Exhibit getting some good press
The ‘Brothers Wong’ and their many visions of Chinatown
Three first-generation Chinese-American photographers who have often been mistaken for each other because of their shared surname will, for the first time, display their work in an collaborative exhibit at the Seattle Central Community College’s (SCCC) M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery. Coinciding with Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the “Three Wongs: Chinatown Photographs” will showcase 21 shots from Barry Wong, Dean Wong and Rick Wong (all unrelated) through May 24.
“It’s all their unique takes on Chinatowns. Each one has his own visual style,” said gallery curator Ken Matsudaira. “There’s just a richness of place that comes through these images, because their photos are freezing these moments we might not see as we’re passing through.”
For the exhibit, Rainier Beach’s Rick Wong (rickwong.com),a commercial and
industrial photographer who teaches at SCCC, chose photos he took in the last decade of various Chinatowns in the United States and Canada.
“Chinatowns are changing, and I feel the need to document this,” Rick explained. “I put my artistic twist to it to make it come alive.”
“He has unique takes on what should be iconic images of Chinatown, but they are rendered new,” Matsudaira said of Rick’s work, such as an enhanced shot of Seattle’s Hing Hay Park that was taken at 3 a. m. during a snowstorm.
“It’s not ever a way I’d ever see Chinatown. It forces you out of what one regularly thinks Chinatown to be. It opens you up to different influences, different meanings,” he added.
Former Seattle Times staff photographer Barry Wong (barrywongphoto.com),
who now specializes in food and garden photography out of his Greenwood studio, is showcasing six large-scale photos of ingredients used in Chinese cooking, alongside smaller panels that show his family’s historical connection to food and San Francisco’s Chinatown.
“Barry’s narrative supplies a great thread to walk through the exhibit,” Matsudaira said. “It’s a very personal, very intimate [depiction] of a historical Chinatown.”
Barry said of this exhibit, “This evolved into one of my most personal shows.… It was a voyage of discovery for me: My early years really did affect my work. It’s also honoring my parents and my memories of my parents.”
Longtime community activist and reporter/photojournalist Dean Wong (www.corbisimages.com/photographer/dean-wong) is sharing 10 seldom-seen, black-and-white shots, including one he took of two boys playing in Seattle’s Chong Wa Playfield.
The exhibit also includes his previously published story about his mother’s longtime Re-New Cleaners on Maynard Avenue in Seattle, which he is sharing to commemorate his mother’s recent passing at age 101.
“It’s stories that I do that people find touching in a lot of ways,” the Beacon Hill resident explained of his work.
Matsudaira said, “Dean has a great eye. He’s managed to really preserve some of the feel of 1970s Chinatown — though I don’t know how far back [the photos] date.”
The “Brothers Wong,” as they sometimes call themselves, have known each other for decades.
Rick and Dean knew each other from growing up in Seattle’s Chinatown. Dean would deliver laundered items from his mother’s business to Rick’s family’s Gim Ling restaurant (prior to the old China Gate restaurant). Both would meet Barry when he moved from San Francisco to Seattle in the late ‘80s.
“It started with a case of mistaken identities [as photographers] and then shared identities,” Barry said. “It was kind of a joke when we would run into each other.”
Though they had each shown work with one other of the three, this show marks the first time all of them are featured. It came together as a means for the public to tell them apart.
Dean wanted to show “solidarity with the two other Wong photographers and to help people identify and differentiate [among] all three of us.”
“It gives them a better idea of the kind of work we do [individually]” and place a face to the work,” Rick added.
But the planning proved challenging at the outset, they admitted, only because their works were so divergent.
“It was a funny but preposterous idea. How do we tie a show together?” Barry recalled saying when Rick suggested the exhibit.
Even a “festive” theme proved limiting because Barry didn’t have any such shots. But “we all had Chinatown experiences in common. We all worked in our
parents’ restaurants and laundry. There was something there,” he said. The three enjoyed putting this show together and hope to do more in the
future. “This show lends well to travel. We just need another venue,” Rick said. “It is only a glimpse of our bod[ies] of work.”
The M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery is located inside the atrium at Seattle Central Community College, 1701 Broadway, on Capitol Hill.
Photo: The three Wong “brothers”: Barry Wong (from left), Dean Wong and Rick Wong. photo/Rick Wong