Credit: Liam Wong
Capturing neon-lit Tokyo through a game designer's eyes
Ghostly figures with umbrellas swarm across a brightly lit street in rainy Tokyo. A solitary bar shines out from a dark, deserted alleyway in shades of saturated violet and turquoise.
These cyberpunk-style photos, reminiscent of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner," are the work of British photographer and video game designer Liam Wong, who has spent the last three years capturing nocturnal Tokyo.
Now, his striking images are set to be published in a new book, "TO:KY:OO," after a recent crowdfunding drive raised over £140,000 ($182,000) -- more than four times its initial target.
As the youngest director at the games giant Ubisoft, Wong has helped create visually striking video games, including titles from the critically acclaimed "Far Cry" franchise. Hoping to bring his game designer's eye to photography, he purchased his first professional camera in 2015, after visiting Tokyo with the firm the previous year.
Wong's background in computer arts is reflected in his technical approach to photography. Using software like Photoshop and After Effects, he enhances the sharpness and saturation of his images to produce a cinematic look inspired by figures such as Syd Mead, the visionary designer behind "Blade Runner," and Hideo Kojima, creator of iconic games like "Snatcher" and "Metal Gear Solid."
"As a graphic designer, I was directing the look and feel (of the game), creating something from the use of color and play of hue," said Wong in a phone interview. "Leaning on my games background, I was able to break down what made each image, the use of color and the composition of the shots."
With Tokyo being one of the world's most photographed places, Wong tried to establish a distinct aesthetic by focusing on the city's back alleys, which he often shot after dark.
"What makes (my photography) almost niche is Tokyo at night -- every picture would be taken pretty much after midnight. When I started, I put little timestamps in the caption and it became almost like a signature for my Instagram posts," he said.
"The neon lights are great, because when it rains they reflect (the light)," he said. And as someone who plays with lights and colors, that's a perfect combination."
From Akihabara, a Tokyo neighborhood known for electronics and manga, to the red light district of Shinjuku, Wong's images offer a new perspective on familiar parts of the Japanese capital. But he would also take the last train out to lesser-known parts of the city, walking around with his camera until the trains started up again in the early morning.
"I initially made a map of Tokyo," recalled Wong. "I'd find the spots that I've never been to, find them on Google Maps, and then write a little note (on it)."
One of Wong's favorite shots from the forthcoming book depicts a taxi driver and a solo female passenger behind him. The photographer recalled his luck capturing the image as he made his way to a hotel through the rain.
"Hordes of businessmen fill the streets on the hunt for the nearest Izakaya," Wong explained on his Instagram, referring to a type of Japanese pub popular among post-work drinkers. "At the same moment, a cab zips past in front of me. Without hesitation, I take the shot. Capturing in a fraction of a second what I am unable to see with my own eyes."
Rain is a recurring feature of Wong's photography -- as are transparent umbrellas, which he notices people using in Tokyo more than in other cities around the world. "I just love taking photos through them or taking photos of people with them." His eerie aesthetic is further enhanced through the use of silhouettes, with the photographer preferring to capture people's backs, rather than their faces.
"As they are walking, I'll take multiple rapid shots," he explained. "It's such a video game thing, but I'll find the right thumbnail afterwards and go for what I want."
"TO:KY:OO" is available for pre-order now and will be published in late 2019.