Photographer Wing Shya on how ‘mistakes’ led to his meteoric rise

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Wing Shya is one of Asia’s best-known artists, with work spanning photography, graphic design and film. He has shot images of some of the region’s top talent and collaborated with fashion houses, brands and magazines.

But while Wing is now a household name in his own right, his three-decade career was launched under famed Hong Kong film director Wong Kar Wai, who hired him as an on-set stills photographer after seeing his student work.

Wing, then a young arts graduate, was experimenting with collages after studying abroad in Canada and returning to his native Hong Kong in 1991. He found the medium’s textures apt for capturing his home city’s intoxicating environment.

Drawn to those collages – and photos that, according to Wing, “other people hated” – Wong invited the young creative to Argentina, to shoot stills for the 1997 Palme d’Or-nominated film “Happy Together.”

The inexperienced young photographer showed up to set without a soundproof box for his camera – and could only film in between takes because of the sound of shutter clicks. But the images offered a “different chemistry” between the lead actors, he said.

“It (feels) like something is going to happen, but you don’t know what’s happening.”

The chaotic, shifting density of Hong Kong's cityscapes is a strong inspiration for Wing's work.

“The thing I learned most from Wong Kar Wai was his attitude,” Wing said, from his studio in Hong Kong. “He would never give up. He would keep shooting and really believed in each movie. It wasn’t about technique (or) art direction – it was about attitude and how he, and the whole team, loved filming.”

Wing would continue to work with Wong on several other films including “In the Mood for Love” and “Eros.”

‘Acting Out’

These cinematic images will feature alongside dozens of other works in a new photography exhibition examining Wing’s prolific career. The retrospective “Wing Shya: Acting Out,” opens this week at Shanghai Center of Photography in the city’s West Bund arts district.

"Wing Shya: Acting Out" showcases some of Wing's lesser-known works.

The show’s curator Karen Smith said the show presents an opportunity for young artists to see Wing’s process – by featuring a variety of early works, collages, portraits and fashion photography.

“We didn’t want to just produce something that (visitors) could Google. Of course, we have his iconic images, but we wanted to give the audience an idea of how he thinks through his images,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Wing often became so entranced by scenes that he shot entire rolls of film that were unfocused or riddled with technical errors. But it became part of his approach as an artist -- "Things are only mistakes if you think they are."

“In China, we see a lot of artists who are technically proficient … they are trained to get things ‘right’ all the time. This is further encouraged by the production-line pace at which artists have become used to working to meet the demands of a strong market for arts,” said Smith.

“But creativity comes from going down the wrong path occasionally. That’s the great quality of Wing’s work. He’s not afraid of mistakes.”

“Wing Shya: Acting Out” will run Nov. 8, 2017 to Jan. 10, 2018. It is produced by independent art and culture platform FORWARD ASSEMBLY and will be held at Shanghai Center of Photography.