There aren’t many photographers whose work I keep tabs on consistently. I barely have time to keep up with all of my own work, so while I may follow some photographers on Instagram, that’s about it. One of those select few that I check in on is Benjamin Von Wong, and once I heard about his latest project for Nike, I was excited to check it out.
For some reason, it seems like there are a lot of people who either love or hate Von Wong. I’m not really sure why. I first met him at a photo workshop called After Dark in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2014. I was an assistant at the workshop, and was assigned to help him out in one of his classes. I watched his brain fly at 100 mph while he set up a portrait involving fire with some of the workshop models. I’d never heard of him, but was immediately impressed by pretty much everything about him. He’s young — 30 now, only 27 when I met him — and incredibly successful. I was impressed at how personable he was (for a former engineer, especially), how knowledgable he was at all things photography and Photoshop (he’s the reason I now own a Wacom tablet), and, most importantly, how creatively clever and unique his images were. He was also acutely willing to share what he knew with fledgling photographers, which I appreciated.
His work is surreal. Hyper-surreal, if you will. It’s risky and magnificent simultaneously. I don’t know of anyone else doing elaborate underwater portraits, walking on lava, or hanging a paralyzed mom off the side of a cliff just to get a photo. And even more impressive are his technical and planning abilities to pull off these crazy ideas. Yes, they’re usually heavily photoshopped, but the ingenuity and guts it takes to get the base images is unmatched.
So, when I heard about his latest project, I was intrigued. When Nike reaches out to Von Wong, you know they want something big. And he knew it too.
His idea: take photos of people dangling off of skyscrapers in the Phillipines. Easy, right? That's the first thing I would have thought of too.
After an intense brainstorming session and a restless night of sleep, I made a commitment to pitch “crazy” rationalizing that if they were reaching out to me… it was probably not to do something conservative.
Me: “I want to showcase everyday people defying gravity a 1000 feet up in the air."
Them: “Do you know how?"
Me: “Nope… but I’m sure I can figure it out!”
And so a Von Wong shoot begins. An outlandish notion followed by the process of trying to see if it’s even remotely possible.
There was no rulebook on “how to hang people from skyscrapers” or “what equipment to use” and suddenly I found myself locked in a battle between what I wanted to create in my mind… and what was actually doable.
Here's a Behind the Scenes video to see how it went down.
And a sample of the result:
Whether you like the shots or not, you have to admit it took some guts to make them. And while the images are nice, Von Wong says what was more important to him was using "everyday people" that were making a difference in their communities as his models.
By showcasing everyday people doing extraordinary things, I hope that viewers, will feel empowered to challenge themselves, support others and to pursue amazing life experiences of their own.
To see more about this shoot, visit Von Wong's website.