Dare to reach for the heavens and bring the angels down to you

By on April 27, 2014

How many times have you wanted to reach out to someone to say something… but didn’t have the courage to? What stopped you: The fear of being ignored? Of being turned down? Or perhaps it was of being mocked or laughed at. And while neither of those options sound pleasant, sometimes, it’s worth the price, because you never know when something amazing can happen out of it.

Some of my most iconic photographs were taken because I decided to randomly message people asking if they would be interested in working with me, not even expecting a response. I’ve travelled to the UK shooting The Underwater Realm  in a 4m deep swimming pool,  snuck into an abandoned stock exchange in Belgium with Chester Van Bommel, and even made my first short film, the Game of Thrones fanfiction were all the result of randomly reaching out to people and having them respond back.

On occasion though, the reverse happens.

Let me tell you a story:

The story of how two people, in two countries randomly got together and brought to life an entire forest in just 8 days.

 BTS video courtesy of Kumbukkage Shriyantha Tory Wimalasekera

The story

Around mid-May, Kelly Zak, a film student from Orlando, Florida developing her skills to become a professional Makeup Artist, posted a status I knew nothing about. She had decided that one way or another, she was going to figure out how to work with me…and when someone as stubborn as Kelly sets her mind to something…the universe conspires to make it happen.

4 Kelly Zak One day somehow I will find a way to work on a shoot

A couple of months go by as she silently stalks my facebook profile until one day, her mutual friends tag her in one of my self-portraits and to her great surprise, I replied.

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From that brief interaction, she gathered the courage to write me a super long facebook message that ended with a polite request for me to go and check out her work and critique it should I have the time. It took me about two weeks before I finally got back to her with an equally long critique. Noticing that had some awesome prosthetic work we ended up chatting about what she enjoyed doing and what her limits were. She asked me if there was anything I wanted creating that no one had ever done before. I promptly replied that I had always wanted to create a Fallen Angel… burnt and broken wings…cast from the heavens.

Her reply?

If you come to Florida, I’ll make a fallen angel for you.

Without skipping a beat, I challenged her back saying that if she made a fallen angel for me I’d fly myself to Florida! Of course, Kelly being Kelly took that as a cue to begin researching, conceptualizing and building a pair of wings with her friend Chelsea Sarbach, a local clothing designer.

With my honour at stake… I had no choice but to keep my word and fly myself over a few months later to make magic happen.

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Preproduction

Problem solving and developing great visuals with available resources at my disposal has always been something that I’ve been particularly good at doing. In my experience, dreaming up a concept without flexibility is usually bound to fail.

Though Kelly and I had the vague idea of a fallen angel, the story hadn’t been elaborated further as none of us had time previously of getting any location scouting time in so upon landing in Florida, that was going to be our first priority.

We had researched a bunch of potential locations online through the Orlando Film Commission office and had spotted the Lake Runnymede Conservation area as one of the more promising locations. Just about 40 minutes away from her place, we crossed our fingers and headed over.

Jackpot.

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The location was absolutely fantastic. Spanish moss lined the trees with sunlight streaming through the branches, giving the entire forest a completely ethereal character . Suddenly, standing amongst the magnificent oak trees in 40°C heat, I felt inspired. A single fallen angel was just not going to be enough!! Visions of forest creatures and battling angels suddenly started to fill my mind as an epic storyline slowly began to form and my heart started to beat faster.

Together with Kelly and her partner in crime, Chelsea, we sat down and started brainstorming what could be done with the time remaining and resources available. Wings? Horns? Armor? Why not! Let’s do it!

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Over the course of the next few days, Kelly began recruiting friends and classmates to participate in our shoot. Rick Tetu (model), a full time wizard, to Frances Perry (angel armor), costume designer, Christopher Catalina Boria (queen dress), clothing designer, Heather Phoi(model) , a full time fire performer and belly dancer, and Kumbukkage Shriyantha Tory Wimalasekera, cinematographer… just to name a few.

On my end, I brought in some local VonWongling’s of my own – John Koseenanouth just happened to live not even 5 minutes away and came to help almost every single day whilst Clyph Jean-Philippe drove over 45 minutes every day helping in everything from fabric store runs, to Dunkin’ Donut takeovers, to scouring the woods for scraps of wood.

Meanwhile, the tedious construction of the wings continued (see how it was created start to finish on Kelly’s blog) and slowly but surely we managed to build a set of wings out of nothing more than plastic packaging wrap, coat hangers and hot glue.

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A couple days flew by and before we knew it, shoot day was looming right above us. BorrowLenses had sent over a Hassleblad H5D-40 as well as a set of Elinchrom Ranger Quadras and SmugMug flew over a videographer to document the photoshoot so the pressure was on not to disappoint!

I reached out on the internet through my Fan page and Orlando Facebook group asking for help and help came from hours away. Kyle, Mariela and Tony driving from over 3 hours away , Edward, Raffaela, Gilmar, Laurent and Christopher coming in from over an hour away all to be part of this crazy project that had truly begun, only a week prior.

And just like that… we were on set, shooting… a group of strangers that hadn’t known each other more than a couple months prior bringing a seemingly crazy and impossible project to life. And how? Because one person took the courage to send out a simple facebook message.

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Part 3 of 4 out of the “Fallen Angel” series. See Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Part 4 : Shoot day – Gear – Lighting Setup and more. (coming soon…)

Extra BTS  courtesy of Edward Lian:

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And if you missed it, the video SmugMug made of me:


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  • Abel_Wilson

    It’s really nice how you all got together to come up with an awesome idea like that.
    It’s nice that you have such a close connection to your fans (:

  • Nicole

    Your talent, drive, passion and brilliance never cease to amaze me. Love this video. Great to see how you all pulled this together and the interactions within the group. LOVE it!!!

  • http://www.makiela.com/ Rafal Makiela

    I admire your work :) you’re amazing artist.

  • Nicolas H

    Insane as always. Great Work! Inspiring . Greeting from Argentina !

  • TABjuggler

    I had a blast hanging out with you while you were in town Ben. See you down the road!

  • Guest

    Von, I love your works so much. Do drop your news if you are coming to Malaysia.

  • Eddie

    You are pretty much one of my favorite photographers…. Your vision and your personality is epic brotha!!! Keep it up and we’re rooting for you all the time… God bless.

  • Pingback: Does an angel look better with a Hasselblad H5D-40 better than a D800E? - The Von Wong

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