PHOTOGRAPHY HONG KONG
Clad in jeans and a faded T-shirt, Wing Shya crunches on a taco and pushes his long black hair behind his shoulders. He thinks about my question. “My style? I don’t know what my style is..” Then grinning he looks at me through his thick-rimmed spectacles. “One night I was partying with friends but I had to get up early for a shoot so I told them I was leaving. They said no, no …stay…don’t worry about being tired tomorrow, your work will be even better …. it’s your style”. He chuckles gently. “They say it is cinematic”.
And his friends aren’t wrong. Think wet stone, dark corners, moody, woozy, languorous images with dramatic spots of light. Wing Shya creates a universe where forties movie glamour collides with a contemporary urban aesthetic and the resulting images tremble with unresolved tension. Like film stills, his static shots, taut with possibilities titillate us with the promise of significant encounters and epic struggles.
Internationally renowned for his award-winning work which spans commercial design, fashion and film, Hong Kong born photographer Wing Shya trained at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Canada. Initially he wanted to be a fine artist and, after winning the photography section of the Hong Kong Biennale, was selected to exhibit in Hong Kong’s Museum of Art. Shocked by poor attendance at the museum, he soon decided commercial work held more promise. His work as a graphic designer in the music business and running a radio station resulted in a life-changing meeting with the world famous film director Wong Kar Wai for whom he went on to serve as a graphic designer and photographer on several acclaimed films from In the Mood For Love to 2046. “After that everyone wanted me, the phone was always ringing”.
Since then his genius has been recognized with prestigious awards and numerous commissions by top brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton and Nike. His evocative “Pearls of the Orient” series of couture fashion shots was featured in the Victoria and Albert’s 2008 China Design Now show and he has been profiled by the Independent newspaper as a member of the ‘Hot List: China’s cultural movers and shakers’.
But now Wing Shya wants to take his work in a new direction. “I want to do more pure work. I want to do fine art again”. As a step towards his goal he is exhibiting a series of photographic works in his first solo Hong Kong show “Prevation: A Manga Story” at the newly-opened Ooi Botos Gallery.
The show was conceived in Japan in 2006 when Wing Shya came across the comics of the manga artist Tatsuyuki Tanaka, well known for his work on the anime classic Akira. “I was excited by cartoon drawing because there are no technical limits, it is free …you can use any angle. Photographers get into a habit of shooting from certain angles because technically it is easier.” Wing Shya’s passion for his work surfaces as his soft voice becomes more fervent. “I wanted my photographic images to be like a cartoon strip, the same angles. I want to stretch the boundaries of photography.”
He tracked Tanaka down and persuaded him to collaborate on a storyboard which Wing Shya has used as inspiration for a series of 38 pigment print images edited down to 17 for the show. “It is a simple story” he explains “it is about right versus wrong”. But don’t be taken in by his humility: behind the fun contemporary cultural references – the manga goddess-style superheroine, her kitsch fairy lights and feathers in Angel for example – there is a complex layering of unexpected elements.
The plot may be playfully B movie worthy but stand back and notice how- thanks to his long-time collaborator and former Wong Kar Wai film lighting gaffer- his work is lit like a full budget Hollywood blockbuster. Dissonances and surprises abound. The Bear and the Beauty reminds us of a cartoon strip …but without speech bubbles. Angel in Black recalls a fashion shoot in which fancy dress replaces couture. Emotional Wounds and Good Evening bring to mind movie stills which, though inert, seem to pulsate with suspended tension.
Thanks to his work off the set and before the shot Wing Shya transforms his simple story into a cipher for the heroic battle between the vigorous forces of good and evil, a grand drama of love and hate played out in a surreal urban world by absurdly-costumed yet archetypal misfit lovers.
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