Liam Wong’s debut collection of photography, the eponymously entitled TO:KY:OO, brings together several trends that someone more au courant with the cultural zeitgeist than I perhaps would have already been familiar with. I had, for example, to look up what “cyberpunk” actually meant and can’t myself say whether the photographs in this collection are “cyberpunk-inspired” or are instead influenced by other, more mainstream, traditions. I am perhaps on firmer ground saying that they are vibrant, pulsating and hypnotic.
The photos themselves are manipulated, adjusting the color palette, sometimes combining photos and directly editing them. Whether the results are “photography” or, maybe “graphic design” or maybe something else entirely is a question that could only really arise in this day of end-to-end integrated digital photography and design apps.
Also unexpected was the realization that this book, published by the venerable Thames & Hudson, was originally crowd-funded (ie pre-sold before publication), providing some hints, perhaps, into the future of high-end publishing. Then, finally, the book is also a vehicle for the debut of a new font, “45/90”, whose retro-tech look (it bears some resemblance to OCR-A which can be found on certain barcodes) is an indication as to why it was chosen.
People who are into all this might care about these things. Those who aren’t can just revel in the artwork and appreciate the vision that Wong has brought to a city that clearly inspired him. All the photos are taken at night, all given a time stamp (a reference to which is embodied in the title); neon lights feature throughout. Wong seems to base his work around both color and line, although he might consider the latter as aspect of composition, something in which, according to the accompanying text, he places considerable importance. He is particularly partial to rain, evidently for mood, reflections and the compositional benefits of umbrellas.
Wong started as a videogame designer; he would argue that this has informed his photography. Perhaps it has—one can well imagine that the technical design skills have been deployed on these photos—but it’s not necessary to perceive the influence to appreciate the results.
The book contains no small amount of text, but Liam’s prose is no match for his eye-popping artwork. However, Liam concludes with a fascinating edifying presentation of his techniques, from composition, to editing to color adjustments.
Those of us who like books should be grateful that a talented young digital artist has chose this traditional medium as a vehicle for his art.
Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.