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Upclose with Wing Shya
Wing Shya is best known for his photographic work in Wong Kar-wai’s “2046” and “Happy Together.” Recently, however, he’s gained notoriety as a “subversive” artist. He tells Winnie Chau how acupuncture and sailors inspire him.

By Winnie Chau | Sep 04, 2008

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  • Upclose with Wing Shya

HK: Are you comfortable being called an artist these days?
Wing Shya:
I used to see myself more as a designer and I wasn’t totally at ease being called a photographer. Whenever I filled in arrival cards, I would write “designer” in the occupation box. Only recently did I start putting “photographer” there. Actually, I don’t really know how to address myself. Calling myself an artist is a bit scary...

HK: Where do you get your inspiration?
WS:
Everyday life is inspiration. Even the color of your nail polish can inspire me. It looks as if you are bleeding blue blood. Recently, during a photo shoot on the ferry, I asked the model to stand next to the sailor. I was stimulated by the scene and thought, “a romance with a sailor would make an interesting story.” I am always sensitive to photos that entail narrative. Another time, I was inspired by a colleague who likes to get acupuncture. We took a model to the acupuncturist to be needled on for a photo shoot. She screamed helplessly and we pretended not to hear anything.

HK: The photography in your first solo art exhibition is inspired by Tatsuyuki Tanaka’s manga. Are you a fan of fantasy?
WS:
I believe in fantasy; my fantasies are evident in my works. Tanaka’s books give a strong cinematic sense—just like movie stills—which is something I love. It’s not easy to turn fantastical comic scenes into reality. Casting is one thing. I actually used a female model in the photo shoot to represent a male character.

HK: Most of your models are actors, but wouldn’t their acting skills make the shoot somehow artificial?
WS:
I love working with actors. They have their own way of doing things. Even if they behave “naturally,” there is something that distinguishes them from others. They aren’t merely models. When Chow Yun-fat puts on his trench coat, he immediately transforms into someone else. They know how to make use of different costumes and locations to bring out something unique.

HK: Who has been your most difficult photography subject?
WS:
I’ve worked with professional models, actors and strangers on the street. To me, there is no such thing as “difficult subject,” as long as you know what you are doing and design the settings accordingly.

HK: Are you camera-shy?
WS:
A little, I guess... I don’t know how to pose, especially when I can’t see what’s happening behind the lens.

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