Puan Sri Wendy Ong was frequently in front of the camera, the subject of the photo. Active in Malaysian public life with her charity work as Patron of the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia, she would often be in photo calls for fundraisers and other events. Being in the spotlight made Wendy more aware of photography. She understood what went into making an impressive image.
This awareness, coupled with her own lifelong interest in the arts, particularly Chinese calligraphy, and painting, rekindled an interest in capturing still images.
Wendy tells us how classical Chinese art inspires her modern photographic style.
She explains why the Leica Q2 is the Qi (气), or the vital force, behind her shots.
Having picked up a camera and immersed herself totally in photography in the past 18 months, she now calls the shots. Happy being behind the camera, she can see her photos are having a positive impact. Though she is too modest to say so herself.
I first met Wendy exactly one year ago at a Leica event in the Avenue K store. She made a strong first impression with her genuine enthusiasm for photography, a willingness to learn and absorb different creative approaches from fellow photographers.
Despite her obvious creative talents, Wendy is coy about her own photography. She seldom posts her shots on social media.
But she should display them more often. When available for public viewing, her images pleasantly surprise the audience with their quality and sensitive depiction of everyday life, inspired by her practice of fine arts and her voluntary work.
One of Wendy’s creative approaches is to scout an interesting location, see the possibilities in her mind, compose the shot in advance through the viewfinder, and then wait for the right moment as real life unfolds.
Many of her shots are in monochrome, emulating the black ink on white parchment of Chinese calligraphy — an art form Wendy has been perfecting for 30 years.
Just like the brushstrokes that form each Chinese character, this street photo uses leading lines and the rule of thirds to direct the viewer’s attention to the subject.
As in Chinese culture, with its belief in Yin and Yang, opposing yet balanced forces, Wendy often combines leading lines with reflections to harmonize her compositions and juxtapose light and shadow and inverted imagery.
She compares the stillness or sense of motion in her shots, and gradations of light and dark, to the variations of a calligrapher’s brushstrokes sweeping across the page – sometimes strong and dynamic, other times subtle and delicate.
Subtlety and dynamism are simultaneously on show in this shot, where an elegant woman strides purposefully through this street scene, conveying motion and a strong, unique character.
Her colour work is inspired by Chinese landscape painting, where she applies the traditional maxims of composition, form, ambient mood, light and shadow, and leading lines to her travel and street photography.
Waiting for the light to change on the street creates a completely different ambience. Here, Wendy used the warm red artificial light to capture a different, almost surreal, mood as day transitions to night.
Relating her own excursion into photography, Wendy says: “Over the years, taking pictures for family and friends was my passion. I started shooting with rolls of Kodak film before moving to digital compact cameras. Thirty years and several cameras later, I was still a snapshot photographer”.
“In early 2019, I was planning a trip to Finland and Norway to see the aurora borealis, a dream of mine. I had already packed my bags and was going to fly the next day, but decided to visit the Leica Store Kuala Lumpur at Avenue K to see what new cameras were on display. The helpful salesperson suggested the Leica D-Lux 7”.
“That Leica D-Lux 7 was great for that holiday. It was my first Leica camera, and that was the beginning of my photography journey when I became serious about photography”.
“As I was progressing in learning the art of photography, naturally that made me want a higher-performance camera. That led me to upgrade to the Leica Q2, which was newly launched to the market”.
“I don’t need to heavily edit or post-process my photos, as the colour straight out from the camera are beautiful. I just let the natural Leica “look and feel” shine through without using any colour correction”.
“Most of the time, when I’m out on the street with my Q2, I shoot with the focus and recompose method. At times, I prefer manual focusing with the aid of magnification and focus peaking.”
Using manual or autofocus, the Leica Q2 gets the details sharp and the exposure right, as Wendy did in this shot, capturing the interplay of bright light with dark shadows to add drama to a street scene.
“ The Q2 has been my constant traveling companion. Together we travelled to many places under different weather conditions.
We hiked the Swiss Alps, walked the Nakasendo trails in Japan, “sailed” across the frozen Lake Baikal in the Siberian winter when it was -23° Celsius, explored ancient remote villages in China, got ourselves lost in the alleys and back lanes of Shanghai and Tokyo.
Wendy spent the time during the Movement Control Order enhancing her skills by reading about photography as much as she could, and browsing online galleries, and watching YouTube tutorials.
As the Covid-19 pandemic restricted outside movement, Wendy took to home-based photography. A quick switch to the macro function opened up a new genre for her — taking an extremely close-up view of her surroundings.
In these examples, Wendy documents her plant and vegetable garden, as well as her love of baking, particularly sourdough.
“Photography makes me look at the world in more detail. It could be paying more attention to the environment around me, the people, and their personalities. I notice their characteristics more, like the smile of the owner of a coffee shop, who graciously allowed me to take her portrait”.
“It could also be trying to see something extraordinary in an everyday occurrence”.
“In this image, I waited at the location, as I was drawn by the dramatic lighting conditions, the contrasts of light and shadow. I waited for some activity, in this case a delivery man, to add a human element to complete the composition.”
Wendy enjoys the entire photographic process. It is not just taking photos. She takes it all the way to the printed product. “I love to document my life, people whom I meet, little things which I do, moments I treasure. I do capture them, print them, and put them into journals as keepsakes or in albums. “The 47-megapixel files enable me to make good quality prints. Seeing the quality results in prints with details and good dynamic range is truly impressive”.
Shy when it comes to exhibiting her photos, will we see more of Wendy’s new projects soon?
“I’m thinking of combining my interest in photography with my voluntary work with the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia”.
“I see it as a challenge to do a photography project featuring the rising prevalence of dementia, raising more awareness and early detection, featuring stories of caregivers, their loss, despair, frustration and helplessness, hoping to promote a caring support network.
“This will be my passionate photography project with a powerful purpose”.
Written by Kieron Long