Edas Wong: Revealing The Extraordinary In The Ordinary with the Leica X1
A self-taught amateur street photographer with a great eye for capturing ironic and thought-provoking juxtapositions, Edas Wong was born in Hong Kong in 1968, studied telecommunications at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, and in 2005 moved to Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Elaine Ho to work as an engineer in the R&D department of a leading mobile network. They’ve subsequently moved back to Hong Kong where they currently reside and work. Wong started to seriously take photos in 2002, concentrating on landscape photography. Then in 2011, he saw Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Valencia, Spain 1933,” which turned out to be a transformational event. From that point on he developed an instant and abiding passion for street photography. Here is the story of how he captures some of the incisive images he submitted to the “Me and My Leica X” competition.
Q: Which X-System camera did you use to shoot your “Me & My Leica X” images?
A: I used my Leica X1 to shoot these images.
Q: What inspired you to enter the competition?
A: For a self-taught amateur photographer, entering photography contests is a good way to evaluate the level of your shooting skill with a goal of self-improvement. Furthermore, as a Leica X1 user it was logical for me to enter a “Me & My Leica X” competition.
Q: How would you describe the series of photos you entered into the competition? Can you provide any sort of background information or what you were trying to capture?
A: The photo series that I entered into the contest was kind of like a narrative sequence that recorded all the little things taking place around me. It contained 10 single images which were taken in the course of my everyday life (e.g. on the subway on the way to work, in the car park under my office, on the way to the supermarket, etc.). I was trying to make art out of ordinary situations.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: Among those 10 images, some are about playing with juxtapositions and connections, such as interactions in motion, geometric patterns, moving toward something peaceful, life as a chessboard, cross and umbrella, etc. The most interesting photos have cubist and contrasting elements where I was trying to fill up the frame with people in messy patterns to simulate the effects of cubist art.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography?
A: I’ve been seriously interested in photography for about 10 years. At the start, I was fascinated with landscape photography and often carried a lot of heavy equipment around — two camera bodies, a heavy tripod, several zoom and prime lenses, all sort of filters — and traveled to different countries such as Iceland, Greenland, Japan, France, Switzerland, etc. This phase lasted for many years until three years ago when I saw Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Valencia, Spain 1933.” I was completely captivated by its surreal visual aspect and the message/story behind it. Although these photos were taken in 1933, they still can inspire such a strong emotional reaction. It’s amazing! At that point I came to the realization that an eternal and renowned photo is not only a pleasure to peoples’ eyes, but also contains and conveys a message and story within it. I then immediately fell in love with street photography and started to work on the streets with a small compact camera, the Leica X1, from that time onward.
Q: What is it that draws you to the black-and-white medium, and does it have anything to do with the influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson?
A: When I started to take street photos, the photos were only in B&W because I liked the sense of nostalgia and was striving to simplify the complexity I encountered in the street. Moreover, working on B&W has an advantage in post-processing: brightness adjustment using color filtering. With color filtering, the brightness of the targeted subject can be easily adjusted to the desired level for emphasis. However, I now do take both color and B&W photos. As mentioned before, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 1933 images of Spain triggered me to take up street photography. Furthermore, I also followed him in using a Leica. The Leica X1 was my first camera particularly suited for street photography. It was small enough to allow me to photograph my targeted subjects discreetly.
Q: Aside from its compact size and high image quality, what specific features or characteristics of the Leica X1 do you find especially useful for your work? Do you find shooting with a single focal length lens to be an advantage for your kind of photography, and have you ever considered trying the Leica X-Vario, or an M-series Leica which would enhance your framing flexibility?
A: When I shoot B&W photographs, I normally bring the Leica X1 with me because I find that it can provide more levels of depth of gray than other cameras. As a result, the photo has a 3D feeling rather than a flat quality. In the past three years, I haven’t used anything other than 36 mm (or 35 mm) single focal length lens. It is most suitable for my street photography style, not too close or too far. Sometimes, I feel stressed to always be changing the focal length with zoom lenses. If necessary I just zoom with my feet, simply moving closer or farther away. Furthermore, with prime lens, I can more easily concentrate on observation and framing. Of course, I’ve considered trying the Leica M-System, which has a full frame sensor to provide even better image quality. My application to buy a Leica M has been submitted to my wife. However, it will take many years to get approval!
