When Kai Wong was young, she would flip through magazines, ignoring the text to stare at the pictures. She couldn’t draw or paint; she wasn’t one of those people who knew early on that they had a passion for one form of art or another. But, she was fascinated with the photos.
After what she describes as a very “normal” upbringing in Vancouver, watching anime and hanging out with her friends, and forays into medicine and then stagecraft, Kai finally picked up an old SLR camera and at that moment her life was set on a new path. She took a class, out of curiosity, and found herself thinking about photography more and more, until she realized it was all she could think about.
Fast forward five years and Kai has just graduated from a full-time professional photo-imaging program. This is where TRIM finds her: we approach and her ask her to embark on a collaboration us.
What was your initial reaction, when Kriza approached you about this collaboration?
I was pretty happy, because it felt like someone was wanting to work with me because of my style, not just because I can use a camera. It was unique because I was being recognized more for who I was as a photographer, as opposed to just the person who’s bringing all the technical aspects. I felt like I was being trusted with ideas.
What was hard about the collaboration? What sorts of challenges did you have to overcome?
The most challenging part for me was more of an internal thing. Coming up with how I was going to style the entire shoot, because with food photography, styling is one of the biggest parts. Food looks so boring if you don’t know how to style it properly. So just sitting down, and trying to come up with ideas was a little difficult.
What surprised you about doing this project?
How easy it was to work with Kriza. I can be kind of insecure with my photographs, but I also have standards that I try to hit, and I liked her ideas. I trusted what she thought about how things should look. So having her there while I styled the shoot and having her look at the photos while we were shooting, it was sort of comforting to have that reassurance. And I thought it was going to be very formal, but through this entire thing, it’s been cool, to get to work with someone to the point where it feels like a really natural friendship.
Kai feels she’s reached her destination. When asked if she wants to be a food photographer for the rest of her life, her answer is fast and simple: “yes”.
She discovered her love for photographing food at school—food with all of its textures, colours and associations. It is quiet and it stays still; she finds people awkward to manipulate compared to the precision of styling a static shoot.
She has come a long way to thinking of herself as an artist, and now she wants to define herself by pointing out the separation between the technical side of photography and the artistic side—the planning and the deliberateness of designing a photo.
She doesn’t think of herself as talented but merely passionate; she has not yet learned that talent is a requirement of accomplishment.
What did you learn from this project?
I learned that I have to keep pushing myself. This project came up after I was done school, so I didn’t have any homework or anything to work on. So having this gave me an opportunity to keep shooting and keep coming up with ideas. Also, to keep working with other people. If I keep working by myself then I just keep doing the same kinds of boring photos. There isn’t that sort of extra support or accountability . . . and with people who aren’t just photographers, like graphic designers and other types of artists, because they come up with different ideas, they see things from a different perspective. Sometimes you can get a little too technical and it sort of loses the artistic aspect of what’s possible with photography.
What inspires you to be creative?
It’s still a rather new thing to me. I’m still a pretty new photographer, so I’m still discovering what gets me excited. At first it was all technical, it was fun seeing something appear on the screen that looked pretty good. I guess more importantly, what I’ve discovered this past year about myself is that coming up with all these ideas in my head, these sort of fantasies, knowing now that it’s possible for me to create these into something visual that other people can see, whereas before I knew anything about photography, I had all these ideas that I didn’t know how to express. Like, I can’t draw, paint, sculpt, or any of that, but now photography gave me the vehicle to pull all of that off. So that sort of makes me excited.
How do you think that this project will improve you as a photographer?
I think it’s important to look outside of what’s normal, of what people think is normal, and to try things even though there is the possibility of failure. I think that’s really important to the entire learning process and the creative process, and the growing of the artist. Because you can’t get better without messing up once in a while, or consistently even. So, just take risks, go work with other people and grow from that experience despite what the end product may be.