John Clang made a last-minute change while he was prepping to shoot a closeup of a woman's heavily stylized eye for a British Airways ad for M&C Saatchi. He called his model at home and told her not to bother coming to work. He realized that in his studio he already had the perfect subject - his male assistant.
"He was doing the lighting, and I saw that his eyelashes were really nice," Clang recalls. Moreover, Clang believes the gender switch adds impact to the final image. "You think it's a girl, because it's natural to think that, but if you're using a guy in that sense, in a way it's like cross-dressing. It really intrigued me. It's very subtle and nobody realizes it, but anybody who looks at it would probably say there's something nice about it, even though they can't really tell why."
This is not unusual for the in-demand Clang, who moved to New York two years ago from his native Singapore, where his fine-art success on the local gallery scene drew the attention of hot shops like Batey Ads, Bates and O&M/Singapore. Though he's 28, he sports a deceptively innocent schoolboyish manner. "I find that often things in your mind are more sexually charged than things you see with your eyes," he says. Sex figures prominently in his world, even if it isn't obvious in his photographs. "I'm a very sexual person; that's in my work, but at the same time, with my background as an Asian, I'm not very expressive of it." It was fairly well-expressed in Clang's campaign for intellectual property website PL-X. Of the ad seen here, Clang says, "When we photographed the man, we basically framed him in a way you could sense how deep his tongue could go." Choice of tongue subject was also crucial. "I asked the casting director and producer to look for a man 'who can lick like a gigolo,' to be very crude. Professional gigolos in Taiwan practice licking wineglasses clean. It's a sense of urban culture from somewhere in the world, whether it be Tokyo or Taiwan, that really inspires my casting."
Clang, who's represented by Creative Management Partners, recently shot a French campaign for European telecommunications provider Orange, which zooms in, very starkly, on various bodyparts. "There's a certain underlying sexual tone there," acknowledges Clang of the ear seen at right. But the fixation on flesh is not gratuitous. "It's all about clarity and centers of communication," he feels. "There's a lot of skin, a lot about people-on-people communication, but in a very banal manner. My pictures don't scream."
When it comes to style, Clang's not tied down to any particular tricks. "I tend to use more of medium format, as it gives me more opportunity to search for the moment, rather than building the moment," he says. Beyond that, his book boasts a fearlessly rich color palette, with its deep crimsons and blinding blues - but that's not necessarily a stylistic strategy. "I'm color blind," Clang confesses. "In the initial part of my career, I'd send a print to an art director and he'd say, 'Isn't this too magenta? Isn't this too green? I'd say, 'Really?' and then get it fixed. Later, the way my color came out, people became less particular and thought that it was something I was doing. It became 'Clang's color,' so now I stay with my palette and nobody ever asks me if it's wrong." Style-wise, Clang is chiefly concerned with being in the present. "I will never do anything that's nostalgic or futuristic, because my inspirations are from daily life," he insists. "I'm a total contemporary; my style is not based on lighting or printing. It's driven more by concept, and maintaining a certain level of the aesthetic."