For photographer and visual engineer Benjamin Von Wong, art isn’t a mood or an aesthetic or even inspiration: it’s a clear message. Bringing to the forefront issues like child hunger and plastic pollution in the ocean, Wong uses fantastical backdrops and no-nonsense images to illustrate how the issues of the past have come, like a dragon that needs to be slain, to haunt the present. Suddenly, social and conservation issues are no longer marches and initiatives on paper—they’re post-apocalyptic scenarios where oxygen is a limited resource and mermaids suffocate in a sea of plastic bottles.
There’s nothing but passion within Von Wong’s photography, a distinct desire to ignite a conversation about topics most would shy away from. Humans are nothing if visual creatures, and when dialogue, fundraising, and shaking hands fail, Von Wong shoves those topics under our noses, makes us look at them, study them, and marvel at how strikingly alluring they are. Sometimes the stark beauty of the images is enough to ignite a conversation and if that’s the case, then Von Wong has done his job, even if that question is how close can you get a model to molten lava?
In a shoot determined to raise money for indigenous tribes and bring awareness to climate change, Von Wong takes his feelings of helplessness in the midst of forest fires and hurricanes and flies them to the spewing lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii. Using a tee-shirt and a water sprayer, Von Wong and his team created a fantastical world bringing its viewers back to their roots—finding awe and human fragility in the face of nature. Ever present is the idea of one earth and one home: if we lose this place and subsequently, all our ties to our planet, what remains? What’s left after the lava has swept through, and purified our mistakes with fire?
Beyond lava, Von Wong takes his message to a whole new level and depth—literally—through underwater photography in the name of shark conservation, specifically with Shark Shepherds. Tying down a model in shark-infested waters produced an ethereal, surreal aesthetic, but provided something much more. Working with free divers, low oxygen environments, and specific equipment suitable to saltwater conditions, the conception of menacing creatures from Deep Blue Sea, Jaws, and dare we say — Sharknado — was shredded by the actual nature of the curious, yet skittish white-tipped sharks.
Not only did the crew overcome the challenges of underwater photography, they also destroyed the concept of the evil, man-eating beast. The actualization of sharks as part of the environment, and a crucial piece of the ecosystem, stands beside the magical appeal of the photography. Bouncing off of his underwater motif, Wong used the same aesthetics to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the ocean. By gathering 10,000 plastic bottles and waste from the ocean, he created a world where the mythical mermaid drowns in human cast-offs.
Yet Von Wong’s photography magic extends beyond the fantastical and into the realm of science fiction, bringing a conversation spotlight to the resource we take for granted: air. In a futuristic series, the United States has been catapulted into the world of Mad Max where oil and gas have helped turn oxygen into a limited commodity. How close are we to a world where rampant fires have blocked out the sun, where pollution has poisoned the very atmosphere? These questions aren’t hypothetical. Von Wong truly wants to know.
In a world and society where many desperately wonder what art accomplishes when compared to the influence of government, the skill of a lawyer, the money of a CEO, Von Wong succeeds in highlighting an artist’s purpose. Beyond passion and soul, Von Wong reminds all aspiring artists that their chosen medium has a voice, one that can be utilized to begin a dialogue between storytellers and the public. Art can generate change. Art has, and will always have, meaning.
Not only does Von Wong create and capture beautiful, intricate moments, his generosity extends to hosting workshops and volunteer photoshoots. Von Wong has no secrets: his equipment and style are all up on his website for other aspiring photographers and artists to learn from. Watch his videos on each project and read his blog for a down-to-earth account of his journey and how to deal with the unexpected. Above all, support his projects and his work while connecting with him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.