My Story

Doing it the “Wong Way”…

I can still remember it clearly.  I was standing on the precipice of my life.  Teetering on the edge of a lifetime of dread.  I had just completed my first year of teaching special education in elementary school.  I was drained, exhausted, and unfulfilled.  My dilemma?  To continue in hopes that I would grow numb to the pain or choose a different path where I might find joy.  Well, you guessed it!  I chose joy!  But what would I do?  I had spent the formative years of my life honing myself for a lifetime of tutoring little ones 0nto adulthood.  After little deliberation,  I chose what had always given me joy as a youngster.  Art!  Creating, drawing, painting, and crafts always delivered joy! 

While growing up, planning and preparation had never been a character trait of mine.  Leaping before I looked had always been my style.  I call it doing it the “Wong” way.  Others call it trial by fire or management by crisis.  It’s a semi-reckless attitude towards life that involves letting go of security, taking risks, and learning on the fly.  It’s this very attitude that led me to the wonderful world of photography!  It probably saved my life!  Seriously!   One more year of teaching special education would have surely killed me! Call it what you will but it got me accepted at Emily Carr College of Art & Design.  It’s a move I have never regretted.       

emily_carrEmily Carr was a blessing that provided me with practical knowledge of how to create with pen and ink, paints of all sorts, clay, plaster, rock, paper, wood, plastics, and metals.  More importantly, I learned how to apply the rules and concepts of composition, contrast, perspective, and use of positive and negative space and how these principals related to each other and how they affected perception both visually and emotionally.

1982 – Out of School / Into the Real World

Emily Carr was an extremely fertile spawning ground for my dormant creative talents.  Unfortunately I had the attention span of a gnat.  The learning process felt painfully slow and arduous.  The love hate relationship was like watching paint dry; killing me whilst providing me with a life-giving metamorphosis.  In the cocoon of the college I evolved from battered elementary school teacher larvae to emerging renaissance butterfly man.  In 1982, with only inspiration and wishful thinking, I left Emily Carr and rented a large downtown studio space at 505 Hamilton Street shared by four other artists.  With my newly acquired skills, I designed logos, letterheads, signs and painted murals to pay the bills.

505exteriorHaving no experience at business, you can imagine I didn’t have much work.  In the first year I was rarely at my drawing table.  Fortunately, one of the other artists in our shared space was Chris Cameron.  A photographer.  He was super cool.  Think of him as a secret agent by night posing as a photographer by day and that was him.  Occasionally, he’d be visited by beautiful models dropping by to view contact sheets and prints.  This was the 80’s and digital cameras hadn’t been invented yet. 

Chris must have seen the obvious curiosity on my face and invited me into the darkroom several times and showed me the magic of developing black and white prints.  I was intrigued and inspired by the nearly instant gratification provided by photography.  I was smitten by the photography bug and for the next couple of years I immersed myself in all aspects of photography.  During that time, my photography acumen was turbocharged by my photo buff buddy, Gordy Tong and two of Vancouver’s top photographers, Tim Harvey and Raeff Miles.  They occupied the photography studio directly below me.  Regularly assisting them gave me tools and experience that helped vault my career forward.

1983 – The October Show It was an exciting time for art in Vancouver but I, like many artists were feeling that art was becoming too exclusive and that art galleries should expand their programming to include emerging local artists.  I was one of those artists and it did not take long for me to befriended a group of like-minded artists.

octoberAfter many meetings at my downtown  studio, the group conceived what would be called the October Show.  The show would go on to showcase over 120 local artists and later give rise to the formation of the Vancouver Artist’s League.  The Warehouse Show followed in 1984, taking place in the seven floors of 522 Beatty Street, featured 190 artists, and drawing 10,000+  visitors.

Art vs Commercial Art  While I remained active in the arts I was learning great things from my mentors.  My daily exposure to directors, ad agencies, hair and food stylists, and fashion designers, etc, gave me a steady diet of commercial experience.  I was fortunate enough to merge my fine art training at Emily Carr with my commercial experience afforded me via Raeff and Tim to produce strong product, fashion, and advertising content of my own.  

1986 – Vancouver Invites the World The World Exhibition, “Transportation and Communication:  World In Motion”, was held in Vancouver in 1986 and the Official Host Broadcaster for all official footage was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  I was given the immense task of shooting stills and contracting other photographers to provide still photo coverage for the entire five and a half months of the world Expo.

