Liam Wong on the City

Liam Wong on the City

When we imagine a place, an image will usually spring to mind – even if it’s somewhere we’ve never visited. If the visual isn’t drawn from our memories or experiences, then it’s likely to have been conjured up from something seen on TV, in a book or newspaper, or whilst scrolling through our phones. The question is: how far has photography changed our view of the world? This is at the heart of V&A Dundee’s latest exhibition, Photo City. From its birth in the mid-19th century, to today’s smartphone era, the camera has had an integral role in place-making – for better and for worse. The new show traces the ways in which pictures, as shared on postcards, in magazines and on social media, have influenced our perceptions of different urban locations. There are contributions from Denise Scott Brown, Margaret Bourke-White, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen and Zaha Hadid Architects, transporting us from India to the US and UK. Here, V&A Dundee asks us to think twice and question our opinions on places we’ve only seen in photographs.

One of the featured artists is Liam Wong, an image-maker and award-winning game designer who spoke to Aesthetica about his signature neon-noir aesthetic. He applies this look to street and subway scenes captured across Tokyo and Hong Kong. “The speed of evolution in Asian cities is on another level. Memories of Green, on view at V&A Dundee, is titled after the song by Vangelis used in the movie Blade Runner. The intention was to take a real moment and turn it surreal. My pictures are greatly influenced by Syd Mead, who was the artist on the film. I would study his future visions and attempt to mimic them.”

It’s about identifying a location’s atmosphere and then turning up the volume, as well as freezing a place at a certain point in time. “The vibe of a city is dictated by its architecture and layout, and my works always have buildings at their core. My first book, TO:KY:OO, captured the beauty of night, whilst my second series, AFTER DARK, focused on urban loneliness around the world. It’s no longer possible to make some of my photographs due to buildings being demolished and signs being taken down over the years.”

Photo City, V&A Dundee until 27 October. | First published in Last Words, from Aesthetica Issue 118.

Image Credits:
1. Liam Wong, Memories of Green from Tokyo Nights (TO:KY:OO), 2019, © Liam Wong Courtesy of the artist.
2. Liam Wong, ‘TO:KY:OO Night Train’/00:00:00. From TO:KY:OO (2019) Thames & Hudson. © Liam Wong
3. Liam Wong, Last train home, Tokyo, 00:39:45. From After Dark (2022) Thames & Hudson. © Liam Wong