In Focus: Wing Shya
In our new column In Focus we’re going to talk about aspiring photographers who have their own aesthetics and also got something to say to the world.
When does this magic moment occur that defines the photograph as a work of art? While the photographer looks around to excerpt the right sujet from the surrounding, or perhaps once the sujet has been determined and the author pushes the camera button? Can it be the certain context evolving later, which makes the photograph true art or there might be something intangible and magnetic in the work a priori? Whatever it is, each artist has one’s own philosophy and way to capture the most inspiring negatives of the reality.
Although he can hardly be defined as an emerging artist, Wing Shya (b. 1964) is worth being the Focus of today’s discussion. First, a bright representative of the Asian fashion & commercial photography scene Wing Shya might be less known to the European audience. Second, the artist neither considers himself a genius, nor looks like a photography superstar. He is quiet, open-minded, and constantly seeking for inspiration. He is as talented as Tim Walker and Ellen von Unwerth, but he is a whole other type.
If you ever visited Hong Kong, you can probably remember the thrilling sense of the noisy fluorescent life, which is so absorbing that you just can’t stand aside. Living and working on the Kowloon Peninsula might be a slightly different thing, however, the impressions of the explorer usually remain in the memory as raw and pulsating as they were while found. Wing Shya rediscovered the authenticity of Hong Kong spirit and culture as he returned to the home city in 1991 after having completed his fine art studies at Emily Carr Institute in Canada.
“When I moved back to Hong Kong from Vancouver in 1991, I thought ‘Wow, this is so noisy!’ People talked too loud, and the colors – they were so crazy”. (Wing Shya)
The 90s were somehow marked with the revived trend towards chinoiserie — at the time young Wing Shya seized that interest to play the new image of the country and specially of his alma mater in photographs. The significant part of the artist’s oeuvre is soaked with the vibrant scenic yet really plausible effect of the place.
Considering the other aspects of his background, this is not an accident. Along with photography Wing Shya also engages in film directing. Hong Kong renowned director of the new wave Wong Kar Wai noticed the rich collages by Wing and invited him to join the filming of Happy Together (1997) by documenting the production of the movie. Needless to say, the artist who had never studied film directing before just didn’t know how to do that. However, that didn’t coerce Wing to abandon the task, rather encouraged him to trust his own instincts and improvise.
“I change my direction regularly. It can be very sudden. I’m a very moody person. I find the traditional a little bit boring…” (Wing Shya)
Film footage as well as photo works by Wing Shya are deprived of sharpness for good reasons — thereby some extra space for affective chemistry arises. Add to that soft tube light, saturated colours, big grain, a bit out-of-focus eyes of the characters and here you have that nostalgic feeling that comes out of nowhere. If you ever missed a place you’ve never been before (kaukokaipuu is a term for it in Finnish), you probably know what I mean.
Wing Shya kept on working with Wong Kar Wai on such movies as In the Mood for Love (2001), Eros (2004), and 2046 (2004) admiring the energy, devotion to work, and competence of the teacher. The experience acquired enabled Wing to direct music videos for artists and musicians, contribute to top fashion magazines, and even exhibit in art museums. You may come across the artist’s works in the pages of Vogue, Numero, i-D as well as in the commercial campaigns by Louis Vuitton, Maison Martin Margiela, Swarovski, L’Oréal, and many more. Wing Shya had his first solo show in the Japanese Mori Art Museum in 2006 and was selected to exhibit at Art Basel Miami a year later.
Coming back to the artist’s oeuvre, there is certainly something that makes it so special. Despite images being glossy and elaborate, Wing’s characters look touching in their desire for intimacy. It’s a discrete anticipation for love that refills the inner space of the photographs. Wing Shya communicates this romantic touch through his works as most people, from his own observations, enjoy listening to stories in which love blossoms.
Probably it’s the artist’s well-known quote that best decribes his working approach and attitude toward art as a whole:
“When I take a photo, at that moment, I fall in love.
If I keep my distance, I keep that fresh feeling.” (Wing Shya)
Text | Julia Kryshevich