Benjamin Von Wong has always been known for his elaborate, fantasy-like photo shoots. However, recreating the fairy tales that he had grown up watching took time, patience, luck, and most of all, a lot of help. These jaw-dropping photographs are bound to generate the customary "Is this Photoshopped?" question. Yet as usual, Von Wong's incredible scenes are all created in-camera, and he goes on to tell us how he pulled off a photo shoot 20 years in the making.
Some say Von Wong’s life is like a fairy tale. He travels the world to endless exotic destinations creating visually riveting photos, and always with a smile on his face. But it’s not all fun for a creative mind like Von Wong. A lot of persistence and planning goes into the art Von Wong creates, and more often than not, he is not financially compensated for his work. But as he told me, sometimes it is more important for him to work on his passion projects than to chase the almighty dollar.
I think passion projects are where you really, truly grow. Clients need to see what you are capable of doing, before they can even think of hiring you to do just that. I feel like I haven’t come close to fulfilling my potential yet, and I am still growing. I want my paying clients to dream big, and the best way to make them dream big, is to show them big. And those big moments usually have to come from my passion projects.
One such passion project was born when Von Wong was a young child. A lover of Disney movies, he always imagined what it would be like to live in a fantasy world, much like the one in "Beauty And The Beast." The grand ballrooms, the enchanted forests, and the majestic libraries all drew young Von Wong in, and surprisingly, that love for fairy tale settings never waned as he aged.
I have always loved fantasy. There is something about traveling to a distant place, becoming the hero and going into another world. The adventure that surrounds the fantasy story has always really drawn me in. I think I have always been a dreamer. I would dream of the possibilities of all the places I could go, and all of the things I could become. Those dreams just never left my subconscious as I got older. I didn’t know how to harness those dreams when I was younger. My creative mind didn’t manifest until I picked up a camera.
Fast forward to 2014. Von Wong finds himself in Germany speaking at Photokina. Looking for unique shooting locations that are uniquely European, he enlists the help of some local fans. His “warm up shoot” took him and his $38,000 Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 to a cold and wet underground cave, well known to be the most colorful in the world. Yet that was just the appetizer for what was to come. With the memories of the grand library from "Beauty And The Beast" still engrained in his mind, Von Wong began reaching out to old European libraries that he wanted to use as the scene for his next creative vision. After being met with rejections and ridiculously high shooting rates, he eventually received a positive response from Brother Maximilian, who runs the oldest monastic library in the world, the Stift Admont. With the permission he needed in hand, Von Wong, model Jen Brook, makeup artist Bianca Kristin Woltsche and a handful of assistants raced to Austria to begin work on what would become some of Von Wong's most memorable photographs. Since the library is open to tours during the daytime, the team had to wait until nightfall before they were able to start their setup. Recreating the beautiful natural light of the 48 large windows would be a challenge, but one that Benjamin welcomed with open arms. Being a master of his Broncolor light systems, Von Wong knew how to get the look he was after.
We used a series of small speedlights to light the different arches and ceilings of the library to maintain the depth of the space, as well as our larger Broncolor lights to make our model pop out of the background. A longer shutter speed was used to bring in a tiny bit of the ambient warmth and the flashes were manually triggered by hand when the cloth was thrown to capture the perfect moment.
The resulting images of Brook fitted in beautiful dresses by Polish designer Agnieskza Ospia, leaning off of tall ladders and holding manuscripts hundreds of years old, are jaw droopingly gorgeous, and can invoke childhood dreams inside all of us, no matter the age.
Like most of us, Brook grew up watching fairy tales and dreaming of being a Disney princess, so being involved in a photo shoot like this was a dream come true.
Like every other little girl in the world, I wanted to grow up to be a Disney princess. So stepping into such a wondrous and absolutely ineffable location such as Admont Library, you really do start wondering if it's all real. How has my life gone from that to this?
The best thing about being in that library was that it evoked so many emotions of my life. I have an English degree so my life has been built upon books. I watch far more films than read books these days but I believe in the strength of a story as escapism. I dream in colors and I love to merge the borders of realism in my pictures.
As with most photo shoots, there are always challenges to face. From the cold temperatures of the underground caves, to the struggles of keeping costumes (worth far much than I can imagine) away from the thick clay and mud - it's all part of the game. The fading light in the library posed a new threat to the series where one shot was beautiful daylight but the final shot was completely lit artificially (thanks to Broncolor!) ...oh and not to mention a bladder infection that crippled me to the point that I needed to go to a German Hospital.
These pictures mean the world to me and the memories they derive will never leave. It is always difficult to label one shoot as my absolute favorite. But you know what? I've never seen images like these before. They really are incredible and are paired with such strong emotions of great memories with a talented and most of all caring team.
And what lessons did Von Wong take away from this beautifully unique experience?
To me, this photo shoot confirmed that anything is possible. I have lots of crazy ideas floating around in my mind and it's good to know that some are actually achievable!
You can read more of the story on Von Wong's latest blog post.
All images above used with permission from Von Wong.
All images below used with permission from Eva Creel.