Eric’s Note: I first met Gary Wang when I visited Singapore last year to do an exhibition and a series of street photography workshops. From what I heard about Gary was that he used a rangefinder, shot really close to his subjects (often using a 21mm or 28mm lens), and that his black & white work was stirring. Gary is an all-around cool guy, with a great passion for street photography and the photography community — being one of the founding members for the Rangefinder Singapore (RFSG) group. Oh yeah, and he is a complete black&white film nut as he does all his own developing at home. I also did an interview with him in the past on the Leica blog.
Gary recently was featured in this short documentary during a trip to Brighton pier in which he talks about his philosophy about street photography, traveling, and shooting black and white film. There are also some good video footage of him shooting the streets of Brighton.
Gary told me that they forgot to bring a microphone along, which caused the audio to be quite poor. I have gotten this complaint a ton in the past as well, so I transcribed a rough guideline to what Gary says in this interview. To see more of Gary’s work and read his words, read on.
Gary Wang Documentary Transcript
My name is Gary, and I got into photography through Lomography. Over the weekend, I would their cameras to see how they were. For my day job, I work in the aviation industry. So from Lomography I picked up a rangefinder by chance. It just happened that I liked them a lot, the weight and the handling. I liked them so much I have stuck with them until now.
I started off shooting rubbish, scenic shots, and then I started shooting people. I really enjoyed capturing the expressions of people. I think photography is documenting your daily life. Capturing what people are doing is very voyeuristic. Most people don’t know I am shooting them, some do. Some people give you faces. I’ve been told off 5-6 times. I’ve never been asked to delete the photo because I can’t (because I shoot film).
Street photography is very different. Lets say Brighton pier- you can go there any time of year. Everyone is going to take the same shot—it depends on how good the light is. But in the street, everything will change. It is always changing; it will never be the same. It is very interesting.
If you want to be a good street photographer or a good photojournalist you have to be a voyeur. You have to observe people, catch the right moment, take lots of shots. Photography schools can only teach you the fundamentals. But to be a good street photographer you need to learn how to move around the crowds. Nobody can teach you that.
I once took a photo of a guy sleeping, and the second he heard my camera go off, he grabbed my camera. In the end it turned out fine.
My best experiences always come from shooting while traveling. For me, traveling is always the best time to shoot. I really liked Nepal. The streets are insane. You walk in a crowd and every minute there is something to shoot. People live in the streets, and you never see poverty like that. All the kids there, they walk around with plastic bottles or plastic bags. All the street kids are actually sniffling glue so they don’t feel cold, because it gets very cold.
Rangefinder Singapore started off with a group of friends that I found on forums. We were all using forums so we had a small sub forum for rangefinders. Then we decided to start a forum called “Rangefinder Singapore”. It was about to spread the word of rangefinders and know more people and find out what rangefinder cameras are about. Nowadays it is all about DSLR’s and high-powered compacts, and there aren’t that many people shooting rangefinders. So why not spread the word and spread the poison around? [Laughs]
I’ve been trying to organize Monday outings but I’ve been really tied up with work, so we have monthly competitions as well. Anybody can submit, and we are open to people joining us at outings. You don’t need to use a rangefinder, but the moment you touch it you might want to buy one [ha-ha]. So Rangefinder Singapore started off as a group of friends.
I met a guy named Eric Kim from LA, he came down from Singapore, I was at the Leica exhibition and it was quite nice. He did a feature of me on the Leica blog, which was fantastic. It was a big thing for me.
I’ve only done 3 big things. 1) I had one shot that was exhibited in the National Geographic Store in Singapore. Then I had a shot featured on Invisible Photographer Asia. Then I’ve been featured on the Leica blog, that was really big for me.
Film vs. digital is a very personal thing. Yeah digital you shoot it and you instantly see it. Film, I wouldn’t say it is more technical—it is more of a purist thing. You got to know what you are shooting, and you only got 36 frames. And right now in my pocket I only got 2 spare films. So I got to make the shots count. And for film, you have to really frame the picture in your mind before you shoot- – so you get so used to using a rangefinder with a prime lens. I know 28mm how wide its gonnna be, so I position myself well in the front and back, and I get to shoot the frame I want.
Film is fun – it is a weekend thing. You develop the film at home, it is very fascinating to pull it up and see the film coming out. It is very different from putting a SD card in a computer and clicking.
For me I’ve ben shooting black and white for the last 4 years, and I think black and white is very easy to shoot. Because I’m shit at color, I feel that in color when I shoot—it tends to complicate the photo. There are so many things that play in color photography, and colorful wise you can tweak it- you can saturate it, desaturate it, you can have mind blowing colors. You can make it complicated.
With black and white it just there. It is black or it is white. I shoot really high contrast black and white. Some people like the lower tones, for me it is pure black and white. Very high blacks and high whites. It just eliminates everything else, and just the subject what I want people to see. It isolates everything else, and just gets the whole scene there.
Before you even try to lift up a camera, you want to observe more than you. In street photography observation is 90%, and shooting is 10%. Fundamental photography skills, it is all about observing. If you can’t observe, you can’t shoot a good street photo.
Directed & Edited by Fiona Finn T / Filmed by Thomas Olivier