Wing Shya - Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches Hong Kong Thursday, May 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • When I take a photo, at that moment, I fall in love. If I keep my distance, I keep that fresh feeling.
    Wing Shya


    Over the past three decades, Wing Shya has ascended to global fame as Asia's leading fashion and commercial photographer. His glossy, vividly coloured pictures infuse their allure, enigma, and unconventional brand advertising with an emotive narrative essence.


    The Epitome of Hong Kong Cool


    Upon completing his studies in Canada and returning to his native Hong Kong in 1991, Wing discovered a whole world of mesmerising neon lights and shadowy interiors, eager to be recorded. His time abroad had revitalised his outlook, allowing him to see the potential of his hometown, which he had previously underestimated. This realisation took him to the belief that photography was the ideal medium for capturing Hong Kong's vibrant tapestry of intertextualities. ‘I love the extremely strong, contrasted colours of the late 80s and early 90s,’ he explains. ‘When I moved back to Hong Kong from Vancouver in 1991, I thought ‘Wow, this is so noisy!’ People talked too loud, and the colours – they were so crazy.’ i


    During the 1990s, Hong Kong was the place to be. There was an energetic fusion of East and West, driven by anticipation of the 1997 handover. Cinema thrived with international martial arts stars, while Cantopop blended Chinese melodies and Western pop. Artists explored themes of identity and colonialism, and vibrant nightlife spots like Lan Kwai Fong emerged as cultural hotspots. Wing Shya would fit in easily here – his long hair and thick black lacquer glasses making him an unmistakable star in the shining cosmos of Hong Kong.


    Though it would be in 1996 and a chance encounter with Wong Kar-wai – the father of Hong Kong New Wave - that would change the course of his nascent career. While only in his formative years as a director in his own right, having released the now-seminal Chunking Express two years previously, Wong always had a keen eye for young talent, giving actors like Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung their first big breaks. In Wing he found a similarly precocious talent, a kindred spirit who could compliment his own sensibilities.


    Wong invited the young photographer to come as part of his crew to shoot his next picture in Buenos Aires – Happy Together.


    Ground-breaking Icon — Happy Together



    Detail of the present work


    The film, to become a turning point in Wong’s mature stylism and temerity, was disruptive in its own right. Bold and ground-breaking, it brought the passionate story of a same-sex relationship to Hong Kong cinema. Starring the charismatic duo of Tony Leung and the late Leslie Cheung, the film daringly defied societal norms and shook up the scene with its vivid portrayal of love and heartache. This cinematic gem not only captivated audiences with its stunning visuals but also sparked crucial conversations about LGBTQ+ rights and visibility. A true trailblazer, Happy Together played an essential role in pushing the boundaries of cinema and opening doors for more diverse and inclusive representation in the industry.


    However, Wing was decidedly autonomous within the clear direction of the film. Once in Argentina, he was given little instruction as to when and what he was to shoot. Instead of standing next to the camera to record already what was being filmed, he was to capture something more essential, expressionistic – the feeling of the movie. Wing explained as such: ‘I learned from Wong Kar-wai. I see how he directs and I try to capture what he’s trying to say. He always taught me to do one picture that can tell the story of the whole movie, so I’ve always tried to capture this one moment with the actors … The actors and actresses barely see me when I take these pictures on set. They’re not focused on me. I’m like a ghost, everywhere but nowhere, which makes it easier because they’re not looking at me.’ ii


    Showing up to set without a soundproof box for his camera, Wing would have to adapt and move quickly, shooting only during the briefs between takes. Though these ephemeral moments would offer ‘different chemistry’ between the lead actors: ‘It feels like something is going to happen, but you don’t know what’s happening.’ iii


    Detail of the present work


    It is this temperament between fiction and reality that makes the stills of the present work so bewitching. They capture three important moments in the film: Talk at Bar Sur, where Po Wing (Cheung) and Fai (Leung) share cigarettes outside of Bar Sur; Prologue, the couple sharing a quiet moment of intimacy after Po Wing is beaten up; and Two to Tango, before Fai leaves Argentina to return to Hong Kong. The sequence of photos provides a touching snapshot into the toxic relationship between the two men, alleviating the pain of their incompatibility and rendering the poignancy of their doomed love.


    I don’t try to create my own style. But somehow, with the colours and the imagery, some people do recognise it and say this is very “you”. But it’s not something I try to do.
    Wing Shya


    While Happy Together would go on to become hugely successful, critically and commercially – even being nominated for the 'Palme d’Or' at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, where Wong would also win best director – these photos are themselves true works of art. They establish Wing Shya as a powerful creative with a measured touch as he repurposes the beauty of the director’s narrative and the artistry of cinematographer Christopher Doyle into a loaded keyhole, one granting an immersive panorama for a forbidden world.


    Detail of the present work



    Collector’s Digest


    • Born in Hong Kong 1964. Wing Shya's work encompasses the realms of film, art and fashion. After graduating from Emily Carr Institute in Canada, Wing Shya returned to Hong Kong and founded the award-winning design studio, Shya-La-La Workshop.

    • He has also directed several feature films of his own, starting with 2010’s Hot Summer Days, while he has worked as a fashion photographer for publications including Time and Vogue, and for brands including Louis Vuitton, Maison Martin Margiela, A Bathing Ape, Rolex and L’Oréal.

    • In 2006, he became the first non-Japanese photographer to exhibit at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. In 2007, he was selected to exhibit in Fashion 07, curated by Marion de Beaupré at Art Basel Miami, and in October the same year, he had a solo exhibition, Jealousy, at Xintiandi, Shanghai. Shya also took part in China Design Now in 2008, which was exhibited at V&A Museum. In recent years, he has exhibited with Louise Alexander Gallery (Italy), +81 Gallery (Tokyo and New York) and Ooibotos Gallery (Hong Kong).

    • His 2020 exhibition Happy Together at Hong Kong’s Blue Lotus Gallery was so popular that the gallery had to hire security guards – a rare measure taken in the city.


    i Wing Shya quoted in Isabel O’Toole, ‘How Wing Shya immortalised Hong Kong’s cool’, The Independent Photographer, 17 January 2023, online

    ii Wing Shya quoted in Jing Zhang, ‘Hong Kong Legend Wing Shya on Photography and Asian Cinema’, Prestige, 24 November 2021, online

    iii Wing Shya quoted in Stephy Chung, ‘Photographer Wing Shya on how 'mistakes' led to his meteoric rise’, CNN Style, 8 November 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


Three works: Happy Together Stills (i) The Talk at Bar Sur; (ii) Prologue 2; (iii) Two to Tango

signed 'wing shya' on a label affixed to the reverse
fine art pigment print
each sheet 60 x 80 cm. (23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1997, each work is number 1 from an edition of 8 plus 1 artist proof.

Full Cataloguing

HK$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for HK$165,100

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Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches

Hong Kong Auction 25 May 2023