Portrait photographer Russel Wong shares the beginnings of his career, his inspirations, his personal vision and his relationship with celebrity subjects in this documentary by Jean Qingwen Loo.
Russel Wong is one of the most profiled photographers in Singapore and Asia. Described as a ‘celebrity photographer who also photographs celebrities’, Russel enjoys the acclaim of being the first Singaporean to break into the notoriously difficult Hollywood movie industry. He is also among the elite photographers commissioned to photograph covers for Time magazine.
From his beginnings in sports photography covering world record miler Sebastian Coe, Russel went on to carry out coveted photographic work for the Nike Shoe Company, capturing luminaries such as Carl Lewis, Mary Decker and John McEnroe. A Fine Arts degree in Photography from the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles followed, and it was then that Russel began to establish a name for himself in international fashion photography, working for the world-renown Elite Modeling Agency.
His celebrity fashion spreads for the Los Angeles Times opened the 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 developing a signature style amidst this highly competitive culture of fashion photography, Russel 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 and musicians soon populated his portfolio - Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Amber Valetta, Kenzo, Anna Sui, Yo Yo Ma, and Luciano Pavarotti.
The establishment of his photographic studio in Singapore in 1989 brought in accounts with 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. Meanwhile, the success of his commercial work also began to draw the attention of leading publications, which all sought Russel’s work to grace their covers. These include the debut cover of Vogue Singapore, and international covers for Time, Fortune, Elle, GQ, Marie Claire, New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
The allure and acclaim of Russel’s work draws from his ability to infuse his commercial accounts with creative elements, combined with a sensitive, thoughtful take on his subjects. This is clearly in the vein of the photographers he admires and appreciates – Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts. Such balance and versatility may be seen in Russel’s work photographing stories and fashion spreads for movie sets, such as Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth, and publicity shoots for Lee Ang’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero and House of Flying Daggers, as well as portraits of Asian movie stars like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fatt, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi.
Russel’s latest work in filmmaking has also been an impactful one, having recently attended the prestigious New York University Film Program, and with plans underway for directing his first feature film. To date, he has directed numerous award-winning commercials, from a Breast Cancer spot that earned him the CLIO award – the advertising industry’s Oscar equivalent – to commercials for Discovery Channel featuring Joan Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung. 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.
Today, Russel’s photography continues to make its mark both regionally and internationally. In its millennium issue, a top regional magazine voted Russel as one of the Asians to look out for in the next millennium. He is first Singaporean photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum (Russel Wong: 1980 – 2005), and also the first and only photographer to be invited for the art residency at the renowned Singapore Tyler Print Institute. In addition, His art works can be found in public and private collections, with his “Bamboo Forest” print going for a record US$40,000.00 at a recent Christie’s auction in Hong Kong.
To view his works: http://www.russelwongphoto.com/
About the Image Makers Documentary Series
What makes a photographer tick? Do "the perfect shot" or "the decisive moment" exist? In Image Makers, we uncover the processes and motivations behind internationally renowned photographers from Singapore. Through interviews and reviews of their works, we attempt to get to the heart of the work and their approach to art creation.