The Richard Avedon of Asia

Self-portrait

 
 

Russel Wong is a Singapore-born Hollywood celebrity photographer. He had his primary and secondary education at Anglo-Chinese School. His celebrity portraits have earned him celebrity status. He is heralded as “the Richard Avedon of Asia” –an association Wong doesn’t seem to mind.

Like Avedon, Wong creates stunning portraits that are minimal, dramatic, and brilliantly composed. However, his photographs lack the cool indifference and stiffness of Avedon’s work; instead, the imagery is warm, personal, engaging.

Where does that gift comes from? “It’s difficult to explain”, he begins. “When I shoot someone, I feel like I’m dancing. The idea I’m working with is equivalent to the melody I hear in my head… then I improvise what that song’s ups and downs. I often try something wild at the end.”

The legendary celebrity-photographer the late Richard Avedon [1923-2004] had once sharply noted ‘my portraits are more about me than about the people I photograph’. This observation from the towering figure who chiselled his reputation on photographing the celebrated and the powerful suggests that the portrait-image could reveal as much about the photographer as it does the sitter-subject – or more. Russel Wong [b. 1961-] who (as stated before) has been christened the Richard Avedon of Asia by the popular media, wields an inventory of celebrity portraits that would exhaust most name-droppers. Joining the tradition of celebrity photographers like Avedon, Annie Leibovitz [1949-] Helmut Newton [1920-2004] and Herb Ritts [1952-2002], Wong’s practice ruptures the slender line between celebrity photography and fine art. Whilst some critics banish this genre as a soft art form shaped by the pressures and demands of celebrity publicity machines, most agree that this species of photography remains one of the most potent and most difficult to commandeer. It is one thing to wrestle for access to celebrities and quite another feat to persuade strong self-willed celebrities who are well-acquainted with camera tactics to trust if not share, one’s vision.

Several pivotal shifts in Wong’s practice occurred after his enrollment in the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1984 for a fine art degree (Photography). There he encountered tutors and mentors whose personal charisma and professional triumphs exerted great influence over his formative development. In his second year, Wong made a 4-month ‘immersion trip’ to Milan, Italy – ‘the Mecca, where all aspiring fashion photographers go to, and where all the big-name photographers pay their dues’ [Russel Wong, interview 2004]. Wong learnt the language, ate the food and hung out at the Italian fashion cafes, like The White Bear, where models and photographers congregated. Most importantly, his photographic style and approach changed radically, and these shifts were not lost on his mentors. Amongst these was Paul Jasmin [1935-], the renowned fashion designer and photographer who worked with Vogue and Interview. Jasmin introduced Wong to his agent who also represented Herb Ritts.

The agent subsequently became Wong’s first agent in his career – opening the doors to major magazine assignments. Another seminal figure was Antonio Lopez [1943-1987] the flamboyant Puerto Rican fashion illustrator noted for his portraits of Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange and Grace Jones. Lopez, a cult figure in the circles, had in the 1970s, run a Paris salon with Karl Lagerfeld for fashion celebrities. Lopez noted Wong’s work and connected Wong to the remarkable photographer Art Kane [1925-1995] who had photographed The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan among others.

“Antonio said, ‘Go to New York. I will help you!’ He invited me to his New York studio in Union Square and he called up a bunch of photographers. At the point when Antonio introduced me to Art Kane, I was ready to be an assistant, intern, anything. I didn’t really care, because I just wanted to see what it was like to do real photographic work in a New York loft.
I would have waited tables, carried the photographer’s lights, made coffee… you name it. But it turned out that I didn’t have to do any of that. I don’t know if this is good or bad but I didn’t have to assist any photographer on my way up. They liked my work, and it all began.”
[Russel Wong, interview 2004]

 
 

Antonio Lopez

 
 

David Lynch

 
 

Isabella Rossellini

 
 

Kenzo Takada

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Oliver Stone

 
 

Joan Chen

 
 

John Galliano

 
 

Cindy Crawford

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Like Father… (Musicians)

Frank and Nancy Sinatra

 
 

Sting, Coco Summers and Trudie Styler

 
 

