This week we are happy to introduce you to the still life concept photographer Priscilla Ong, who captures things with humor and precision.
Hello Priscilla, introduce yourself to the 500px community!
Hi, I’m Priscilla, and I’m a visual artist based in Singapore. I like all kinds of photographs, but for the past ten years I have focused mainly on travel and landscapes. During last year’s Containment, I decided to immerse myself in the world of conceptual still life and product photography—a personal project that I started right from home. I have a deep appreciation for bright and colorful images with a minimalist approach, and I am pushed to find beauty in everyday objects to create a smile.
Humor seems to play a big role in your work, how do you find these spiritual concepts?
I have a strange sense of humor, and although I don’t always intend to be funny, I really like to make unusual connections between ideas, and present new ones side by side. In the conceptualization phase, I like to find a list of words associated with an idea or object; unlocking wordplay, metaphors, analogies, similarities, double meanings, etc.I then build concepts around them, which can sometimes be in the form of quotes or pop culture.
I like it when my work evokes a smile or a wink from the viewer who has not seen the link before it is presented. I hope to promote a greater appreciation of beauty in the ordinary.
We love hearing the stories of how photographers started. Was photography always a part of your life, and how did you decide to take it as a professional practice?
As far as I can remember, photography accompanied and fascinated me. When I was 19 years old, I got one of these medium format plastic cameras (Holga), and I had my first taste of creating surreal images by playing with vignetting, light leaks and double exposures. It was about taking spontaneous photos of random objects / scenes with little attention to technical detail or with artistic ambition. Getting a properly exposed photo without light leaks or glitches was more of an opportunity than the design. There was a huge element of surprise, and I was instantly hooked!
I’ve been passion with photography ever since. And I think that’s also because it’s a passion I share with my husband (then boyfriend), who probably taught me all the basic functions of a digital camera (aperture, f-stop, focal length, etc.). We wanted to do photo walks together and are constantly thinking of new, fun ideas for our next film. Photography was also a great motivation for us to travel and explore some of the most remote places on earth. Getting up at 2am to go to the top of a mountain to catch the sunrise at 5am is not unusual for us, and most of the time we would be rewarded with the glorious alpine glow. I like that even when we are in the same place at the same time, the photos we took are always very different and offer a balanced perspective on our adventures together.
Like everyone else, the inability to travel has affected us in many ways. The recent times certainly had an impact on my mental health. It was during the lockdown that I decided to explore another creative outlet to channel my passion desire to pull the trigger, starting with the objects I found at home. Then I realized that the possibilities are endless and that product photography doesn’t have to be boring.
I then learned to listen to my heart, which really sets my soul on fire, and eventually made the leap from a serious amateur to a professional who works.
Color is another element of your work that seems at the core of the concept, could you describe how you choose a color palette?
I’m passion with colors, and that’s certainly a key feature of my work. I am always looking for the perfect balance of colors, textures and shapes. I usually work with vibrant pastels to inject joy and lightness into my paintings. But recently I’ve been exploring bolder combinations to add depth and dimension while keeping my eyes on the subject. I like that color has the ability to communicate so much-different colors transmit different feelings and evoke different moods. Although it is important to have a solid understanding of the theory and psychology of colors; I will sometimes, out of intuition, bend the rules as I see fit, based on what seems to me right now, rather than on what is fashionable.
What inspires you to create? Are there certain activities you do to get the creative juice flowing?
I am insanely passionate about many things, but photography really nourishes my soul. It gives me energy and makes me feel so alive. I especially like it when my work causes a smile or simply arouses curiosity.
I believe that inspiration lies in everyday life, and everything around me, as long as I let my mind wander, can be playful and curious. I try to look at the world through the eyes of a child as I look at the story I want to convey through my pictures. Very often an idea arises in the most random moments, although there are some that take longer to be fed. I think creativity is like a muscle and can be flexed through the act of regular practice.
When I’m stuck, I often turn to nature for inspiration. It’s important to also be exposed to a variety of creative disciplines to understand which styles and themes resonated with me the most. There are so many different ways to look at things, the world is really our oyster!
As a visual artist who works mainly with still lifes, where lighting is the key to an excellent image, what are your lighting tips and things to avoid?
Having experimented with different types of light sources (I started with a bedside lamp), I now believe that investing in good light will pay off in the long run, and that doesn’t have to be expensive. I now film mainly with a stroboscope, and I tend to work with a mixture of hard and soft light. Photographing with artificial light has so many advantages. I am no longer dependent on the time of day.
The setup doesn’t have to be complicated, I usually work with a light source and use a white foam board to bounce the light into the scene. The key is to find the light (natural or artificial), experiment a lot and figure out what works best.
I also learned not to be too passion with a certain conventional lighting configuration. So, even if you think you’ve found the perfect angle for a subject, and that it’s hard to break free from that money shot, still try another one. That might surprise you.
How did you discover 500px and what was your experience on the platform? Are there certain features that you liked to deal with?
During one of the 500px initiatives to repost the work on Instagram, I managed to get the attention of a photo editor who gave me a lot of positive comments. This vote of confidence meant the world to me, and when she suggested I jump on the platform so she could present some of my work, I was thrilled (literally jumped for joy). Being presented on 500px is a dream come true for any photographer and has given my work tremendous international visibility. It was such a privilege and I am always grateful for this incredible opportunity.
One of my favorite features of 500px are the monthly/weekly photo quests designed to showcase works of a specific theme based on a creative letter. While we tend to think that infinite creative freedom can usually encourage more creativity, it is often out of constraints that we are allowed to think outside the box and produce some of our best works. Therefore, 500px quests provide photographers with a great opportunity to improve their skills in various ways.