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We are photographers | Chris Ong

Chris Ong discovered his passion for photography in 2001 when he was on top of New York’s World Trade Center just before the 9/11 attacks. Two years later in Melbourne, he was a founding member of the Lomographic Society of Melbourne. Having exhibited at minor art galleries and winning two community awards for his work on street photography, Chris is definitely one photographer who is committed to his craft.

What is your story?

I first picked up a camera to photograph cities in 2001. During the summer in New York, I had gone up to the observation deck of the World Trace Center South Tower and shot the first of a series of American cityscapes. When the 9/11 attacks happened three weeks later, I felt that photographs (any kind) were precious. This was how I got to taking photography seriously.


How long have you been doing photography?

I started work as an independent photographer in 2004. Back then, I did mostly documentary and portrait work in Melbourne and Singapore. At some point, I began to feel that the work was a little too contrived and I felt as though my work was not my own. By 2005, I was convinced that I was never going to photograph anything again, and abandoned photography.

In 2007, I joined the NUS Centre For the Arts (CFA) as a graphic designer and my first campaign was for the 2008 NUS Arts Festival. I had not shot anything for two years and I was unsure of how the images I shot would turn out. We came up with a vision for the campaign and when the images were ready, we felt very happy about it and it triggered me to think about the possibilities of considering commercial creative photography as a career.


To be a good and qualified photographer, does one need a professional certificate or academic study?

No, not really. I never learnt photography formally. You can have all the education in the world in photography and still not be qualified until you have a certain level of experience working as a photographer. I think the education is good because it builds your portfolio, gets you in the know of who’s who in the industry. However, education does not teach you the commitment to your craft and to your clients. These are things that you have to adopt for yourself.


Is winning awards important?

Yes and no. Yes, because it is a good measure of where you are in the industry. No, because when the rest of the competition is lousy, your winning of an award is a matter of course and it says nothing about how good you are but how bad your competition is. Award or no award, jobs will still come.

Having said that, on the other hand, if it is an achievement award, it is always nice to know that you have a community that stands by you and recognizes your work.

What is your area of specialization in photography?

Most of my work is in fashion due to my time working with magazines. I find shooting fashion to be fascinating in a sense that a photographer becomes the image-maker in two ways. First, the photographer creates the photograph by designing the set, light, composition etc. Second, I don’t merely create characters for the viewer.  I create characters that viewers’ wish they can become. Aside from fashion, I also shoot lifestyle, interiors, architecture and anything that is related to art and design.


What inspires you?

I draw inspiration from everything around me, from what I read in the papers, intense conversations to gallery shows and even when I come across an invention that expands my creative faculties.


Is there a stigma?
No, I don’t think so.


Which is more important; skills, talent or the camera?

Talent and personal skill is more important. Photography equipment helps you achieve a certain possibility in the image. However a photographer must have a vision in his mind. How this vision is interpreted into print is just work. If the vision is missing, no amount of good equipment can save you.


What advice/s would you give to an aspiring professional photographer?

– See with your soul, not your eyes

– Be committed to your craft and your client

– Work for the best photographer

– Never run out of ideas


Which photographers do you admire?

1) Davis Sims – He started off with nothing and he is who he is today because of all his hard work and commitment.

2) Peter Lindbergh – For some of the most profound and cinematic vision in editorial work of our time.

3) Karl Lagerfeld – Whose iconic status, aesthetics and ability to transcend different mediums makes him an artist with culture.

4) Richard Avedon – The greatest portrait photographer of all time.

5) Steven Meisel – His photography always reminds me to never box myself in on any ideas or superficial styles.



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