Bringing a dream to life

By on April 27, 2014

– Video by Julius Adarna and myself. Hear Nicole talk about the day in her own words – one of my favorite videos to date :)

In September, my agent Suzy Johnston received an unexpected email from a lovely lady by the name of Nicole. She had a request: To have a creative photoshoot done of her before the 21st of September.

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After reading her email, I felt intrigued. What type of image did she want to create? Could I possibly fit the shoot into my schedule with only 2 weeks before going to speak at CreativeLive? Could I say no to such a request?

After having a quick chat with my agent, I squeezed in a quick phone call between meetings to talk directly with Nicole and see how I could help her out. A warm shining and excited voice replied on the other end ringing with excitement at getting a call from me. Turns out she was a huge fan of my work and wasn’t even expecting a call back! I laid out my schedule for her, told her that things were going to be extremely tight but if this was something she wanted… I’d make it happen. She said yes.

We met the next day for coffee for the first time and I was faced with an excited, bright eyed individual full of life and energy, red curls bouncing around as she told me about her life: she was a writer,  shy, naive, Scottish, passionate, a dreamer, intelligent, a hermit, a nature-lover… I took it all in, images forming in my mind, trying to translate a stranger’s life into an intimate personal image. We sat there, and prattled on, exchanging stories as minutes turned into hours and strangers became friends. I sketched out concepts, ideas, prepared a list of things that had to be done: clothing, makeup, hair, location, props…

Whimsical clothes, a lone tree on a hill, stormy skies, a piece of parchment, books, bookshelves, lanterns, writing desk, more books… the list went on and on. It had to be personal, it had to be fantastical, it had to be epic.

Over the next week, Nicole and I connected almost every day, refining the concepts and figuring out logistics – we would need books and bookshelves, could we use hers? No, she said. her books were too precious, the Salvation army perhaps? Done.  We would need a U-haul to carry things. Done. Hair? Malina Tang. Makeup? Tamsen Rae. Done. The one thing that we just couldn’t fine though was a lone tree on a hill. I embarked on a quest to make sure that we found a tree, taking to facebook, reaching out to the vonwonglings for help and help they did – from Israel, to Africa, lone trees on hills came in left and right but none close to Montreal.

 

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Finally just one week before the photoshoot, I took Nicole out for a quick spin across Montreal so that we could lock down a location. Though not quite the lone tree on a hill we had in mind, we found the perfect tree, in the perfect location, just on the water front. It had all the elements she was looking for – whimsical, wild, next to the water, complete with rocks and grass. I sketched something out, making sure that we were on the right track. We were.

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With all the elements slowly settling into place, Nicole was getting more and more excited. What had seemed like the vaguest of emails just a couple weeks back was actually transforming into a full blown photoshoot – no holds barred! Suddenly the day was upon her and the entire crew of  10 people trampled over into Nicole’s house. The pampering began – Tamsen and Malina tossed her up into a chair as Peter and Julius filmed while  Chantra, Claude and Sohrab and I began to load up the U-haul with books, props and items that were special to Nicole. Once hair and makeup finished, we scrambled off to our first location to rendez-vous with a couple additional assistants Jess and Ray and began setting up Nicole’s world.

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Though we were still in September, the weather was freezing and we did our best to keep Nicole warm by layering her in blankets and sheltering her inside the car despite her numerous offers to help to set things up. “Sit down! Stay warm! We’ll take care of it! This is what we do!” we would tell her, despite her protests. Slowly but surely, the set grew and grew, and finally it was up to Nicole to pose. Giggling self consciously, she modelled for the first time ever as Tamsen hid behind her tossing her dress out into the freezing wind. Click, walk a little, click, hands lower a bit, click, more to the left, click, a little more serious, click… and so it went… as Nicole desperately tried to keep up with my direction certain that she looked foolish.

And then the moment of truth.

I showed her the images of herself for the first time on my iPad, tethered through a CamRanger, and studied her as she flicked through the images. “Oh my gosh, is that really me!” she exclaimed,  as she saw the world we had created together come to life. I breathed a sigh of relief. Success! Now just a couple more to go. From drowning her in a pile of books with stories coming to life… to having her climb a tree surrounded by books. Everything was going to plan, and together we were making a dream into a reality.

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Epilogue

“I’ll try to have these edited as soon as possible”, I told her as I hugged her goodbye, not knowing if I was going to get to see her again with months of touring and travelling ahead.

