though the light was providing Amy with a gentle embrace.  With Amy’s dark dress and the shadows cast on Amy from the soft, orange light, the sun reminded me of embers burning in the night.  This was how Afternoon Embers came to be.  I won’t speak too much about the visual concept of the photo as I hope you will enjoy its emotions within.  This photo was unedited and easily became one of my last and favourite photographs that I have taken this year.  You can see it featured here.

 

Afternoon Embers by Charles Wong

Revisiting an Old Shoot – Secrets of White Room

A few people recently asked me about my old shoot: “Secrets of White Room” and were drawn by the compelling story.  What does this series mean?  I believe that photographs should be a representation of ideas that are relevant to the individual viewers, so I will not offer any definitive answers.  On the other hand, I am happy to discuss how this conceptual art shoot came to be.  An small excerpt is also available in the series featured on Art About Magazine Italy.

The origins of Secrets of White Room came one day back in 2008, when I had the day off to myself.  On that day, I recall watching the continuous stream of people running to and from the subway train and thought – “Today, I am not like everyone else.”  It was obvious why everyone was rushing to work.  However, being one step removed from the system, I finally see the endless rat race in front of me, where people struggle to build their lives, with no end in sight.  Likewise, the mental struggle mirrors the physical struggle all the same, as the never-ending journey entraps us in our minds.  Money, opportunity, and the ultimate dream of one day escaping from the vicious system looms large over everyone’s minds.

Over the years, similar ideas presented themselves to me in various facets of life, and the ideas of “truth and fiction” began to emerge.  Do we really know who someone is?  On a fundamental level, we do not question our familiarity with our closest friends, their likes, dislikes, and stories and moments we shared with them.  Yet, on a deeper level, it is no mystery that everyone has deep inner secrets that remain unspoken, kept locked away, or even completely manipulated or forgotten as a natural reaction to cope with the past.

Secrets of White Room is a story of contrasts, symbolism, and a visual journey that follows the girl in the photos, laden with inherent contradictions within the series.  The story is available in its entirety here:

 

 

“White Fox” published on Sticks and Stones Agency

I am excited to announce that my recent shoot “White Fox” has been published on Sticks and Stones Agency this week!

With this shoot, we had the gorgeous Shannon from B&M models and a wonderful new creative team to help make this beautiful shoot possible.  When I look back upon these photos, it was a heartfelt reminder of what I enjoy most about photography – telling wonderful stories that are timeless. I love creating photos that are like a lingering dream, with a surreal cinematic vibe that also evokes a sense of nostalgia and inexplicable familiarity, and “White Fox” reaffirms that as we continue on the visual poetry journey:

“This is a visual poem about a girl who finds herself venturing through the wild alone, as if she is the last of the white foxes. It is also an ethereal story that straddles the divide between truth & fiction at the same time.

The forest is such a beautiful place, sheltering us from the elements, & yet infinitely mysterious. On this late July afternoon, the sunlit flowers & leaves amidst the cloudy skies were endlessly inspiring, just like a painting unfolding before us. I wish you could hear the trees rustling in the wind, like nature composing its own song to our little adventure, while the blooming flowers & the decaying trees leaves us to wonder – do we dare disturb the universe?”

See the full series here!

 

 

Scarlet Girl – Featured on Best of Photo Vogue Italia!

The winter months have always been difficult for outdoor photo shoots.  Although studio photography is always a possibility, I always find something special with on-location shoots as there is an element of authenticity from the environment that resonates through the photos.

Earlier last month, I was fortunate to find fantastic indoor locations to shoot in to realize my new creative ideas.

“No Homework on Saturday” is a dreamy, grungy editorial shoot in a school.  The absence of people in this normally public space suddenly became a quiet theatre of discovery and adventure, and fit the mood perfectly.  I am extremely happy that Scarlet Girl, one of the top picks from this series, was selected as Best of Vogue on March 1st, 2016 on the Photo Vogue Italia page!

I am looking forward to sharing the other photos from this series with everyone soon!

