"I take photos that people think are photoshopped"
This is how Benjamin Von Wong describes his work on Instagram and after taking a look at his image feed, I couldn't agree more. From majestic lava flows to vast underwater scenes, Benjamin has consistently produced awe inspiring images for a good cause, which is why he has always been an amazing inspiration to me and tons of other creatives worldwide.
Photographing images like this clearly takes a lot of time, effort and planning but more importantly, loads of skill and talent. I was super privileged to get the opportunity to ask this engineer turned photographic genius a few questions, so read on if you would like to know more...
THE INDUSTRY STUFF
1) Tell us what you do / what you are best known for and where you’re from.
I am known to most as a photographer but on top of that I'm a social influencer, a story teller, a speaker, an educator, a consultant, I help run campaigns, I'm a creative director, videographer... so I basically do everything as a one man team. I've gone to thirteen different schools in three different countries but I've spent most of my life in Montreal.
2) What made you choose this and how did you get into your current profession?
I quit my job as a mining engineer four years ago not because I wanted to become a photographer but because I knew that I didn't want to be an engineer. Photography just happened to be the thing I was earning the most money in so I became a photographer by default.
3) If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing as an alternative career instead?
I definitely see myself playing a role in marketing or entrepreneurship. That's kind of a cheap answer since photography in a way is entrepreneurship for me but that's where I see myself.
4) What do you consider to be your single most memorable work experience so far?
That's a really tough one. Every single project I work on is completely unique from putting a shaman onto lava flows to tying a model onto an underwater shipwreck or lighting people on fire. So it's really hard to say.
5) Which websites / online platforms do you use as part of your daily routine?
I guess I mostly use Facebook. That and Gmail are kind of my two major tools to keep in touch and interact with people. I'm also active on Instagram and somewhat on Twitter.
6) Where do you draw inspiration from?
From the world around me, the people that I meet and the places that I visit. I always try to remix the different things that I see into my work.
7) Based on what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself when you were starting out?
I have no problems with going through a journey of not knowing what the right thing is and where to go. I believe that there is great strength in naivety and that without that trial and error process of making mistakes and trying new things, I wouldn't be where I am today
8) Are there any specific people you’d like to work with or projects you’d like to work on in the near future?
I don't think there are any specific people per se but I would definitely like to work with corporations and individuals to make the world a better place.
9) Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
Ironically my greatest achievement has nothing to do with my photography but is rather a video that I made for a little girl dying of a terminal degenerative brain disease. I flew to South Carolina and made a video for a family of strangers that ended up raising two million dollars over the course of a few years and she just got treated about six months ago which was pretty amazing.
10) How do you define success and can you give an example of someone you consider highly successful, famous or not.
I'm not really sure how to define success because I think the definition of success varies from person to person. It's a hard question because as a creative I think that the key to being successful is to never stop growing. The question is phrased as if success is a destination and I believe it's more of a journey. As long as you keep on improving yourself as a person then your life overall would be considered a success.
THE PERSONAL STUFF
11) How would your friends describe you?
Probably as a workaholic, crazy, happy, active... I'm not good at bragging so you'll have to ask my friends yourself.
12) Can you recall what your best day during the last year was and what made it so great?
My best day was just a couple of weeks ago. I can't pinpoint the exact moment or what triggered it but I just had a moment where I realized that I was very happy to be where I was, very grateful for having an amazing girlfriend in Australia who has been loving and supportive. To have a family that is healthy and loving in Canada. For me here in San Francisco to also be healthy and with a career that is successful enough to give me options but also unsuccessful enough to allow me almost total and complete freedom to creatively do whatever I want. I had this moment of reflection where I realized that I was exactly where I wanted to be, and that was just a great moment to hold on to.
13) If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?
I don't know who exactly I would trade with but it would be someone who I do not relate to. I'd love to trade lives with a black kid in Ferguson or a woman in India or a Palestinian kid in Israel or a kid in an African village. I just feel that there is so much we don't understand in this world and the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes would open us up to so much more compassion. And I definitely feel that although I want to understand the world, I don't necessarily understand it very well so I'd like the opportunity to learn more about the world we live in.
14) What is your real life super power?
I am very good at bringing people together, to rally them around a cause and to make them believe in themselves to work on a project together. I think that's probably the one thing that I have successfully leveraged in order to build my brand today.
15) If you could only keep five of your current possessions, what would they be?
I would keep my laptop, camera and phone... and these sound like material goods which they are. But I think that if I'm capable of connecting to the world then I could make anything happen. I'd be able to get back on my feet, raise money and travel so I just need to be able to connect with people. I also definitely want my electric skateboard which is phenomenal. It represents freedom for me and gives me the ability to get from A to B. I guess the last thing should be something sentimental but I don't really have any memorabilia from my family or anything like that. So it would probably have to be my backpack which is extremely useful. It sounds stupid but those are the five things that I would need to start life over.
16) Which character from a TV show, movie or book have you always resonated with?
I've never really seen myself as anyone from pop culture and I've never tried to be anyone other than myself. So I don't think I've seen myself as another character, fictional or otherwise.
17) What would be your top destination that you would like to still travel to and explore?
I'd really like to go to Japan just because it's been one place that I've always been fascinated with. But I don't really like to travel for fun so I would need a cause to bring me there. One day I'll go, I just haven't yet been able to justify the reason to go.
18) What is your favourite word?
I don't have a favourite word.
19) What is your guilty pleasure?
I like playing video games. I have an obsessive personality so I try to not play them. But whenever I need a break from the real world I'll go diving into that from time to time.
20) Lastly, in relation to the name of my blog – what’s your favourite type of coffee (if any) and how much do you have per day?
Locally there's this coffee shop in San Francisco called Snowbird and they have this amazing coffee called the Brevano which is kind of like a wild flower, honey based latte... But as far as generic coffees go, I love Vietnamese coffee. I love how dense it is and with the sweet condensed milk it just tastes phenomenal.
Check out these links to see more of what Ben Von Wong does...