Stars' unguarded moments captured on lens

Liu Xiaolin
An ongoing exhibition at Shanghai Center of Photography sheds light on Hong Kong photographer Wing Shya's lesser known side as an artist. 
Liu Xiaolin

HONG Kong photographer Wing Shya has made a name for himself in fashion, cinema and entertainment industry. He has worked with Hong Kong’s leading art house film director Wong Kar-Wai, participated in photo shoots for fashion magazines like Vogue and i-D, and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior; designed album covers for a dozen pop musicians, including Leslie Cheung and Faye Wong. And in recent years, he has also tried his hand at filmmaking, producing music videos and directing films.

But an ongoing exhibition at Shanghai Center of Photography sheds light on his lesser known side as an artist. Titled “Acting Out,” the solo exhibition features more than 100 photos and collage works done by him since 1991.

Karen Smith, curator of SCoP, said she was mostly attracted by Shya’s “artistic instinct, almost painterly” in his works. 

“If you are a photographer working on a photo shoot, or a film set, you would never push the films, because you can’t control what happens,” Smith said.

By pushing the film, the photographer develops the low-speed films like high-speed films, causing alteration and compression of color, Smith said. Photos are processed in strange colors, as if they were dyed.

“But he dares to do this,” she said.

Smith handpicked all the exhibits after spending three weeks going through his archives.

Stars' unguarded moments captured on lens

A behind-the-scenes snapshot of Leslie Cheung taken by Wing Shya when working with director Wong Kar-Wai on filming the 1996 film “Happy Together.” 

“I didn’t know much ... nor about the need to use a ‘black box’ to mute the sound of the camera shutter,” the 53-year-old Shya recalled as he spoke about his first assignment with Wong during the filming of the 1996 film “Happy Together” in Argentina. 

He had to shoot pictures on the sidelines of film takes, when actors were “not ready and unguarded.” In one of the shots of Leslie Cheung on display, the hands of Christopher Doyles, the cameraman, can also be seen. It later became his style, to capture the “un-ready” moments.

“There’s always this consistent mood” in Shya’s photos, the way he tries to tell a story by projecting the mood through the images, that Smith finds “appealing.”

Stars' unguarded moments captured on lens

A photo of Taiwan actress and model Lin Chi-ling by Wing Shya in the back stage of a fashion show.

Starting out early as the behind-the-scenes photographer surely had an influence on Shya’s later works.

In 2000, Shya started to take assignments for i-D magazine. Being a Chinese photographer working for a foreign magazine, he often emphasized on Asian textures by telling stories against the backdrop of various Asian cities, as if making movies.

A cover photo he took for the magazine in 2004 features movie star Maggie Cheung, who posed as a stylish but lonely countryside girl from southern China’s Guilin City, while her husband worked abroad. 

But he soon got bored, and wanted to “come out of the box.” 

“If I feel safe when I begin to work, I know I am repeating myself. I have to pause, to move on and stop myself doing easy stuff,” he said. 

He always tries to fight against monotony.

“For a good photo, everything is meant to be — the cloud, the light, the mood...” Shya said.

There is also a “personal” series of collage on display for the first time. He made the series during the filming of “Happy Together,” using photocopies along with discarded materials on the film set. The collages are like “a diary, or a mood board,” recording his days in Argentina.

Shya’s retrospective runs until January 10 at SCoP on the West Bund.


"Acting Out"

Date: Through January 10 (Tuesdays-Sundays)

Addmission: 40 yuan

Venue: Shanghai Center of Photography 

Address: 2555-1 Longteng Ave

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