Q: Many of the images in this portfolio could be described as “the surreal quality of everyday life”, a series of unusual and even humorous juxtapositions that evoke a sense of strangeness and randomness. Do you agree, and is this an aspect of your style that gives these disparate images an underlying unity of perception and expression?
A: Yes, I can’t agree with you more! Both surrealism and humorous juxtapositions are exactly my areas of interest. I want to make viewers laugh and spend time thinking about what I shot. Currently, I’m still experimenting with different ways of expression to make the photos even more surreal and fun.
Q: You imply that these images, both individually and in their totality, convey a kind of message aimed not only at pleasing the viewer but also telling a story. Can you tell us anything about these stories from your perspective? And do these images have any inherent meaning apart from the stories and emotions they evoke in the minds of viewers?
A: As I said, I want to make each individual photo as fun and surreal as possible and to have its own message embedded within it. In its totality, this series records all the little somethings in my everyday life and conveys the underlying message that there is no need to travel to exotic places to capture great photos. Instead it entails concentrating your observation on all the good themes that already surround you.
Q: This images shows a woman in a white padded coat sporting a handbag, with her hands held over her ears, walking past an incredibly demonic poster image of an open mouth with outstretched hands in front of the face forming a kind of megaphone. Is this a composite image or did you actually see this happening in front of your camera? And what does this picture mean to you personally?
A: No, it was not a composite image and I actually saw this happening in front of my camera. Behind the big poster there was a construction project going on. It was so noisy that most people simply avoided it. However, I believed someone would eventually pass by holding his hands over his ears instead. So I waited, and after half an hour I finally got this shocking image. But, my right ear was almost injured because my right hand was holding the camera so I couldn’t hold it over my right ear as I was waiting!
Q: This is another image that looks like a composite, a double exposure created in post-production, or possibly a reflection. The juxtaposition of a lone figure in silhouette facing away from the camera surrounded by goldfish swimming in an aquarium at his/her back and side, and framed by a busy urban background dominated by extensive scaffolding on large buildings, is fascinating and kind of creepy. How and where did you create this surreal and engaging image, and what kind of narrative do you think it evokes?
A: No, it was not double exposure created in post-processing. It’s my own reflection onto the fish tank. I call this photo “besieged” because both the goldfish and I were besieged, in fish tank and urban scaffolding respectively. One afternoon, I passed by a goldfish shop. When I got close to the fish tank, all the goldfish immediately approached me (inside my reflection) looking to be fed. After playing with the goldfish for a while, I suddenly discovered that there were two worlds, which depended on the viewpoint of the observers. If the goldfish were the observers, I was an alien from a scaffolding world. Conversely, if I was the observer, then the goldfish were besieged inside the tank. It was so funny I decided to shoot it.
Q: This shot shows a young boy moving past a stylized American Tourister billboard adorned with models prancing across a hyper-modern 21st century skyline. What is your interpretation of this engaging image?
A: “You run, I run,” is my title for this and it’s an ironic juxtaposition photo. I just wanted to mix the running boy into the ad box!
Q: Perhaps the funniest image in this portfolio is the one that shows a sort of “interested but disinterested” middle-aged man gazing absently at a model on a poster in a store window. What’s funny is that this image manages to be erotic and anti-erotic at the same time. Can you tell us some of the reactions to this image you’ve received from people who viewed it?
A: I call this image “Come on.” Some viewers commented that the middle-aged man did not really look at the outstretched legs; otherwise, it would be perfect. In fact, my aim was to reveal his shy reaction, not his peeping eyes. If I had just shot for peeping eyes, the photo would only have one connection, i.e. the middle-aged man and the legs. However, if I shot for the shy reaction, the photo had two connections, i.e. the middle-aged man, and me, and the legs.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years or so? And do you plan to output any images in color going forward?
A: In the next three years, I will continuously develop my own way of observation and shooting skill (abstract fine art is also interesting). Furthermore, I would like to make few concept albums. Actually, I am currently shooting both color and B&W photos. My selection of which medium to use depends largely on the photo or theme itself.
Q: Do you plan to create a book of your work or to exhibit your images at fine art galleries or other venues going forward? In short, what are your plans for these images?
A: I don’t really have any plans for my images. Although someone asked me to place my images with their online agency for possible sale; I normally reject such offers. However, if possible, I of course would want to make my images become books and exhibited going forward.
Thank you for your time, Edas!
- Leica Internet Team
Find Edas on Flickr.