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Portrait of an artist
Published on Thursday, 15 Dec 2011
Toby Wong and her pupils work free, taking old people’s photos that are used at their funerals.
Photo: Toby Wong

Toby Wong had her first encounter with celebrity photographer Alain Yip when she worked at his wedding dress boutique as a sales lady. Little did she know that eight years on, she would be his trusted assistant, and a lecturer on his professional diploma in digital photography course.

Wong believes that photography brings people together from different walks of life and helps spread joy in the community.  

Why are you passionate about photography? 

It is both a job and an interest of mine. I love to express myself through pictures that I have taken. It is [my nourishment] and also my entertainment. 

How did you work your way up to your current position? 

I never had much of a career plan. When the economy is strong, I operate my studio. When business is not good,

I work on freelance photo-editing projects. Formerly, I got most of my projects from studios doing photo shoots for weddings. 

In 1998, my business was suffering, so I went to work as a sales person at Alain Yip's wedding dress boutique.

I knew on the first day that the job was not something I wanted to do long term, but I challenged myself and worked in the position for almost three months, quitting just a few days before passing my probation. 

Later, I received an offer to do post-production photography for a wedding business. As I worked on more and more projects, I began to build up a reputation in the industry. 

In 2003, I lost my job due to SARS, and went back to being a freelancer. Then, in 2006, Alain Yip decided to launch his diploma course, and I was invited to be the lecturer for the Photoshop segment. I turned down his offer initially, because teaching was not something that I wanted to do then. But later, he came back to me and I agreed.  

How did you come up with the idea of a "ladies only" photography class? 

I saw an increasing number of ladies participating in the photography class, so I thought, why not launch an all-girls photography class?

The feedback was unbelievable.

I had planned on a class for 20, but had to expand to two classes instead. 

How do you use photography to contribute to society? 

We have an all-girl photo volunteer team which is formed from alumni from my class. We visit old people's homes and shoot portraits for the elderly that will be used at their funerals.

The bonding that photography triggers between people of different backgrounds is amazing. 

What are your goals? 

I want to take pictures that express who I am. I will still do commercial photo shoots, but I will be choosier about the assignments that I take on.

I also want to spend more time on teaching, because seeing my students grow and learn gives me a satisfaction that I cannot get from anything else. 

Who has inspired you to strive higher? 

My boss and good friend, Alain Yip. It seems that there is no problem he cannot solve because he is so positive.  

Any advice for youngsters wanting to enter the creative industries?  

It is tough to be creative. Hard work and persistence are two keys to a person's success.

Effort never translates into instant results, but if you keep working hard, your work will pay off.

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