Yaopey Yong is a landscape and architecture photographer. Originally from Malaysia, who is currently residing in the United Kingdom. His works have been featured extensively throughout America and the United Kingdom, where he has gained inclusion at exhibitions and festivals such as the London Photo Festival, where he won a Landscape prize, and United Through Art, New York. He was a finalist in the 2020 Siena International Awards and won second Place in the 2020 Zebra Awards.
Yong’s photography represents a contemporary approach to landscape and architecture photography – his works examine age-old topics such as stillness, light, and the interplay of geometry, however, his techniques utilize modern post-production techniques. Form, figure, and focus are a consistent theme throughout Yong’s oeuvre; his artworks exhibit both representational and impressionistic approaches, seeking to find and examine the balance between configuration, appearance, and impact.
Yong’s recent works have focused on Singaporean metropolitan landscapes and a=natural waterfalls in Iceland. His black and white photographs are bound by the common theme of grandiosity. Spanning the modernization of a downtown megalopolis to a preserved, natural landscapes, they exhibit an effective and tactile approach to the display of overwhelming and engulfing scenes.
“We are all born to drift. Catching the waves on distant shores..before we find our way home with hearts full of memories.”
Hi Yaopey, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you give our readers a bit of information about you, and your art?
Yaopey: I’m originally from Malaysia but have been residing in the UK for the last 15 years. I’m currently based in Manchester. My background is the complete opposite of art. I did my medical school training in Kuala Lumpur and Glasgow in Scotland. My experience with photography started early in childhood as my father was an avid photographer. Fast forward in time, I only began to develop a serious interest in photography when I got my first digital camera. My main subject at the time was landscape and travel photography as I was traveling a lot during university time. Photography was a way for me to capture the interesting and remote places I have visited, and also to document my travels. As my philosophy in photography evolves, I began to photograph architecture as I learned to appreciate the stillness and the geometry of building design. My favorite time to create photographs is either early in the morning or late in the evening. The light is the softest during these times and it allows me to capture unique moments that people don’t see every day.
How would you describe your photographic style?
Yaopey: Impressionistic definitely. My work was predominantly representative to start with, I think that’s a common trend for most photographers. I used photography as a medium to snapshot a moment in time and I have always thought a photograph has to be as close to reality as possible. But as I learned more about the art by studying the work from other photographers and paintings such as those from the Renaissance, I realized photography is more than just creating pretty pictures. With the influence of other photographers such as Joel Tjintjelaar, Thomas Kellner, Bruce Percy, and Frans Lanting, I began to develop my own vision and infuse emotions into my work to create art that is personal. I like to use light to dramatize the subject, be in a vast landscape or architecture.
What is typically in your camera bag?
Yaopey: I feel my camera bag is fairly minimal compared to most photographers. I have an “old” camera, a Canon 5D Mark II which has been to many places with me over the years. I only have three lenses in my camera bag, one of which is a backup lens (Canon 50mm f/1.8) which I don’t actually use much. The other two are a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 and a Canon 70-200mm f/4. I shoot 99% of my photographs with only these two lenses. Apart from that, I use a Formatt-Hitech ND 16 filter, a B+W circular polarizer, and a Velbon carbon fiber tripod. I firmly believe technique and vision trump owning the latest gear.
Your primary educational background is in the medic profession, and it’s your job. And you use photography as a channel to escape, as you say. Tell me more about that. Do you think photography has a therapeutic effect on you or is it something else?
Yaopey: Yes, I’m in the medical profession and I’m a surgeon. Apart from operating, I like to get myself involved in other things, photography being one of them. I guess I prefer to keep my mind occupied and focused. On a typical weekday, I tend to have a full schedule and sometimes weekends too. The job is fulfilling but the hours can be long and mentally draining. Being in my field has also given me the opportunity to witness the most vulnerable moments of human life on a regular basis. Photography gives me a change of scene, helps to maintain my sanity, and keeps my mind fresh. It is indeed a channel to escape for me, but not just from my day job but from anything else that I may encounter in life. Photography has also taken me to amazing places, events, and festivals. When I’m out with my camera, I often find myself end up admiring nature at dawn or dusk. I love immersing in these moments…it’s my way of finding inner peace.
Even though you’re primarily a landscape photographer, do you have an interest in other styles of photography like portraits or sports?
Yaopey: Yes very much so. I have done the occasion of portraits, events, and some others in the past. I have also begun to photograph architecture several years ago and is now part of my portfolio. I like to learn a bit of everything because I find learning outside the box stimulates my mind and brings in new creativity to my work. One of the things I wanted to try is combining landscape and architecture with portraiture, giving the scene scale and a human touch.
What’s the key to making a great landscape photograph? Is it the same as making a great photograph in general?
Yaopey: The principles are definitely the same, particularly the technical aspects like getting the exposure right. Personally, I think the key, and also the challenge to create a great landscape photograph is finding the reason to photograph, i.e. what element(s) of the scene that makes the photographer want to capture that particular scene. Landscapes are so variable. There can be majestic mountains with valleys and rivers, or it could be something really simple like a hill with a lone tree. Not knowing why we are attracted to a particular landscape means we won’t know how to present that to the viewer and the viewer will not be able to appreciate what we saw or experienced in the first place. In my opinion, this makes a photo a snapshot rather than a photograph. Knowing the “why” we photograph will make our work more interesting and enjoyable for us and our viewer.
There are so many places in the world and photo opportunities – what are some of the countries or regions you would like to visit, and photograph, in the coming years?
Yaopey: I always have a thing for the less-traveled roads. Tibet and the Karakoram Highway in the Nothern Areas of Pakistan are some of the places I like to see again. Although I have been to these years ago, I didn’t have the camera or the skills to capture photographs that tell the story. Also, I have read a lot about the polo festival at Shandur Pass and I really want to catch that! Central Asia such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are also on my list to photograph as I’m fascinated by the history, landscape, and culture. The other region is the western area of China, cities around the Taklamakan Desert. All these places have one thing in common, they are cities along the ancient Silk Road.
What tips or advice do you have for other aspiring photographers?
Yaopey: Never stop shooting. We don’t have to worry about running out of films with digital cameras, so there is no reason not to photograph. Photography is like any other skill, it takes effort and time to be good at it. The more we photograph, the easier it will be for us to discover our vision that will eventually lead us to develop our own style. Lastly, post-processing is just as important as getting the image right in the camera and one should definitely invest time and money to learn editing skills.
Finally, what are you looking forward to over the next year?
Yaopey: I’m looking forward to traveling again. I normally take on big trips around twice a year but haven’t done so this year due to the pandemic. From the photography perspective, I want to create more series. One of the ideas I have is to photograph historical buildings in Manchester that have been abandoned or forgotten.
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