stepping into an idyllic neighbourhood of bungalows in holland road, i found myself thinking – how many photographers actually live like that? most of them barely scrape by, let alone make enough to afford a landed property on prime land. how did this guy got it going for him?
today i met and photographed russel wong – celebrity photographer – for an upcoming feature in ‘art jam’, a student-run magazine. together with weili and desiree, our editor, we arrived at mr wong’s place to be given a reception by one of his dogs (he has 4, i heard). as we were walking towards the house, the three of us came to a prediction that our host would either be (a) extremely diva-like and full of himself or (b) jovial and willing to entertain. the dog was followed by the domestic helper who led us into a cool, shaded sitting room. where was the man himself? not a very good start.
russel wong then sauntered into the room without a smile. his face remained impassive even during introductions. it was as though the interview was unwelcomed but necessary business that he had in a moment of folly agreed to and would thus have to follow through with. desiree handed over a copy of the magazine for him to look over while weili set up his laptop. i tried to make small talk. his eyes narrowed, humourless, at everything i said, making me feel smaller by the minute. i knew then it was going to be a really long afternoon.
and a long afternoon it was. long because that guy really had a lot to say in response to our questions. as he spoke he began to ease up. clearly, he enjoyed sharing his life experiences as well as his take on various issues. a lot of things he said made perfect sense inspite of the fact that he tended to veer off topic sometimes. but i suppose when you are a celebrity, you get to do that a little. i am not going to reveal too much of what was discussed during the interview. you will have to wait for weili’s article in art jam for that.
as the interview progressed, i started getting anxious. i kept wondering – how in the world am i supposed to photograph an internationally-renowned portraitist and do him justice? after the interview, we stepped into his studio and i told him that i would like to make a ‘classic’ black and white image of him with strong side-lighting and he was gracious enough to help me with the studio lights. i have to admit, i felt really amateurish with my entry-level dslr with all the expensive equipment he had lying around. what then surprised me as i started shooting was his willingness to throw in a few tips which i found greatly improved the pictures. after all, he is the master and those were pictures of him. you won’t see the pictures here. my editor was quite adamant about that.
after the ‘formal’ part of the interaction was done with, mr wong seemed to take on more of (b), and dropped most of (a). i suppose he is a person who gradually warms up to people. i was glad things ended on a positive note.
visit russel wong’s website by clicking here.
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