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Friday, January 05, 2018, 14:30
In The Moment
By Natacha Riva
Friday, January 05, 2018, 14:30 By Natacha Riva

How Wing Shya makes each one special

Wing Shya portrait (photo by Roy Liu)               

Photographer Wing Shya has been at the leading edge of Hong Kong's cultural and aesthetic landscape for the last two decades and helped to define it. He’s the go-to image-maker for film studios, magazines, celebrities and numerous campaigns for clothing labels at the intersection of high and low fashion, as well as being the father of two daughters. Currently his solo exhibition Wing Shya: Acting Out, 25 Years Behind the Camera, is showing at the Shanghai Center of Photography until January 10, 2018, complemented by a new book featuring more than 300 exclusive images from his quarter-century career.

Far from being the self-promotional artistic type, Shya comes across as being humble and inclusive, authentic and discrete - preferring to spend time with friends over drinks after a shooting rather than analysing his work. CDLP got to spend time at the photographer’s studio -  where he shared his little-known more philosophical, reflective side, and his normally elusive thoughts about his work.  

The book project was initiated by my friend Shelly Verthime. The whole project took two-and-a-half years. I gave her all my work on a hard disk and thought it was so inconsistent. “Good luck to her!” I was touched by how she’s compiled everything. I didn’t change anything. 

To be a photographer in Hong Kong, you have to adjust and adapt. Budgets are so low. You have to be creative, versatile. That’s also part of our Hong Kong education. From childhood, we are taught to be resourceful. 

Yes, I do all sorts of projects – different clients, different assignments, coffee commercials, movies, album covers for singers. I can’t say I particularly enjoy doing commercials, but having a name in the industry doesn’t exempt you from having to pay the bills.

You have to fall in love with the subject you shoot – whether it’s a person, a building or a flower. When you click, you must fall in love. I don’t even need to know a location before I shoot. It’s just about that moment when shooting. When I shoot for magazines, every photoshoot is related to special music that I select. When I listen to the music, I can already see the photo in my head. Photography and film are completely different approaches. When I first think about a film project, I think about the story – the story is key. When it’s photography, it’s about the moment. 

War photographer... Oh yes, I would take the challenge to go to a place of war and immerse myself. I went to Israel, and I love the place and the people. It has a very different feel. I would shoot love in a war environment.

Judging my work from the early days, I can have a very surprising reaction. I can have a feeling like “Wow, that’s great” and it feels like it was done by somebody else. Maybe it’s because I was younger, therefore there is a detachment from the person I am now. You realise everything happens in a moment and each moment is different and special. 

Last year, I went to the jungle for two weeks. No WiFi, nothing. I photographed nature. Your eyes see things differently. My house had no doors and every day, at 4.30pm sharp, the same butterfly came to visit me. I could see it so close… you experience some very intimate moments with yourself and nature.

When I was young, I thought it was all about fame and what you want to be. But when you think you have what you wanted, you see things very differently. Now I really enjoy seeing things for real. When you’re young, you miss all the little details in the world; you’re so busy fighting for professional work you don’t have time to see things. 

Instagram photos are so cool! Yes, a lot of people think it’s shit photography but I like it. It’s interesting because it’s about sharing moments. And in some ways I’m quite envious of it. I can see what common people are doing and that becomes very interesting. You can feel people’s hearts when you look at Instagram. You can see unknowns. You can see the thinking and what people believe. Instagram does all that to me when I look at it. 

It’s difficult for me to talk about my work, or discuss it or analyse it afterwards. For example, after a shoot, I’d rather go and have drinks with friends. I move on – it’s behind, it’s done. People expect that I can get into deep discussions, but it’s not obvious for me.

I find personal photographs of my daily life more difficult to shoot. When my first daughter was about to be born, I brought all the photo artillery to the hospital but I couldn’t take a single photo. I not only failed once with my eldest daughter but again with my second daughter. I failed twice! They are 16 and 14 now.

But I had to face that challenge a month ago. My father is very sick. I shot him for the first time in my studio. I could never have imagined that. When I was young my father would have been the last person I would shoot. But I’ve done it. It’s a portrait and it’s the favourite photo I ever took.        

How to judge myself as a photographer? In fact, I’m not the guy who creates the photos; the photo is already there. Everything is set, it’s all scripted. I’m just the witness. When I take photos I’m just a messenger. 


Photographer Wing Shya playfully succumbs to self-analysis in China Daily’s Proust Questionnaire 

Describe yourself in three words?  

Simple. Boring. Adaptable.

Who would you dream to have met in history?  

Richard Avedon.

Who would you dream to meet in the present? 


What do you do when you’re stressed? 

I smoke.

Three things you would bring to a desert island? 

Red wine. Music player. Cigars.

What’s your motto? 


What are the three basics in your wardrobe? 

T-shirt. Jeans. Sports shoes.

Who would you invite to the ideal dinner party in your home?  

Jungle people - tribes.

A present you often give?  

Red wine.

A song that makes you dance? 

Sleep. By a Beijing band called The Life Journey.

A song that makes you cry? 

Not a song but a soundtrack from Yoyo Ma 

A hero from your childhood? 

My high-school teacher. (A father priest)

What luxury means for you? 

Good service.

Your favourite app? 


Your three favourite movies? 

Happy Together [Wong Kar-wai]/; 2001: A Space Odyssey [Stanley Kubrick]; 8 1/2 [Federico Fellini].

Hero of fiction you would like to have been?


Artwork you’d like in your living room? 

Any work by Andy Warhol.

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing?  

A painter.

In which film would you like to have lived? 


What can’t you photograph? 

Personal moments - the birth of my daughters.

What can’t you photograph but wish you could? 

My daughters’ birth.

Favourite photographer and why? 

Nobuyoshi Araki. The way he can photograph a simple object like an egg so many times, something so simple. 

Photograph you wish you could have taken? 

Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.  

All images: Wing Shya

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