Benjamin “Von Wong” is a dreamer. He sees more than what’s in front of him and is inspired by everything around him. His portraits skate the lines around surrealism, fantasy, gothic couture and robust masculinity. His first exhibit Von Wong, now showing at Café Pi, comprises 41 photos whose subject matter includes such things as firemen, a ballerina, himself and pumpkins.
The steampunk aesthetic of Curve Me (2009) bares itself out in a dirty, yellow excavator that has a woman in a dirty, yellow dress and gold shoes standing in the scoop, her back arched as she stretches her arms out to reach the machine’s arm. The vibrant foreground of machinery is set against a darkened backdrop of trees, power lines and some sort of contraption that looms not too far away.
The enchanting Blue Girls – Lolita Fantasies (2009) has an urban fairy tale feel. Two girls in Victorian-style dresses stand under a white parasol at night looking up at a brick wall that has the entrance to an alley way painted on it. Pieces of newspaper fall from the sky.
The self portrait Disagreements between the heart and mind (2009) shows Von Wong in a white turtle neck with his head despondently turned to the side while a screaming, disembodied head tries to escape his shirt.
A mining engineer by day, Von Wong started off photographing the stars at night. He gradually began investing in better cameras and expanding his vision. His work isn’t limited to surrealistic portraiture either. The brash machismo in the firemen and b-boy series stand in stark contrast to the graceful images of the ballerina or the grand shot of the violinist on the stoop. And then there’s the series of action pics where people slice through pumpkins with a sword.
The variety of styles and subjects owes itself to Von Wong’s improvisational approach. He doesn’t rigidly plan his shoots in advance. He draws inspiration from his surroundings and in collaborating with his models. He prefers outdoor shoots and what he can’t find on location he can always Photoshop in later.
You can see the fluctuations in the artist’s growth. The composition of some images strikes an excellent balance between space, contrast and movement, whereas others lack the same finesse. The special effects used to create the surreal and supernatural images don’t always blend perfectly into the shot, but when they do the results are beautiful.
Von Wong’s images ooze narrative. They are inventive, playful and seek to stir the imagination. He’s not afraid of pursuing grandiose moments and his ambition often results in a compelling portrait.
Café Pi is located in the Plateau at 4127 St. Laurent Blvd. This chess hub has been supporting local artists for a long time and is open every day from 10 am until midnight. The photo exhibit runs until February 20th and if you are unable to make it, check out Von Wong’s portfolio online (scroll down and you can browse most of the photos that are in the show in the portfolio section, though they look even better in person).