Valentine Willie Fine Art Singapore is pleased to present RUSSEL WONG: A DIFFERENT JOURNEY. This new exhibition is Russel Wong’s first major exhibition since his solo exhibitions at the Singapore Art Museum and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in 2005.
Whereas Russel has made his name as photographer of celebrities from the world of politics, sport and entertainment, lesser known are his works away from the world of celebrities. Chief amongst these are his photographs of landscapes and nature, which
he has pursued for the past 9 years and which he has never exhibited before until now.
In this new exhibition, there will be no portraits of Jackie Chan, no Aishwarya Rai and not even one of his favorite muses, the actress/director Joan Chen. Instead, we will see early morning views of Huangshan or Yangshou, or a bamboo forest in Kyoto. It’s a different journey not just for him but also for his many admirers who has only known his celebrity portraits. On this new journey and like a classical Chinese ink painter, Russel deploys his trademark mastery of composition, always sensitive to the subtleties of light and shadow.
Following the traditional way, Russel captured most of his landscapes on 8 x 10 negatives with his view camera. Russel would get up very early to catch the rising mist as it spreads over the Li Jiang River just as the fishermen sets out on their arduous day. It is this honesty and dedication that give his works their visual edge and power. It has also made him one of our most successful contemporary photographers.
Russel Wong (b. 1961, Singapore) is one of the most profiled photographers in Singapore and Asia. Described as a ‘celebrity photographer who also photographs celebrities’, Wong enjoys the acclaim of being the first Singaporean to break into the notoriously difficult Hollywood movie industry. He is also one of an elite group of photographers assigned to photograph covers for Time magazine.
Popularly noted for his photographs of celebrities – from movie stars, to rock musicians, sports personalities, politicians and fashion gurus - Wong has nevertheless developed a strong portfolio of lesser known but no less compelling subjects. Still-life compositions, nudes, landscapes, and conceptual pieces are as much a part of his practice as are his celebrity portraits.
Wong catapulted into his photography career when he photographed the cover for Track & Field News – the American publication nicknamed ‘The Bible of the Sport’ for its leading role in international sports coverage. Wong’s cover of world record miler Sebastian Coe was the early launch pad for his photographic career. Wong was 19 then and undergoing undergraduate studies (B.Science) at the University of Oregon, USA. He was also carrying out coveted photographic work for the Nike shoe company - capturing luminaries such as Carl Lewis, Mary Decker and John McEnroe.
Upon graduation Wong returned to Singapore for National Service (enlistment) and was posted to the servicemen publication - Pioneer magazine - as a photographer. Shortly after, he photographed his first fashion cover for Her World one of the leading fashion magazines of the time, winning the Cover of the Year award.
Upon completion of his National service (at the age of 23), he was admitted to the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (with a major in Photography). Even in his first year, he began photographic work for the world-renowned Elite Modelling Agency - entering the intensely demanding and fickle world of international fashion photography.
One of his early ‘breaks’ came from the Los Angeles Times magazine – that assigned Wong to photograph fashion spreads of Hollywood celebrities. This opened the proverbial door to working with top celebrities including Joan Chen, Isabella Rossellini, Oliver Stone, Paloma Picasso, Michael Jackson, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Glenn Close, David Lynch, Bruce Willis and Jackie Chan.
In adapting to the highly competitive culture of fashion photography and its rigorous and complex relationship with advertising, Wong began to develop a signature style. He strove to distinguish his work by re-defining and re-styling the images of these glamorous figures with greater depth, texture and imagination.
Supermodels, designers, musicians and other creative individuals soon populated his portfolio - Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Amber Valetta, Asian Supermodel Ling, Kenzo, Anna Sui, Yo Yo Ma, Pavarotti.
RETURNING TO ROOTS
In 1989, Russel returned to Singapore to launched his own photographic studio with his first solo exhibition at the Hilton Hotel. With Joan Chen gracing the promotional poster for this exhibition, Wong signaled a new and more ambitious approach to local photographic shows.
