Acclaimed Singaporean photographer Russel Wong's broad practice has involved iconic portraits of celebrities, lithographs and landscapes.Read More
Wong was born in Singapore in 1961 and is considered one of Asia's most prominent and prolific fashion and portrait photographers.
Wong's career began when he photographed British athlete and world-record miler Sebastian Coe for the cover of the international publication Track & Field News at the age of 19. Following this Wong went on to shoot cover photography for renowned publications such as Time, Vogue and Forbes Asia, among others.
As an artist, Wong has been able to traverse the line between celebrity photography and fine art, producing a broad body of work that includes still life compositions, lithographs and landscapes amidst his well-known portraiture.
Russel Wong's photographic practice is dominated by celebrity portraiture, but he is also known for his landscape photos, as well as his lithograph prints, many of which have been exhibited in leading art spaces, including at STPI in Singapore.
In 1996, Wong received an assignment to photograph Hong Kong singer-songwriter and actress Faye Wong for Time. This cover shoot catapulted Wong's photographic career and led him to develop a long-standing relationship with the publication.
On Wong's portraiture, Chinese-American actress Joan Chen has commented that, 'No matter how stylised or simple his shots are, they always feel authentic and alive. His sincerity and confidence put his subjects at ease and inspire them to be the best for him. His lens is able to capture not only their physicality, but also the essence of their character.'
During his involvement with the publication, film and fashion industries Wong has taken the portraits of Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Richard Gere, Isabella Rossellini, Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Lynch, Anthony Bourdain and Michael Jackson.
Apart from magazine spreads and cover shoots, Wong has worked with acclaimed directors to produce poster and publicity images for their films. He has worked with Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and with Zhang Yimou for Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004).
Aside from his commercial photography, Wong has used the medium of photography to create prints by translating his images into lithographs. In Jackie Deconstructed (2004) Wong takes his photograph of Jackie Chan and remodels it, disjointed and as if in a puzzle piece formation, through the use of lithographic printing. This work, evocative of Andy Warhol's 1960s Pop Art, plays with vibrant shades of red and orange, injecting new energies into the portrait.
In another work, Joan Chen: "She's Just Too..." (2004), Wong creates an image that mirrors a contact print. Over small images of Joan Chen, Wong etches absurd comments on each portrait, such as 'eyes too Chinese' or 'lips too sexy', mimicking what commercial photographers or art directors would do when picking a cover photo or spreads for a magazine.
Other lithographs of Wong's have included prints of colourful flowers foregrounding a monotone backdrop. In 2021, he created a series of orchid prints to honour Covid-19 frontliners in Singapore. These prints were part of an initiative co-organised by the Singaporean creative workshop and contemporary art gallery STPI, and 'One Dream'. The initiative, called Art for our Nation, hoped to improve the wellbeing of Singaporeans by sharing art.
Wong has also photographed serene landscapes of mountain ranges and bamboo forests. Often shooting in black-and-white, Wong plays with light and shadow to emphasise the silhouettes and contours of the scenery. One such photograph, North sea in mist, Huangshan, China (2007) delicately capture the textures of trees and rock formations amidst a sea of fog.
Russel Wong's website can be found here and his Instagram can be found here.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2021