Cover One of Shavonne Wong's latest works from the Kin make-up series, which is available on the Foundation NFT marketplace

Everyone is a photographer these days, or so we think. But the true talents are the ones putting their innovative spins to visual culture as we know it. In the second of a three-part series titled Behind the Lens, fashion photographer Shavonne Wong discusses her pivot to the digital art form, creating human-like virtual models, and setting up a virtual model agency

A familiar name in fashion and advertising, photographer Shavonne Wong has built a successful career over the past 10 years working with global publications and brands the likes of Vogue and Sephora, and shot Hollywood names such as TV show Pose’s Billy Porter and Netflix’s Riverdale actor Rob Raco.

But when the pandemic struck and international travel was halted, and photo shoots out of the question last year, Wong had to think outside the box. “If I can’t photograph real models, I’ll just make my own,” she shares matter of factly during our Zoom interview.

That was the start of a deep dive into 3D art “to learn how to make virtual models—and make them realistic”, from YouTube tutorials and tinkling on her computer for hours on end. This is nothing new for the self-taught photographer, who is always up for a challenge. Before this, she created a series of photo-video hybrids called Living Stills to bring her images to life.

When she was finally happy with her progress, Wong set up the Gen V Agency in August last year. This virtual modelling agency of sorts now has three 3D models in its stable, with two more in the works, available for photo shoots, campaigns and other creative work with clients. “In 3D, everything has to be created manually, from the apparel to the accessories, to even the make-up. The more complex it is, the more time it takes to create,” Wong explains.

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NFTs are the future. What you buy offers an insight into who you are.
Shavonne Wong

While there have been some difficulties trying to convey how this works to the more traditional of clients, Wong remains committed to utilising tech when it comes to disrupting fashion photography.

“My 3D works are very much influenced by my photography style. I spent the one year really learning how to create human-like virtual models, but the lighting, the composition, the angles—everything comes from my 10 years of photography experience,” she expounds. “It is interesting how transferable a lot of the skills were. My visual eye is already there, and I’m just building on it in 3D where I don’t have to worry about things such as gravity and headspace.”

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These same skill sets also helped her make the quick jump onto the NFT art bandwagon when it boomed in March. While a lot remains to be discussed about NFTs, especially the fluctuating cryptocurrency market, Wong believes that the future is very much virtual, and these non-fungible tokens, which certify a digital asset as unique, bring value to the work of creatives like her who come from a commercial background and are not active in the physical art world.

“There’s no online or offline, it’s all interconnected. NFTs are the future. What you buy offers an insight into who you are. Through the kind of NFT art you collect, NFT music you listen to, and NFT fashion you like—you are building your own virtual avatar. While art is an interesting starting point, I don’t think it’s going to be the be all and end all,” she explains.

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When she minted her first few NFTs, with her 3D art such as Lilium in Pearls, which is part of a pearl jewellery series featuring her own virtual model Lilium, “It was amazing. I’ve never had that feeling before of someone collecting my work,” exclaims Wong, whose NFTs are available on platforms such as Foundation and OpenSea. She recently received an invitation to the more exclusive NFT marketplace SuperRare, which is quite a feat considering she is one of only a few in Singapore on the platform.

While she is not closing the door to fashion photography just yet, the baseline that she has set for herself when it comes to creating 3D art is that “every work should include something that I wouldn’t be able to create with a human model”. Wong explains, “I can have the virtual model travelling through space, posing in the air, and going against gravity. I want to find different ways on how to experiment with ideas that I wouldn’t be able to do in real life.”

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Also featured in the Behind the Lens series: Street Photographer Lee Yik Keat | Wet Plate Photographer Ryan Lee