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Beyond the law: Accidental brush with Wes Anderson

Beyond the law: Accidental brush with Wes Anderson

By Karin Derkley

Interviews 

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Lawyer James Wong’s passion for taking pictures led him to an unusual artistic project.

Mills Oakley digital lawyer James Wong says a camera has rarely been out of his hands since he first picked up some old Nikon gear at the age of 12. “I was a bit fidgety as a kid and I always needed something to do with my hands when I went on walks with my family. The camera was perfect for that.”

Now one of his photos has been featured in Accidentally Wes Anderson a book of photographs of real world places that are reminiscent of the fantastical visual style of the cult filmmaker in films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited

Mr Wong took the photo of the iconic blue Crawley Edge Boatshed on Perth’s Swan River while he was there for work. The boatshed is hugely popular with selfie-taking tourists. Mr Wong’s perfectly symmetrical and whimsical photo of the boatshed floating under a stormy sky happened to fit the artistic vision of the book’s curator, he says. 

“I’m really glad Australia is featured among the 200 or so locations in the book. I’ve seen a couple of comments from Perth residents excited to see their city featured in the book,” he says. 

Over the years Mr Wong believes he may have taken up to 50,000 photos, either on his (later model) Nikon or his Google Pixel phone, which he says takes photos nearly as well as his SLR. “They say the best camera is the one that you have on you.”

Less keen on pointing cameras at individuals, Mr Wong says he is drawn instead to urban photography where people are almost incidental to the scene. “I love walking around cities and trying to capture something of their character and energy in my photographs.” 

There’s a stillness to his images that defies the activity within the frame. His strikingly composed photos of London and New York turn away from the crowds to focus on the architectural drama. The serene order in his photo of the interior of the United Nations complex in Nairobi belies the fact that at the time the Kenyan capital was coming to terms with a series of tragic terrorist attacks. In a stunning image of the ballroom inside Melbourne’s Government House, it’s the diagonals, pastel blues and gilded details that draw the eye rather than the audience gathered in the seats. 

His photo of Southern Cross station was taken not long into the first lockdown in April allowing him to focus on the cavernous space with its dramatically undulating roof in what would normally be one of the busiest railway stations in Melbourne. “I was going home late one night from the CBD and I was at Southern Cross station and looking down over the empty platforms, and there was such a quietness there. I thought I’d try to capture that as a way to anchor something about 2020 and this incredibly unusual stillness.”

Regularly posting his photos on Instagram, in late 2017 Mr Wong came across the Accidentally Wes Anderson account and recognised in those photos something of his own aesthetic and started adding the #accidentallywesanderson hashtag to some of his own posts.

“The Wes Anderson theme appealed to me because I like those scene-setting shots in the films which have a slightly manufactured kind of aesthetic and a focus on symmetries and a way of representing the emotions behind a scene through colour and form,” he says. 

Photography complements his work as a lawyer “where you need to capture key details that fit into a bigger picture”, he says. “I credit some of my skills in that vein to practising the process of composing photos – of taking in the scene around me and choosing which elements are important or that I want to draw attention to, and then developing an angle.

 “I'm a really visual person, and I find that as a digital lawyer it helps to present legal advice in a visual format,” he says. “People working in the tech space don't really think in words, they usually think and communicate ideas through pictures or diagrams.” ■


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