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Wing Shya - An Ode to Hong Kong

Words:

Edd Norval
May 15, 2019

Photography is often described by the adjective 'cinematic', sometimes deservedly, other times lazily so, simply because the images evoke a certain atmosphere. Wing Shya's images are undoubtedly cinematic though, dripping with the aesthetic appeal of his country's 'golden era' of film, evocative of a time in history where attention-to-detail was met with an audience willing to dedicate the time to embrace it.

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Shya works off of the idea of immersion, both in his art, but more importantly in his life leaving his art as a by-product of his daily experiences. The process of his pieces stem from his ability and willingness to fully incubate in the senses of the city - the cheap restaurants, the classy streets, the dogged back-alleys, the dealers, the dancers and the directors.


Each city has various levels, a hierarchy of meaning. Within each level is itself various layers of texture, many of which overlap, while some clash. These incidental crossovers of life are grey zones of creativity, the sparks that seem to ignite fires in the multi-disciplinary works of Shya. Principally working in photography, his stills are imbued with meaning, telling the stories that filmmakers do with images, but also dialogue and sound. With Shya's pieces, we are left to imagine these absent aspects, stoking our own imaginations to do so.


When he first started working, he stuck to a script following in the footsteps of his forebears, his influences and his icons. But now he 'follows the weather', that is, uses intuition to guide him. Utilising all of film, photography and design lends itself to this, the smallest manipulation in a pattern of images can recontextualise the way an audience interprets it. These subtle interplays between the artist, his subject and his city have made his a fresh voice that stands out in one of the world's most populous cities.

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After attaining a fine-arts degree in Canada, Shya created his award-wining Shya-La-La Workshop studio back in Hong Kong. Then, in 1997, he became exclusive photographer and graphic designer for iconic director Wong Kar-Wai whose romantic tales of life in Hong Kong have become deeply entwined in the contemporary mythology of the city. As such, the work of Shya being in some of the director's most acclaimed films has given him similar reach and influence without the baggage of celebrity.


Beyond just the artistic world, his commercial activities for brands like Rolex and Louis Vuitton, or his use of his country's best known film stars, has given Shya the crossover appeal of a true cultural innovator, a man whose advice includes not listening too much to what you're told. It's not about defiance, but making something that's uniquely yours. There are too many carbon copies. Shya is definitely not one of them.


The ability to transcend a particular subset of creativity was explored in his 'Temptation' series shot in the Shaolin Monastery of China in Henan. In the photographic series, Shya delicately and intimately explored the brotherhood shared by the would-be monks in an environment that's usually guarded and shrouded in mystery.

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The staged images exemplify Shya's ability to draw reality from the most wondrous and unlikely situations. Choosing to shoot in black-and-white added an archaic cinematic quality that would sit alongside the greats of Asia's canon of film. These, amongst his other works, all have one thread woven throughout them: Hong Kong. He is inherently indebted to the place and its people, a documentarian that breaks the mould as he discovers hidden depths and cracking facades, digs beneath performances and forages inhabitants thoughts and feelings - depicting both the lived version of a city he loves, but also one shaped by himself.


Carrying a particular script and idea with him to every shoot, the images are thought through yet come across as candid, his raw and deeply beautiful aesthetic prizes all forms of beauty and elegance, yet also manage to carry a coherent narrative, making a statement about certain aspects of the world that his characters belong in.


Youth is now taking a central position in his work, to Shya, they offer an authentic inroads into life as it is now, something even the most gifted of actors couldn't possibly offer. When he shoots youth, he also talks to them and learns from them, as if his newest works aren't directed by him at all, nor written by, but instead star Shya as a character involved in a story unravelling in real-time. This curiosity lead him into teaching positions and he thoroughly embraces the symbiotic relationship - where both parties can learn from each other.


Shya has long been an inspiration to those cutting their teeth in the Hong Kong artistic world, now he's returned to the role of a teacher-student, learning about his city all over again from the newest crop of emerging artists.

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