Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview - Wei Ying Ang

Ever since she picked up a camera, Melbourne-based photographer Wei Ying Ang began to see things in a new way. The world around her became a richer place, suddenly full of moments she felt an urge to record and remember. Ying sees her craft as a way of glorifying everything that is beautiful and worthy of notice and appreciation in the world - a child's effortless and beaming smile, a twinkling green expanse of ocean, or the simple beauty of a tangled string of light globes.

Ying's passion is travel, and travel photography is her first love. Her website and Flickr account are full of stunning travel shots so candid you feel almost part of the scene. Her fashion and corporate work, though, is no less engaging - again, the shots are characterised by a candidness, and an almost voyeuristic feel. The framing of each shot seems so unstructured - spontaneous, even. These shots aren't perfect - the figures might blur with movement, the location might be grubby, the stylist's hand might be visible at the edge of the frame... but it's these imperfections that give Ying's work a natural-ness not often seen in high-end fashion photography.

Ying discovered photography quite by accident - she never intended to pursue such a creative career... and it took some convincing to show her parents that a career in photography was a worthy outcome after years at uni studying business and political science! I think it's so brave to step away from years of training, and pursue something completely different, based only on a burning passion that you can't ignore! It's also inspiring to be reminded that you can make a career out of what you love - regardless of your training or experience. Just get started!

(But read this interview first!)

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I actually never went to university to study photography. In fact, I had never envisioned myself in a creative field as a working professional at all. All my tertiary education was originally in the general sciences, business and political science. Photography was a by-product of a trip to Europe after I finished my post-grad in Asian Studies, when I was 22 years old. As soon as I started taking pictures, I knew I was hooked and nothing else could come close to matching this desire to paint with light, so to speak.

What are some of your projects/clients that we might be familiar with?

I’ve participated in a few general group exhibitions in Australia, including the CCP Autumn Kodak Salon and the Schubert Ulrick Prize, as well as 2 solo exhibits – one in New York and one in Queensland, where I went to high school. A couple of my clients include Circle on Cavill and one of my favourites, the girls behind the fashion label Sewn.

Working for yourself can be really difficult for creative people. What are the challenges you have faced working for yourself – do you struggle with the business side of things, for motivation to get started on a project, or marketing yourself? Do you collaborate with other creatives?

Working for myself has actually been wonderful. I never intended to start my own freelance photography business in the first place, so it was a pleasant surprise when everything just seemed to fall into place and people started to hire me to do the thing that I loved the most. I began my website almost in the same fashion as one would print a book. Its purpose was merely a viewing platform for pleasure, not commercial purposes. It eventually evolved to fill the growing demand for clients to see a wider variation of my work and a way to keep updated with my portfolio. Also, I think that I’ve been exceptionally lucky with the business side because I was originally trained in that industry and am used to meeting deadlines and working to a brief with clients. I’ve always been a people person as well, so there are definitely plans in the future to collaborate with more creatives, especially other photographers.

which designers, artists or creative people you look up to or are inspired by?

I am so inspired by other photographers that work in all different sectors of the industry. Photographers like Nan Goldin, Henri Cartier-Bresson, di Lorcia, Juergen Teller, Dominic Nahr and Ryan McGinley, not to mention countless others that put themselves on the very edge of what they do to bring different perspectives on the great variation and diversity of human life, never fail to amaze me. Film directors have a huge impact on me as well, particularly the music video work of Chris Cunningham, Mark Romanek and Michel Gondry. I am also having a little love affair with documentary photography at the moment and would like to do more of that in the near future.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

No days are typical! I travel so much and am always in a different place doing different things and each job is always different because as a creative, you are always called upon to bring something new and fresh to the table. I spend a lot of time taking pictures, even when I’m not “working” on a client job. I will probably go and take up to 100 photos a day, just by seeking out or creating situations that are a little left of centre, with everything from costume hire and getting friends to dance around in the streets to ice-skating on a Friday night in the suburbs. It also keeps me from getting bored… which can happen pretty quickly.

What are you most proud of professionally?

I would say I am most proud of winning acknowledgment from my parents that photography is my chosen career. It was a long 4 years of dogged determination before they would accept that 5 years of tertiary education in several “respected” fields had yielded a photographer… a skill set that I ended up teaching myself and learning on my own anyway. In terms of being proud of my actual work, I find that my ego tends to take a back seat to my passion for the actual craft. I’ve always known that even if I was so bad that I couldn’t get any work as a photographer, I would still be taking pictures in every spare moment of my day, in and around my “day job”.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in my personal life. My photography tends to reflect the best parts of me. When I am at my most positive and inspired in my personal life, you can see that clearly in the pictures that I take. It’s generally the human experience that I draw the most inspiration from and I find that as I delve deeper into the field, the greater the scope of experience seems beautiful to me, even if the general consensus is negative.

What's the best thing about your job?

I don’t know if my job is any better from anyone else’s. It depends on what really makes an individual tick, doesn’t it? Photography for me is just another voice for me to speak with, and also a way of pointing things out to my viewers, things that I love or am interested in or would like to explore further. It’s also a necessary conduit for me to experience the world at a safe distance that has more to do with my own psyche than gaining pleasure from the actual act of taking a photograph.

And the worst?

The growing demand of photoshop overkill and unrealistic expectations from clients that have very little knowledge of what it takes to put together a particular image.

What would be your dream project?

Wo… I have so many that I’m not sure I could be unfair to all of them by choosing one and calling it the best… I suppose it would be pretty cool to land a job that essentially took me to all the various, obscure hidey-holes of the world to document the different rules of engagement laid down in various communities and sub-groups, whilst emerging with a clear body of work that unified the whole in a collective blanket of the human condition. Did I also mention a huge budget?

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years time?

I’m actually not very sure. I’m at a bit of a curve in my career at the moment where I can feel an imminent change in direction, but I am just not so sure about the direction that it is going in. It’s very exciting though, because as I get older and more experienced with the medium, I am more confident about the different capacities that I can work in.

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

I’m looking forward to evolving. Photography is a long-term visual project for me and I find that it’s importance lies more in retrospect than the immediate results. In a more tangible sense, I’m looking forward to bringing more depth into my work and choosing projects that will take a longer and more intimate look at my subjects, instead of the fleeting observation of a passer-by.

Melbourne Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

At home. I invited a very fussy foodie friend of mine to come over and cook a birthday dinner for me and some friends. Duck and mushroom risotto with a seared scallop and beetroot salad.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

That word again, typical… Perhaps at breakfast somewhere in South Melbourne with my family and a copy of The Age.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Don’t know if it’s much of a secret, but I love Industria on Gertrude St, Fitzroy. The only place worth going to buy test tubes and old anatomy posters!


  1. beautiful article done on my sister :)

  2. Thankyou Ling! I am just here at work with Marni (Kornhauser) and she said you're in that photo in the swimming pool...! That's one of my favourites :) thanks so much for your comment!

  3. She is really quite amazing, thanks for posting about her. I would like one of her pieces on my wall for sure.

  4. Very nice pics, we loved them, really.

  5. Oh thanks so much Kitty and 1minutefilmreview(?) for your lovely comments!

    I know Kitty... I would love one for my wall also!! But it would be so tricky to decide which one... I had enough trouble choosing my favourites for this post!

    Luce x