TO:KY:OO is something unique in my photo library. I’m not sure where I came across his work. It was probably recommended by someone or something. I don’t really remember.
Long term readers will know that I’m mostly a film photographer, for the past 6 years or so, anyway, and that I never did a huge amount of manipulation, but I really like the look Wong pulls out of his images. So when he announced a crowdfunding campaign for his first book, I jumped on it.
After an early start as a video game designer for Ubisoft and others, which took him from his Edinburgh, Scotland birthplace to Tokyo, where he reportedly “got lost in the beauty of Tokyo at night,”* Wong had the opportunity to spend some time shooting in Tokyo, and he jumped on it.
He took however many digital photographs in and around Tokyo, messed around with them with his phone (early on) or loaded them into Photoshop, and used his video game designer skills to create really gorgeous, hyper colored city-scapes and movie-like street photography.
Sure, it’s digital art more than anything, really. It starts as a digital photograph, but then becomes something more: no camera settings can replicate Wong’s color sense; no sensor glitch will take a single column of pixels, then use machine learning to replicate them across a third of a frame. It’s not anything I’d ever spend the time doing… what with my day job staring at computer screens, my blogging and processing of the film scans I make with a digital camera, the processing of unboxing videos, I already spend way too much time staring at screens from a foot or two away.
TO:KY:OO is Wong’s first book and he did much of the designing and layout himself. And in some ways the book’s content betrays this. There is some unevenness to the work, which can be forgiven: all good photobooks have some filler, some linkage images, and a few stars. But few (Todd Hido being a prime example) fuse early works with later work, and when they do, it tends to be in service of a larger narrative arc they hope to establish. Wong presents much of the work chronologically, starting with some phone snaps, then a few compact digicam shots, and then the 5-D mk III stuff.
In his writing—he comments on every 3rd picture or so—he has a tendency to speak like an authority, which he is… on video game design, and maybe on his specific brand of digital manipulation, but on the act of photographing itself? On street shooting in general? Please. He only picked up a camera in 2014 or something, and most of these pictures were made in 2015 or 2016.
The writing didn’t ruin the book for me, though a more thorough examination gave me an idea into why I appreciate the work: I like it for similar reasons to Khalik Allah’s excellent Souls Against the Concrete. That hyper color at night thing. Colored lights in the rain. Wong’s work in the daytime, the earlier, less manipulated work, the more work-a-day, slap a simple green filter on it is less interesting.
The end of the book contains a section on Wong’s techniques: composition, use of complementary colors (though more often the colors are split-complementary at best, and tend towards monochrome in the weaker ones), selecting, cropping, and a bit of photoshop manipulation discussion, which is enough to make you think he knows what he’s doing, but not enough to actually teach anything (to be fair, pointing in a direction is often better than leading by the nose, and still…).
Overall, I rate TO:KY:OO a middle-of-the-road 3.5 stars.
I had a fair number of people ask me about this book on YouTube and via email, mostly asking where they could find the copy I have. My copy came from the Volume crowdfunding thing, and there were a limited number of those made. Bookfinder doesn’t even recognize the ISBN, so apologies there.
Thames & Hudson put out a mass market version, and you can find those for used and new for fairly cheap prices. If you’re a Blade Runner fan or into CyberPunk, well, this book is for you, more or less. And if you’re interested in color in photography, you could do worse. I’m happy enough to have it, I guess, though it’s likely to mostly sit on the shelf.
*Wong, Liam. quoted in the Volume campaign, and on the back cover of TO:KY:OO.