Expo 86 coincided with Vancouver’s Centennial and the city was buzzing. Millions of visitors converged on our beautiful city of Vancouver.  My duties were to blanket the Expo with photographic coverage of events ranging from art exhibitions, to cultural dancing, comedy shows, cultural displays, and of course the entertainment and acts including Bryan Adams,  B.B. King, Nina Hagen, Long John Baldry, and the Temptations.

royalvisitpicA Day with Charles and Diana I had the distinct honor of tagging alongside Prince Charles and Diana, the Princess of Wales on their only Royal Visit to Vancouver.  The Royal couple had flown in to cut the ribbon at opening ceremonies of  Canada Place, May 2, 1986.  Without exception,  that day was the most thrilling day in my photographic career.  I spent the entire day hovering three feet off the ground with my focus in a constant state of tunnel vision.  Diana was absolutely mesmerizing, so much so that I barely noticed Prince Charles.  She was an odd combination of fragile and timid combined with an awesomely captivating and overwhelming magnetism.

What I found amazing was Diana’s ability to give undivided attention to each and every person she spoke to if only for the briefest of moments while dozens of others were clambering for her attention.  A few years after that memorable day, my assistant sent a few photos off to the Royal couple at Buckingham Palace.  Weeks later, I received a letter of thanks from Buckingham Palace!

johnny_depp_021987 – 1998 Hollywood North Emerges Vancouver’s film industry experienced incredible growth in the decade after Expo 8×6. In 1986, less than 100 million dollars was spent in Vancouver by the film and television industry but that number increase to over 800 million dollars spent in 1996.  With the rise in film and television activity, I shifted my focus from corporate and advertising photography to providing quality headshots for actors at an affordable price.    

Over  the  years,  over twenty thousand actors, musicians, artists, executives, and business people have stood before my cameras.  Over a million prints have been printed in my own lab. Notable clients include Johnny Depp, Leslie Neilson, Barry Pepper, Tara Reid, and many others.

barry-pepperAs 2000 approached, Hollywood North was in it’s glory. In 2000, 192 film and television productions were shot in B.C. These included 56 feature films, 48 Movies of the Week / pilots / mini-series, 36 TV series, 42 documentaries /broadcast singles, and 10 animation projects.  My actor headshot business grew exponentially with Hollywood North’s rapid growth and I soon found myself employing five assistants to help keep up with makeup, hair, administration,  and darkroom work.

1995 – 1998 Bitten by the Songwriting Bug In the midst of a fully booked photo shooting schedule, I encountered songwriting.  With an interest in poetry already, writing music seemed a logical progression. I really enjoyed the process of crafting rhymes and melodies.  Then my new found passion was supercharged by attending a weekend workshop with award-winning songwriter, Steve Seskin.  From that moment on, every waking moment was spent crafting a lyric or melody. I was clearly bitten by the songwriting bug!

I was a huge fan of Garth Brooks, Brooks and Dunn, and George Strait so what happened next was no surprise. You guessed it. I began making regular songwriting trips to Nashville, Tennessee and Music Row hoping to catch the eye of agents, labels, and music publishers.  

Reality check! Visits to Nashville were disappointing to say the least.  I spent two years flying back and forth in hopes Music City USA would welcome me with open arms.  Instead, I found myself spending all my time writing alone. I Frustrated and disenchanted. My enthusiasm had hit an all-time low.  I didn’t realize at the time, that a vast number of people flocked to Nashville every year with dreams and aspirations of being hit song writers.  Most of them had a lot more talent, too!

My Nashville Stars Align! At the end of one of trips to Nashville, just before heading back to Vancouver after another two weeks of writing alone, my ride, Donny Hackett,  shocked me by uttering those three words that would change the course of my life forever!  No, they weren’t, “I love you”, but rather, “you wanna write?”.  I was in such disbelief! I had to ask, “what did you say?”, Because I couldn’t believe my ears!  He repeated, “You wanna write, but there’s not much time… I got get you to the airport in twenty minutes”.  “Sure, I said”, and proceeded to produce a song I’d penned the night before.  

After twenty minutes of experimenting with chords and melodies and we had completed the first of many collaborations to come!  That one instance opened the door to co writes with other writers in Nashville and led to both of us later commuting to Los Angeles to pursue our careers as songwriters.

