Where was the Das Angel shot made?

Das and I shot that in front of a building we found in Paris. It was done some time after our first session together and I was passing through France again and I thought it was sad we hadn't done more images in our last session. So we went out with a desire to create exactly this angel; we just didn't have a place to do it. So Das, myself and about 10 other fans just went out and started walking around trying to find a place that would be suitable.

Das Angel. "The result of a late night photo shoot in the center of downtown Paris. The challenge was once again to do the entire shot in camera and blend flashes, multiple exposures and fireballs all without using Photoshop."

We walked past this location a couple of times and thought we'd never be able to do it there. There was a fire station right next door; but Das being Das said, "Let's go ask them!" He just waltzed in and said, "Hey, we're going to be doing pictures with some fire and this church - is that OK with you guys?" And they were like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever." Excellent!

Tell me about the technique of fire painting.

Fire painting is not something that I pioneered per se, it's something I've developed more than it had been done. It is really the same thing as light painting, but instead of painting with a flashlight, glowstick or iPad, which most people have seen already, you paint with a large sheet of fire. It's the exact same thing as painting with light except you're using something that can burn you. That's the long and short of it.

Das had experience doing it on is own and he had another photographer who he collaborated with in the past, so he initially brought all of the flame knowledge, and I just brought the photography side of things. And once I understood the mechanism of fire and its ebbs and flows, I was able push things to the limit.

Ultima GTR, April 3, 2013

What is the most challenging part of shooting the flames shots?

I think it's developing a concept around it. The effect is cool but it has no meaning unless it has a purpose. Cool as an image may be, what is the story it's telling? That's the most challenging aspect. And the minute you try to tell a story with fire, it means you need subject matter, you need a location, you need all the other standard things that you need when you're not shooting fire. And all of it has to work together. In terms of the technical, quite simply you have to know there are some things you can do and some things you can't - it doesn't really get more complicated than that. If someone is spitting fire you need a fast shutter speed, and if you're painting with fire you need a slow shutter speed. For the angel we used multiple exposures to have a fireball and wing.

Are there any flame shots that you still want to do that you haven't done?

I think I've done every single fire effect out there. I even went to the point of combining fire with electricity using a Tesla Coil. So I've done a lot of things with fire. But the most challenging question is where do you take it from there? It just becomes an effect, it becomes cheesy, it becomes boring. You need to be able to elaborate on it, it has to grow and it has to develop. That's the challenge. But that's the challenge with everything. You know how to take a picture, now what are you going to do to create a work of art?

Do you ever revisit themes or techniques like this once you've shot them, or do you move on to something new?

I tend to push myself to always try to do something different. I have done a lot of fire shots, for example, but it's something I'm trying to distance myself from because it gets boring after a while. I don't think there's a single fire photograph out there that someone has done that I haven't done, or that I wouldn't be able to figure out in a really short time. That's only because I spent so much time doing it and I had this very obsessive period where I thought, "OK, I am going to figure this out." 

Dark Side of the Mind. November 2012

Are things like the flames or the angels marketable as a commercial thing?

As fancy and as crazy as it is, what I do doesn't really have an existing market. Photography is subdivided into topics like 'fashion, editorial, portrait,' and 'epic' just doesn't exist... Yet. As awesome as people might think my work is, there are lots of people who do awesome pictures and probably a lot of people who do better work than I do.

I met Chase Jarvis. He's the guy who co-created CreativeLive (creativelive.com). I met him in Seattle and I showed him my portfolio, and I asked him what he thought about my work. Most people when they see my work it's all oohs and aaaahs and it's fun and jazzy, but it doesn't actually serve any purpose, and doesn't really help me in any way.

But Chase asked me one question that really got me thinking for about three days straight. He asked me, "What is the one thing in the world that you can do that nobody else can do? What I mean is what is the one thing that somebody will hire you for that they can't get from anyone else? And if you can answer that question, then people will hire you because you'll start shooting your work like that. Because if there is only one person in the world who can do it and that person is you, then you're going to be able to sell it regardless of what that skill happens to be."

June Dark - I am a Galaxy. "While in LA with my good friend and pyrotechnician Andrey DAS, we had the honor to shoot June Dark from the band Clandestine." February 14, 2013

I thought that was absolutely fantastic. I got caught up in it and I started thinking about what makes me unique. It's not my work. There are lots of people who make awesome pictures. This answer applies to just about every single human, but the only thing that makes a person unique is their upbringing, it's what they've been through - a series of experiences that make a certain person unique. The only person who is the best at being who you are is you. 

So in my case, for example, having gone to 13 different schools and speaking three different languages, I can relate to people of different cultures and I have a wide vision and the ability to connect with people very very quickly. Because I used to be an engineer, I have the ability to solve problems, I have the ability to pull solutions together. So suddenly this guy sounds a lot more exciting for a creative director, for example.

In my case it becomes even more than that: I have a story. I have a story of a guy who quit his job, who embraced this idea of living a dream and traveling and inspiring; and I speak, I communicate. I am an entertainer as much as I am a photographer. I have the ability to do more than take pictures. I can write, I can shoot, and I can direct, and I can do videos. That's what makes me unique, not my photography. Everyone has this experience that they can sell, they just need to figure out how to package it all together  - and then you can sell it to somebody.

Here are two more "making of" videos for some of the above photographs. And visit Benjamin Von Wong's site at www.vonwong.com.

If you missed part 1 of this interview, click here: Benjamin Von Wong profile, part 1: Engineering a Dream

Video: Pyrotechnics


 Video: Pyrotechnics and Capoeira