“The shots don’t matter so much anymore” she replied. “I got to work with you, have a crazy day out, see the magic happen all around me… and that’s what I really wanted. Not just the photos… but the experience”

Reflecting back,  I guess it makes sense. The reason I create images that are epic and fantastical is to share my dreams … the reason I share the process is to take you with me on the adventure… and the reason I share my thoughts and emotions is to show you that I’m  human, just like you. And though these images that she ended up loving, were created to bring Nicole’s dreams to life, I’ve never felt more alive… because doing something that matters makes all the difference.

 

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Credits:

Hair: Malina Tang
MUA: Tamsen Rae
Video: Peter Matulina, Julius Adarna, VonWong
Assistants: Sohrab Az, Jessika Chiasson, Chantra Khoun, Ray Dark, Claude Campagna Lupien

 

Special Gear used:

See what else is in my camera bag when I travel!

Announcements:

  • I’ll be speaking at Imaging USA, Indiana and Mystic Seminars, CN! If you want to hang out, send me a message!
  • Check out my new SmugMug  site and my review – Promo Code: VONWONG20! Let me know what you think: www.vonwong.com
  • Have some Von Wong bracelets to sell on ETSY if you’ve always wanted one!
  • Abel_Wilson

    Ben, this was beautiful.
    I’ve been a fan of your work for such a long time, but these photographs really hit close to me.
    I love the art that you make and I love the passion and dedication you put behind it. This however was fantastic and it isn’t just the quality of the art you produced.
    Don’t get me wrong, you’re an amazing artist and this work has the same consistency as all your other work (In other words, absolutely brilliant)
    What really makes this fantastic for me is that you made something amazing by bringing out her soul.
    Most of the time I’ve seen photographers explain their art and the scene as if they are parts of a product. Even when referring to models, they are often perceived as cogs in a greater machine.
    It’s like you’ve married the true meaning of portraiture with fantastical art.
    Thank you (:
    I feel enriched hearing her story and the process behind this shoot.

    • Wayne Ervine

      Abel I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • Abel_Wilson

      Thank you Wayne (:

    • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

      Eek thanks Abel. It felt good creating images that had a personal impact on someone… :) !!

    • Abel_Wilson

      Hey, I’m just sharing what a lot of us out here feel.
      Keep on the great work, mate. (:
      Seriously, keep inspiring us and showing that you can keep making the world a better place no matter what you do.

      (Also are you looking for an apprentice? ;D)

  • yann

    Hummmm that’s a lovely story Ben, you still growing in my heart as a great artist and as a good person…Hey, could u say to Nicole that she’s so beautiful……..;)

    • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

      Passed the message on she says thank you!

  • Russ Turner

    Amazing photographs and an even more amazing and touching story behind them. Thank you for sharing.

    • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

      thanks!

  • Matthew Kunce

    Wonderful story as always. One of the reasons you are an inspiration.

    • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

      Thank you :)

  • Audra

    This.was.perfect and extremely inspirtional. Thank you for sharing!

  • pinkcb

    Oh this made me cry!Lovely images of course but this is so much more than a cool shoot. That you used your talents and connections to gift this lady an amazing experience is truly moving.I think this is my very most favourite thing you have shared-your entire team should be very proud of this work.

  • JulieB

    So inspirational! Great job Ben! As a photographer and someone that battles an illness each day, I can relate to both you and Nicole. You have given me some things to think about, when it comes to my desire to learn new techniques. Nicole was radiant, and I hope she is having some better days.

  • Becca Gulliver

    Wow, that was just so lovely. I consider myself pretty hard-nosed, but I have a tear in my eye after watching and reading that.

  • Marilyn Clevenger

    Yep, crying. Wonderful work, great heart. Being able to do that for her was as much a gift to youand your team as it was for her and that is truly awesome. Thank you for sharing. I’m in awe of your work, it makes me realize how little I know and how much I have to learn.

  • Tom Christo

    Brilliant by everyone. You made a dream come true and gave Nicole such a wonderful day. There is hope for this Earth after all

  • Bianca Han

    It’s awesome !!! and what you did is make this world better :) thank you

  • gmunoz

    Wow! I am humbled by your talent and grace!

  • Fabian

    Great story! But what makes Nicole think she’s not beautiful?

  • Irina

    It’s an amazing story! I love you! Thank you!

  • Mark Kelly

    I was directed to this post from a forum not too long ago which I’m so grateful for. This shows you’re a very genuine nice fella and you deserve the publicity as your work is beautiful

  • Maxixen Lim

    I’m thankful to have read this. Everything just seem beautiful to me.

  • xarrus

    Now we all know and love you Nicole.

  • artistic55w

    Wonderful, fabulous!! Thank you Nicole and the Von Wong crew for sharing this beautiful creative fantasy/reality experience! You keep me dreaming!!

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