All the while, I kept my camera close by and my skills as a headshot and fashion photographer kept me fed along my journey.

capitol-records-building1998 – Off to La La Land To say that I was a little naive is an understatement.  I arrived in Los Angeles to take the music industry by storm armed with nothing but enthusiasm.  I had no knowledge of musical notation, singing, and I couldn’t play any musical instruments.  I was a triple threat to say the least!  As one could predict, I couldn’t make a single dime in the music industry the first couple of years while commuting back and forth between Vancouver and Los Angeles.  I had approached every record label and music publishing company in Los Angeles at least once and have had the pleasure of being “escorte” from the Capitol Records Building at least three times by very nice and very burly security people. 

The financial drought would be long. Luckily I had a few nickels saved for the dry spell.  Evolution as a songwriter was a case of not knowing how much I didn’t know.  Complete immersion in everything about song crafting was what followed.  Between 1998 and 2000, there wasn’t a song writing workshop, organization, or event that was held without me in attendance unless they were being held concurrently.  La La Land was like music University for me.  Every form of song structure, rhyme scheme, iambic pentameter, and song crafting tool was learned and utilized in the songs that followed.  I was determined to learn the necessary skills and learn how to use the tools to give myself every opportunity to make my mark in music.

3 2 1 Zero – Lift-Off

By 2000, I’d recorded some lyrics into full musical productions and circulated my CDs to anyone who’d listen.  To keep me in the know, I joined song writing groups, performing rights and publishing organizations such as Taxi, SongsAlive, and ASCAP.

Venues featuring singer-songwriters was where I spent most evenings. This gave me opportunities to listen to original music, rub shoulders with other fledgling writers, and expose myself to collaborative opportunities with writers more seasoned than myself.  Before long, my singular focus and inspired approach opened the gates to many writing partnerships.

al_kashaBy 2001, I was fortunate enough to work with established writers like, Al Kasha (Oscar in 1975 for “Best Music, Original Song The Towering Inferno (1974), shared with: Joel Hirschhorn For the song “We May Never Love Like This Again”, and the Oscar in 1973 for “Best Music, Original Song The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Shared with: Joel Hirschhorn For the song “The Morning After”).

jeff_silbar_steel-guitar1-150x150I also had the honor of writing with Jeff Silbar (Grammy Award winner “Wind Beneath My Wings”, voted Song of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). Artists were now collaborating with  and recording our songs on their albums.  Though we never wrote a huge hit, it was amazing to collaborate with someone with such a storied history.  The long journey was now feeling very worthwhile. All the disappointments that led to writing on a full time basis in Los Angeles had been forgotten.

2001 – Working with the Real Spiderman

Stan-Lee-1In the constant summer of Los Angeles, daily song writing appointments, managing and developing my new boy band, Eclipz, and writing and producing for several artists kept me busy every second of the day. It was at this time, I was offered an opportunity to work with the legendary Stan Lee.  In collaboration with several artists, most notably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Stan, created Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, and many other fictional characters. 

BackstreetBoys_1_1000I realized opportunities like this didn’t come around often and jumped at the chance to work alongside Stan.  At the Stan Lee Media facility, I contributed on several projects including Stan’s, the 7th Portal, the Drifter, and the Accuser.  One project that interested me in particular.  It was called the Backstreet Project, and featured the voices of the real Backstreet Boys.  Since I was so into the pop music scene, the prospect of rubbing shoulders with the boys seemed like an opportunity waiting to happen.  As it stood, the boys were always on tour and locking them down was difficult.  In the end, stand in voice doubles were used in place of the real boys for all the flash animation webisodes we created for their Backstreet.net site.

It was a real thrill to sit opposite Stan and assist in some small way in creating the lives of the newest super heroes with a real live super hero, Stan Lee.  My duties were to work directly with the V.P. of Creative Affairs by assisting in overseeing production of the flash animation team, perform daily script revisions, writing original script material, audio editing, and coordinate phone-patch recordings the touring Backstreet Boys.

spider-man-2-onlineI recall Stan to be simply inspirational.  “When you are with Stan, you feel as if you are in the presence of a child, who views the world as ever-wondrous, new, exciting, and with infinite possibility.  At the same time, the man has a deep sense of honour, goodness, and understanding of darkness.   More importantly, Stan knows good and evil will always be at odds. Stan has an uncanny way of creating compelling heroes and villains that serve as mirrors of our own humanity, all the while making us look at ourselves with  critical  yet comfortable introspect.  

I feel without question, a huge piece of Stan resides in each of his super heroes;  and I think Stan is actually the “real” Spider-Man!”

