The Singaporean fashion photographer has changed the fashion industry with her virtual models and NFT art. Even Hollywood star Idris Elba is a fan. Here's why.

As was the case for many people, when the pandemic struck, it put a stop to Shavonne Wong’s work. The fashion photographer could no longer work with real models; so, in the name of future-proofing her career, she decided to create her own.

Tatler Hong Kong interviewed Wong forTatler TV: Meta Versed about how she’s pushing boundaries in the world of photography, celebrating “real” beauty via her virtual models and supporting minorities in the space, and how she felt about one of the pieces from her Love is Love collection being actor Idris Elba’s first NFT purchase.

Wong discussed how she was excited to find that her skills as a photographer transferred easily to working in 3D art, and that they could be used to fill a gap in the market. “Over the last ten years, technology has improved exponentially,” said Wong, “but this was not reflected in the fashion industry.” She began experimenting with her virtual models, and was soon able to make them go underwater, fly through mid-air, skip through multiple countries and sit next to tigers or snakes with just a few clicks—because, after all, “fashion photography is about selling a dream”.

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While ensuring her models are as close to reality as possible, Wong is hoping to also celebrate what is “strange and unique—more than just a pretty face”, something she’s always been drawn to. From base sculpting, a tool used as the foundation for carving human forms, she moulds precise features “that make a model stand out or [appear] more humanly relatable”. She accomplishes this by meticulously ploughing through a wide database of photographs, all of which showcase zoomed-in human features. As the human race evolves, she hopes to redefine how “Asians are represented, as we become a land of the world”, as the region becomes increasingly culturally and ethnically diverse.

As she became more confident in her 3D art, Wong realised she could sell the works as NFTs and “do whatever [art] she wanted—with royalties”, something which has been rare for artists selling digital pieces.

Her first NFT collection was Love is Love, a 500-piece celebration of romantic relationships of all kinds, and included models with “a big range of diversity, including gender, skin colour, body shapes and sizes” that buyers could customise. It was minted in November 2021 and sold out within an hour. Seeing buyers’ choices was “almost like doing a survey on the NFT community, where the audience influences the result, so that I could create something closer to their heart”, Wong says. One of those buyers was British actor Idris Elba, who bought three NFTs off the secondary market, an experience Wong describes as “mind-blowing and such validation for me: as an Asian and as a girl in Singapore”.

Wong’s current project is By Proxy on Quantum Art, created in collaboration with fellow Singaporean photographer Lenne Chai. It places her virtual models within scenes Chai has captured in Singapore. Together, they “remember childhood by proxy, hence the name”, Wong explains; the collection showcases scenes of her beloved childhood drink, Milo, of crows attacking her as she tightly clutches on to a bag of chips, and of Chai’s first kiss, which took place on a rooftop.

The artist believes that the influence of NFTs has given graphic design, 3D art and conceptual art better representation than is possible on more traditional stages such as galleries or museums. “The art industry has grown to accept [them],” she says, because now, “whatever you make, you can turn into art”. As more brands incorporate NFTs with utilities into their brand strategies, “validation [is given] to the space itself, and what it can be”.

Wong, who co-founded NFT Asia, an Artist-led nonprofit community that empowers Asian and Asia-based NFT artists, called for action through small, simple steps when it comes to supporting minorities—be they of gender, race or sexuality—in the space. “You don’t have to take a huge step; something small can help.” She encourages people to “just pay attention to the women who are already in the game—you don’t have to dig too deep. Just talk about them, empower them, share about them, retweet them, shine a light on them.”

When asked what advice she had for aspiring creators hoping to break into the NFT space, the award-winning artist reminisced about how terrifying it was “to have no crutch, also known as, ‘the client’”, but said that determination and stubbornness had kept her pushing through. “Maintain a good visual eye and showcase your signature style. You don’t have to be the best; just be available.”


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