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Mistakes, Unconcerned

杨雅茹 Lann Yang 2018-04-03 11:23


Wing Shya said his distinctive “experimental style” was experimental. On the other end of the telephone, Shya told me, “I really didn’t learn much then, I only shot photographs using my own ways.”

Here, Shya is referring to the years he spent studying for his Art Photography major in Canada. He recalled that at the time they were taught vague photography concepts and as a result he did not even understand the basics of the craft. Yet he was so eager to express himself, he started his creative “experiments” regardless of a solid technical foundation. One time, he wanted to add some colourful lighting in one of his photographs, so he suddenly came up with an idea of using Christmas lights to decorate the studio that he had rented. He mistakenly placed some flammable paper together with the high-temperature lights because he did not realize the lights would get so hot, and unexpectedly burnt all the props. Shya smiled that such irregular operations and mistakes were so common for him that later even his assistant started to suspect that he was an amateur. 


Upon graduation, Shya returned to Hong Kong and opened his own design studio, but because his photos were so blatantly “experimental,” they were not accepted by mainstream clients. He puzzled over why people would not accept “wrong” things when, coincidentally, he met someone who appreciated his work. In 1997, Film Director Wang Kar-Wai saw Shya’s work, and he was drawn to his style instantly. 

Unprecedentedly, Wang invited Shya to join him for the production of the movie Happy Together. Shya was tasked to shoot the movie’s still photographs on set and its poster. This serendipitous event would kick start the budding photographer’s career and put his name on the artistic map.


It wasn’t all smooth sailing from that point on however, as Shya lacked relevant photography knowledge and found it hard to be accepted by the film crew. He did not know that shooting still photos during a movie production required silent shutter; it caused him to interfere with the movie’s production when he pressed down the shutter button. Nevertheless, Wang was very forgiving of the newcomer, rather than fire him, he asked cinematographer Christopher Doyle to buy Shya a camera with a silent shutter. Due to his hesitation of shooting as the film cameras were rolling, Shya ended up taking a lot of photos of actors preparing. For example, in one of the photographs, Leslie Cheung was lying on a rooftop and appeared to be thinking, but Doyle’s hands were captured in the photo too. 


In an interesting twist of fate, it was precisely because of the “amateur” feeling of Shya’s photos that gave his works its own distinctive style. Away from the pomp and polish of the more technically trained photographers, Shya was able to establish his own aesthetic view, albeit somewhat accidentally. In his photographs, actors either were preparing for a shoot or leaving the movie sets. The missing stories in the photographs make them appear unfinished and mysterious. Shya was shooting photos and studying at the same time. Every day, after finishing up at work, Shya would return to his hotel and start making scrapbooks. The materials he used came from the trashcans of the movie sets. Every day after work, Shya would go through all the trashcans and look for materials. Many were trash from the movie sets: cigarette buds, coffee mug with residues, empty lunch boxes, he even secretly cut newspapers that had been read by crew members or script books that were used. In the series of South America Diary, photos with intriguing scenes are either covered in lime power or coffee stain, it seems that the photos had been kept for some time to form their historical looks. This experience, for Shya, was an experiment, full of sweat and fun. 

After the initial collaboration on Happy Together with Wang Kar-Wai, Shya went on to be the still photographer for films such as As Tears Go By, In the Mood of Love, 2046, and Eros. When shooting photos, Shya was largely influenced by Wang in an indirect manner - “I had little experience back then, I always tried to capture stories through his perspective.” 


When Shya started shooting photos for films, he got to know Leslie Cheung. At the 10th anniversary following Cheung’s death, he released a photo album of Miss You Much as a tribute to Cheung, which was widely praised by critics. But it is very obvious, only under Shya’s camera lenses that we were able to see the precious moments that were never exposed before, and the Cheung who was different from the one on screen and known by the public. 

Shya always loved to treat photography as a fun and interesting “game.” When “playing games”, Shya can’t be motivated by ordinary photographic methods. Therefore, he broke the rules again and again, no matter if it is him using a camera bought from a 24-hour convenience store or him intentionally putting on lots of lights at a scene; behind the seemingly dangerous experiments and unpredictable operations, often lies many possibilities - “if I felt safe when I was working, when I find that I am repeating myself, I have to stop, then move forward, to prevent myself from doing ‘easy things’.” Mistakes are subjective, and every mistake is an opportunity to learn something new. 


Shya does not look at photographs that were shot more than a decade ago. More than 20 years of working in the industry allowed him to switch roles swiftly between commercial and individual photography. Pride came with fame. But Shya eventually decided to return to his inner self. Along the way, he discovered that photography has always been the method for him to communicate with the outside world. Either it be a flying bird with a grey background, flapping his wings; a scene covered in fog, or hundreds of men, some topless and wearing pants only, fighting together. They no longer were shot for films and they have little to do with fashion - rather, the photographs are kept with originality to extend the life of art. 

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