“WHAT WOULD YOU do if you could walk on air?” That was the simple question posed by Nike to Benjamin Von Wong. It was attached to a pair of Nike Air VaporMax as a challenge to the international photographer, who has become known for combining social causes (from climate change to animal preserva- tion) with hyperrealist gumption. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, yes! Nike!’ I love the brand and how much they truly embody the spirt of hard work and motivation,” he says.
“The sugar on top is their genuine desire to bring sports to the underprivileged.”
His answer was to have everyday people try to defy gravity at 1,000 feet up on the side of a building, or more particularly, a tenement. All of his models were social entrepreneurs—Krizanne Ty and Nikka Arcilla of Girls Got Game, rapper, host and Picnic Games creator Mike Swift, Nike+ Run coach Ian Banzon, and Bambike pioneer Bryan McClelland.
Here, the 31-year-old talks about what it feels like to be the guy with all the crazy ideas.
How did you get into photography?
A girl broke up with me while I was working in a mine in Winnemucca, Nevada in November 2007. I felt that if I didn’t pick up a hobby or something to do, I’d go crazy. The stars were pretty, so I thought to myself: why not take photographs of the stars?
How does your background in engineering inform your instincts as a photographer?
It gives me a very strong problem-solving approach in my photography. I don’t just think up the idea, but also try to walk through the process of what the execution would look like.
What was the thought process for
The entire concept behind the VaporMax is to walk on air. A person just running on nothingness is a little goofy, so the next best thing was to simply reimagine what the world would be like if gravity went another direction.
How did your subjects feel when you described the concept to them?
The reactions varied—nervous, excited, nervous and excited. For those who were a little more scared of heights, I think the first move over the edge was really the hardest. But it’s sort of like skydiving—suddenly, there’s no more plane to hold onto.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I think hyperrealistic is the best description for it. It’s so crazy that people think it’s fake, yet it also has a sense of intense presence and reality. I hope to generate intrigue and conversation with my work.
What is your most random source
Unicorns. They’re most advanced, yet acceptable—what I strive for in my work.
Who’s someone you would’ve loved to be a part of this shoot?
I would have loved to have Phil Knight on set! I wonder what he would have made of it?
What do you want the viewer to think when seeing these photos?
Is it real? It can’t be. Really?
BTS Photo by Ian Celis Productions