I met photographer Benjamin Wong like people meet each other in Montreal: he was breathing fire and I was throwing buckets of water at him, all while being filmed on a $50,000 slow-motion camera. It was all behind an old toilet factory, where I was living in at the time.
He makes some pretty bloody epic photos, creating worlds of mystery, intrigue and lust. Seeing some of his latest work, it is obvious he is here to stay. I found Wong in one of the most magical worlds for an interview: Facebook. It was time to ask the self-toted 'visual engineer' for some answers and maybe a means to escape my own reality,
Artparasites: The 9-5 is something coveted in most of North America. Quitting a job as an engineer, most people must have thought you were insane – can art overthrow reason?
Benjamin Wong: I didn't quite feel like I was taking a big risk. I had been living at home for 3.5 years putting money aside, and my online following for photography was relatively significant and it seemed like a “If I don’t do this now, then when?” thing. The decision was quite educated; I had a good feeling of how much I could earn, how I was going to generate it, and how long I could keep going for. I guess that’s the logical engineering side of me that continuously calculates. Despite generating a bit less than I was as an engineer and being considerably less stable, I’ve never looked back once and questioned my decision.
APs: Photography, a childhood dream?
BW: Photography? I dunno. I don’t think I ever wanted anything as a child other than to be happy. I stumbled on photography randomly when a girl broke up with me while I was working in the mines in Nevada and since then it’s just grown into a lifestyle!
APs: Asian culture places a lot of importance on education and stability. How does your family feel that you’ve decided to leave that all behind to pursue this?
BW: Initially they couldn’t understand it, but as time has gone by they’ve seen the growth and potential for something a little bit more long term. Though my mom is still waiting for me to get “a real job,” they’re still (and always have been) encouraging me to follow my heart. Without their support things would definitely be different!
APs: What do you fear now? You’ve already left stability which is what most people fear not having. So is there anything left to be afraid of?
BW: Hah, my greatest fear is myself! What if I get bored? What if I don’t want to do photography anymore? What if I can’t survive in the world with my crazy/epic style? I suppose the same questions like every artists has – they never quite leave you.
APs: At your young age do you ever wonder if maybe you’ve peaked too soon, that this was all 15 minutes of fame and you’ll wake up back in an office? How can you keep the world (and yourself) entertained to keep climbing?
BW: Peaked? I feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface. I’m 27 years old, I live on a hotel/sofa 6 months out of the year, and the rest with my parents in a home studio. For the most part I’m a one man team with an extraordinary ability to bring talented people together to make epic stuff… but there is still a lot more growth to be had. I have a fantastic agent, great contacts in the photo world that provide me support and equipment, a fantastic group of loyal followers, teaching opportunities worldwide and contracts that continuously grow and expand but I’m nowhere close to peaking!
APs: The first extravagant thing you'll buy when the millions come rolling in – Ferrari, diamond grill, gold toilet or…
BW: Fly Tim Walker out for dinner.
APs: Who is your inspiration in the same age bracket and situation as you? Do you see them as competition or is their space enough for both of you in this world?
BW: Joey L I suppose is probably the guy that’s closest to my age category and miles ahead of me – I suppose that’s what makes him an inspiration. He’s definitely not competition, just someone different and significantly better than me. There is place for me, not because I’m better, but because I’m me; and there’s only one of me. Now I just need to find my place, as does anyone in a similar situation.
To finish off that night we met, our filming moved inside a studio. This time throwing eggs close distance at his face (I missed three times) and then flour to top it off; I went to bed at 3am and then slept for 2 days. It all turned into this: a three minute video of how he styles his hair, to a soundtrack that gives Lord of the Rings a run for its money. Benjamin Wong did what we all need to do: he quit his job and pursued a dream.
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Article by Tristan Boisvert