2003 – The Crash For five years I had travelled back and forth from L.A. To Vancouver and made lots of musical friends.  Life was great!  I spent months at a time writing, hanging in studios like-minded creative talent, and learned a lot about music production, editing, and engineering.  I felt unstoppable, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  

After a short visit back to Vancouver to visit dad, I was denied entry into the U.S. unless I could produce a documentation I was unable to produce.  It would take me three years to accumulate the necessary documents.  My whole world came crashing down.  I attempted to continue songwriting by collaboration via the Internet but it proved to be impractical. Developing song writing collaborations in Vancouver was difficult, as Vancouverites seemed very cold and clicky, unlike Los Angeles, where the music community as a whole was open and willing.

A Fun Ride! Though my songwriting dream has been postponed, I have no regrets.  Hard work and perseverance has rewarded me with dozens of great and lasting friendships, great stories, experiences, and wonderful songs that will live forever.  The body of work I amassed in just five short years was considerable;   I was fortunate enough to rub elbows with some musical genius’ while writing or co-writing hundreds of songs.

Tim Davis (Glee, Kelly Clarkson, Faith Hill, Celine Dion), Bernie Hermes (nominations for Song of the Year, Producer of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year, and Special Event Album of the Year a the Dove Awards), and Jazmn Guy (leading actress in Disney’s Hollywood production of the Lion King) are just a few.  Just knowing and working beside these inspiring artists was worth every moment of work or sacrifice made in pursuit of a music career.

Efforts resulted in my songs appearing in more than a dozen major label and indie label cds, documentary films, and full length feature films.  

One of the things that is most satisfying is having my music cross several musical genres including country, rock, dance, and adult contemporary, and gospel.  While seldom receiving radio play, I’ve enjoyed sales in excess of 100,000 cds sold. Royalties from sales can almost buy a steak and lobster dinner at a 5 star restaurant!  Yee haw!

Though focused on my photography career, I continue to write on my spare time, finding everything about music fun and therapeutic at the same time.  Who knows?  I may stumble across the magical combination of words and melody one day with a little luck!  I’m crossing my fingers!

2003 – Need for Speed Now, unexpectedly in Vancouver again for the long haul, I was at a loss for what to do.  Of course, I couldn’t sit still.  That was not in my nature.

Fortunately, a long time friend got me a job at Electronic Arts Canada, the leading video game producer in the world.  During my two years at EA, I was charged with maintaining colour consistency of video game production assets.  

Need_for_Speed_Underground_2_-_2004_-_Electronic_ArtsThe responsibility soon led management to the realization that a visual colour space standard was needed.  This was required so video game production team members could produce interchangeable and matching assets amongst themselves. I was tasked with creating the “standard” colour space for Electronic Arts.   I didn’t really have any clue on how to do this so I enlisted some very smart people to help me out. Henry LaBounta and Habib Zargarpour.  Both of these very smart people were nominated for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science awards for Twister   I didn’t stop ther.  I received additional advice from a team from Lucas’ THX.

Before long, a standard colour space for video production teams was established.  The overall result was optimal viewing conditions for all players using all platforms, e.g., PlayStation, Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, etc. Some of the titles that benefited from my geeky efforts at Electronic Arts Canada include, NHL Hockey, FIFA Soccer, SSX,and Need for Speed to name just a few.

2005 – Present Though EA was a leading edge company providing steady income, the structure of the nine to five environment grew old for me.  As always the quest for creating called me.  In 2005 I resigned from my post at EA to pursue my passion for photography once again.

I was later subcontracted by EA to provide photographic content for Need for Speed’s PlayStation 2 Magazine ads as well as promotions for the new video game release.

I found a great new studio space in 2005 and continue to provide product photography for commercial clients, creative shots for fashion, lifestyle, editorial, and advertising clients, and engaging portraits for actors, entertainers, and business people alike.

Just For Fun! In my “spare” time I do photography and shoot still life vignettes and landscapes and miscellaneous creative stuff.  As an alternative to photography, I keep busy building websites and enjoy working in DreamWeaver, WebPlus, and WordPress.

My passion as a songwriter is constant and I am always looking for inspiration, collaborations, and ways to explore my curiosity for making new music.  Always writing and composing, I find music therapeutic.

Writing has recently taken me into the realm of script writing and I completed my first draft of a action thriller entitled, “Edge of Darkness”, a fast paced feature film reminiscent of “Fatal Attraction” and “Seven”.