Still, it had been his commercial work that secured Wong’s positioning as a leading photographer in the region. With accounts that included Raffles Hotel, Singapore Airlines, Cartier, American Express, Nike, British Airways, Sony, Visa, Compaq, Four Seasons Hotel, Nokia, The Ritz Carlton Hotel, the Development Bank of Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board, Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore Telecoms and Apple – it was difficult not to frame Wong as a successful commercial photographer, as opposed to a fine art photographer.
Wong however, was committed to the notion of infusing his commercial accounts with creative elements and strategies - much like the photographer-artists that he had admired and appreciated. For Wong, photographers such as Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton or Herb Ritts epitomized the ideal state of balancing the rigors (and objectives) of fashion photography with the demands of personal artistic expression and inventiveness. In fact, their practice was evidence that successful commercial work could be accomplished without sacrificing or compromising the creativity, subtlety and individualism of their own explorations and expressions.
Within a span of 5 years, the reputation of Wong’s commercial studio was such that leading publications sought the studio out for their covers. The debut cover of Vogue Singapore, and the covers of international magazines including Time, Fortune, Elle, GQ, Marie Claire, New York Times and Los Angeles Times were shot by Wong.
Wong’s ‘branding’ was regarded as a sensitive and thoughtful ‘take’ on the client’s product, service or offerings – such that the final image never seemed to be overtly commercial or heavy-handed in its delivery. In 1996, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra commissioned Wong to produce a commemorative book for their 15th anniversary. The same year, Wong was awarded The Gold medal at the New York Advertising Festival for his advertising campaign for Jason’s (a boutique supermarket).
Russel has also been commissioned by various publications around the world to photograph stories and fashion spreads on movie sets such as “ Heaven and Earth “ which was directed by Oliver Stone in Thailand, “ Victory “ which was shot in Malaysia and starred Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Irene Jacob, “Turtle Beach” which was shot in Thailand and starred Greta Scacchi and Joan Chen.
In 1996, Russel was commissioned by Time magazine to photograph pop icon Faye Wong for the cover. He has since photographed 14 more covers including one of action star Jackie Chan and the also Chow Yun Fatt and Michelle Yeoh for Oscar winning movie “ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon “. His latest cover is of ken Watanbe, the Japanese movie star.
With the success of “Crouching Tiger”, he was also hired to shoot the publicity for the movie by the various magazines around the world.
Russel then photographed on the set and handled the international publicity of Zhang Yimou’s Oscar nominated “ Hero “ starring Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. His photographs of “HERO” appeared all over the world in magazines like Premiere, Entertainment Weekly, Elle.
With the success of “ Hero “, he was re-hired to shoot all the posters and also handle the international publicity for another Zhang Yimou film : “ House of Flying Daggers “ starring Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. This film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
“Curse of the Golden Flower” was his next movie project which starred Gong Li, Chow Yun Fat and Jay Chou and was directed by
His latest movie project was Oscar winning director Ang Lee’s “ Lust Caution” which starred Tony Leung, Joan Chen, Tang Wei and Wang Lee Hom. The movie won at the Venice film festival in 2007
Aside from his major movie assignments, Russel has also been hired personally by Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger) to shoot their official websites. As for publicity, he has negotiated for Michelle Yeoh , Jackie Chan, Zhang Ziyi, Richard Gere, Joan Chen covers and spreads. . Also referred to as ‘The Richard Avedon of Asia’ by many, he was recently commissioned to photograph a set of portraits for the Prime Minister of Singapore.
Russel recently attended the prestigious New York University (NYU) Film Program with plans underway to directing his first feature film.
He has directed award-winning commercials notably his Breast Cancer spot that won the New York Festivals Grand Award, was a winner at the London Festivals and was the only commercial out of Asia to win the prestigious CLIO Award that year - the advertising industry’s equivalent of an Oscar.
He has since directed commercials for the Discovery Channel featuring Joan Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung that picked up Promax Awards
In its millennium issue, a top regional magazine voted Russel as one of the Asians to look out for in the next millennium.
Russel Wong is the first Singaporean photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum (Jan 7 – 16 March 2005), titled : RUSSEL WONG : 1980-2005.
He is also the first and only photographer to be invited for the art residency at the renowned Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) to create a series of photographic mixed media works in 2004/2005.
His art works can be found in public and private collections. At the recent Christie’s auction in Hong Kong, his “Bamboo Forest” print went for a record US$40 000.00.