Jonathan Ong is a 24-year-old photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. Originally from Singapore, Jon is currently in his final year of studying Communications Design in RMIT. He also shoots wedding and engagement photos for a career. Jon shares with me his love for Coldplay, grandmas and vintage – all of which have inspired his photos in digital, film, polaroid and Holga.
How did you get into photography?
I was doing art in college and chose photography for my final project. I was the first to do it in school so I had to make my own darkroom. It was quite intimidating because I knew nothing about it and neither did my art teacher. My first few rolls of black and white were atrocious, because I messed up a whole lot with my fingerprints. I did get one really awesome shot that I’m still proud of today. I guess that’s all you really need – one awesome shot, not 50 mediocre ones.
I got a vintage camera for my birthday that still had 1950s film inside! They turned out to be wedding photos – that’s when I knew I was meant to be a wedding photographer.
So what happened after college?
I had to go for National Service, so I started shooting for fun with my Holga. One day a guy called Jon Keng commented on my blog and asked me to assist him for a wedding shoot. I agreed and a year later we became partners and now we are really good friends. He runs the Singapore studio with Ivan, another good friend of mine.
Treasure in black and white: the 1950s prints that survived in a vintage camera given to Jon
What camera do you use?
I use the Canon 5D which I got from my grandma for my 21st. I don’t think I’ll ever sell it, just because. I’m looking to upgrade to the 5D Mark 2 soon.
Why weddings and engagements?
Besides everything looking pretty and the array of emotions during a wedding, there’s something intangible that I can’t describe. I get a sense of satisfaction after each wedding, and it’s such an honour to be part of a couple’s biggest day. I got a vintage camera for my birthday from a friend and it still had film from the 1950s inside! So I developed it and the first two photos turned out to be wedding photos! That’s when I told myself it’s a confirmation that I was meant to be a wedding photographer.
What do you want people to see in your photos?
Faith, hope and love. I once took a photo of a grandma taking the holy communion in church. A reader commented on my blog saying she really missed church and wanted to go back after looking at my photo. That made me feel really good and I realised I wanted to do this for a living.
Who inspires you?
Henri Cartier-Bresson. His philosophy of life and photography just amazes me because he was so ahead of his time. And of course, Jesh De Rox.
Tell me about meeting Jesh.
We met in December 2008. I’ve been following his work for quite a while and was a big fan. I reckon he’s the Henri Cartier-Bresson of photography today. Both Jesh and Henri Cartier-Bresson believe that photography should be an art; an expression of the photographer rather than the technicals and that’s why they inspire me and changed my perspective of life. With technology, photography has become very technical rather than artistic, which is so sad.
Vignettes, blurs, light leaks and distortions: shots from a Holga box camera
So what’s this fascination with vintage?
I love stuff with character. I love shopping at vintage markets, watching European films, buying second hand items. It’s more real and more truthful. I hate mass-produced and commercial stuff. Vintage always has a story behind it – always.
What about polaroids?
Polaroids are fun. I’m so sad they’ve stopped producing it and the fact that I just learnt to do polaroid transfers last semester. Bah.
What do you like about film then?
Well, it’s just going back to basics. Film gives you that raw feel to it. I would love to shoot a whole wedding in film. Better yet, a Hasselblad and medium format film.
Jon in the middle. Jon Keng photographers, Singapore and Melbourne. www.jonkeng.com
Which has been the most enjoyable project so far?
Besides weddings, I shoot for church and other personal stuff. I don’t have a particular “project” but I really enjoy myself when the couple treats me like a friend and not a hired photographer.
I would love to photograph Coldplay. I went to their concert this year and was totally blown away. I love the British. I wish I could live in London.
Which has been the most difficult and challenging?
Waking up at 4am to photograph traditional Teochew weddings. And probably going through 13 hours of a wedding day without food. Oh, and for uni I had to make a book called “Imperfect Perfection” for one of my projects. It’s about how photography is not about the technicals, the camera or lens you use but who you are as a photographer. I really enjoyed making that book, besides the deadline of course.
Not just vintage: (clockwise) Penang, New York, Perth and Melbourne by night the cities of joy
If you could spend a day photographing someone, who would it be?
I would love love love to photograph Coldplay. I went to their concert earlier this year and was totally blown away. I love the British. I wish I could live in London.
How do you glorify God with your talent?
My best friend once gave me a poster with big bold letters that say “DAMN I’M GOOD”. But at the bottom in small print is “Translated: I am extremely grateful for this God-given talent”. I honestly thank God that I’m doing something I love, and try my best to model my photography structure, philosophy and approach around God.
Jon is based in Melbourne city but is internationally available for engagement sessions and wedding packages. He can be contacted via his official website www.jonathanong.com
Jon also writes a blog here.