Eric Clapton and his late son Conor

 
 

John Lennon and Julian

 
 

John and his Beautiful Boy, Sean Lennon

 
 

Paul Mc Cartney, Linda Eastman and their daughters

 
 

Paul, Linda and James

 
 

Ringo Starr, former Beatles drummer is pictured with his first wife, Maureen Starkey (died 12/1994) and their new born baby Zak at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, 1965

 
 

Lee Starkey, Barbara Bach, Ringo Starr and Francesca Gregorini walk together hand in hand on Starr and Bach’s wedding day, London, England in 1981

 
 

George and Dhani Harrison by Terry O’Neill, 1987

 
 

Pete Townshend holding his newborn daughter Emma

 
 

Roger Daltrey, lead singer of British rock group The Who, at home with his wife Heather and two children, Rosie-Lee and Willow.Image by Leonard de Raemy. September 1975, UK

 
 

Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg and children

 
 

Mick Jagger, Bianca and Jade

 
 

Mick, Jerry Hall and sons in Jamaica

 
 

Liv and Steven Tyler

 
 

Priscilla, Lisa Marie and Elvis Presley

 
 

David Bowie and Zowie

 
 

Bowie and Alex

 
 

Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow and Apple

 
 

Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean and Courtney Love. Photo Credit: Luis Guzmán, 1992

 
 

Kurt Cobain and Frances Bean

 
 

Elton John and his adopted child Zachary

 
 

Bob  and Jakob Dylan photographed by Eliott Landy, 1968

Creative Circle of Friends

Clockwise from bottom: Antonio Lopez, Kathtleen, Ingeborg Marcus, Cathee Dahmen and friend, Charles James and Juan Ramos in 1966.

 
 

In Paris, with his circle of friends, 1974

 
 

Elle France, 1971

 
 

Margaux Hemingway, Halston, Liza Minelli, Andy Warhol and Ultra Violet. Snapshot by Antonio Lopez, New York, 1974

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent, Marina Schiano, Jerry Hall and Pierre Bergé. Snapshot by Antonio Lopez, 1977

 
 

Grace Coddington and Jerry Hall in Jamaica, 1975

 
 

With Anna Piaggi at Tina Chow wedding, 1972

 
 

Accompained by Jane Forth

Antonio & Jerry

 
 

At age 16, Jerry Hall was staying at a hostel on the French Riviera when she was discovered sunbathing on a Saint Tropez beach by fashion agent Claude Haddad. She moved to Paris where she shared an apartment with singer Grace Jones (who at that time was also a model) and immersed herself in the Parisian nightlife, often performing risqué cabaret acts in clubs and parties with Jones. Soon after, she moved in with fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and her modelling career began.

 
 

Jerry Hall, Antonio Lopez and Grace Jones.

 
 

jSnapshots by Antonio Lopez

 
 

Antonio with her muse and close friend in Jamaica, 1975

 
 

Antonio & Jerry Hall photographed by Norman Parkinson for Vogue UK, 1975

Eight Months Gone

Eight Months Gone. Lucian Freud, 1997

 
 

 
 

Jerry Hall said she was asked to pose for Lucian Freud after meeting the artist at a party.

“When I was eight months pregnant with Gabriel [her fourth child with Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger] I sat next to Lucian Freud at dinner.

“He asked if he could paint me and wanted me to start the next day. I was flattered to be asked in my condition to model for such a great artist.

“I accepted and posed three times a week until I went into labour.”

Unveiling Jerry Hall in Morocco

Advertisement for Conde Nast Traveler, featuring Jerry Hall swimwear juxtaposed with Moroccan traditional women’s dress, 1990.

 
 

In 1979, Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger took their first vacation as a couple to Morocco. This trip marked another first: the introduction of a Hall-designed line of swimwear. A collection, according to its creator, “inspired by the glamour of old Hollywood”.

So, while Jagger descended upon the merchants of Morocco, Condé Nast Traveler recorded the unveiling of Hall and, in the evenings, sampled the glamour of old Marrakesh. A travel story with an unusual perspective.