Scarlet Girl - Full Screen - March 1 2016

Best of Vogue Scarlet Girl Screenshot(3)

 

 

The Photographic Voice and “Style”

The photographic voice. Where does it comes from?  As photography becomes increasingly more accessible for everyone, finding a unique style has become more important to differentiate one photographer’s work from others.  No doubt, there is a lot of talent out there today.  Even many new photographers often have something fresh and interesting to captivate our attention. Common among the best photographers is the talent in translating their visions from mere ideas into a photographic reality.  This is often accompanied by a strong style or theme that is coherent throughout all the images.  For instance, some photographers enjoy integrating fantasy elements, reminiscent of fairy tales, while others may take a completely different approach and prefer photos more rooted in reality with more of a documentary style.   A key dilemma for artists is to find that unique style that appeal to them and that they would love to explore more.  This is true for painters and musicians as much as it is for photographers.  Personally, I enjoy many genres of photography, with an appreciation for different styles that engages me to explore different techniques to represent my visions.  In many ways, this may not project as much of a coherent voice in my work, as the work could be vastly different from one series to another, especially when placed next to one another.

When I reflect on this, I believe that our style is a combination of our interests, our interpretation of the world, and the message we want to deliver.  In simple terms, I grew up with Lego, a fascination for technology and things that moved, and inventions in general.  As time had gone by, I started to appreciate creative writing, poetry, and philosophical ideas.  There is no perfect science to this, but all these things influenced my photography into what it is today.

I recently had a chat with one of my models on this topic, and she had some great insights about the photographic voice and finding our style.  She believes that our style is innate and something we have found and held onto long ago.  She sees this in both my work, and the work of some other photographers.  We agree that some photographers have an attraction to one style of photography only, and produce excellent work in that aesthetic exclusively.  On the other hand, just like other areas of life, exploring different styles and being willing to experiment artistically is more risky (and perhaps more difficult) but provides excellent rewards.  What I personally enjoy about exploring different styles is that it constantly challenges my technical and creative abilities to create something unique and beautiful while keeping me engaged and interested in coming up with the “impossible”.  To take a page out of existentialism philosophy, our goals in life should not be static, as the world and our relationship with it changes every day.  When we established our goals and visions, they may be the best possible decision at the time.  But, change is constant, and if our goals and visions remain static, then we are denying ourselves of the opportunity to improve and to reinvent ourselves.

Just a Few Drinks - Photo Vogue Italia

“Just a Few Drinks”, recently published on Photo Vogue Italia

This photo was taken long before I had any education in photography, but it stands alongside my recent work in my portfolio with an unmistakable signature that is still recognizable today.  Is this the photographic voice?  I would love to explore this topic in greater depth later.

That First Camera

I had an interest in photography for as long as I could remember.  Despite not having any formal education in photography at the start, I always intuitively saw snapshots that I wanted to capture in the world, and the people, places, and moments that were important and beautiful to me.  While I have taken casual photos before with my parents’ cameras, I never had a decent camera of my own to use.  In 2008, my first serious exploration into photography began when I decided to purchase my first camera, a Canon 40D.  It was the older model, but I knew it would be good enough, especially because it was already far over my budget as a co-op student.  In fact, I still remember fondly the $100 memory card that I had to purchase for it, which put the price over the edge, and made it the single most expensive purchase for me ever at that point in life.  Coincidentally, I was publishing the monthly co-op committee newsletters at the time, which gave me a good excuse to really get out there and capture the world.

I roamed the streets of downtown Toronto with my camera and started to blend in with the tourists.  The camera was left mostly in aperture and auto mode since I knew little about all its technical features.  I did not rationally understand what subjects interested me, but I felt that I had a good sense of proportions, space, and colours, and I was happy with the photos!  My fellow co-op friends were happy with them as well.

At around this time, I met Tony from work, who grew up taking a lot of photography.  He praised me on my composition skills, and encouraged me to explore photography further.   I continued to roam the streets of downtown Toronto and began to create more and more photos.  Towards the end of that summer, I woke up to find that one of my photos was featured on BlogTo, a popular website documenting events and news in the city. It was the first time my work was in the spotlight.  It was a great summer.