Artist Spotlight: Kimberly M. Wang
This year, we’re launching The Craftsman Collective, a curated selection of artists that span the vast possibilities of artistic expression.
This is our inaugural post for The Craftsman Collective’s Artist Spotlight series, and we couldn’t think of a better person to kick it off than Kimberly M. Wang, a photographer, director, and producer who considers every shoot a chance to discover something wonderful.
With more than 15 years of experience as a visual storyteller, Kimberly has served as Director of Development for Comcast’s Asian American Television Network (AZN TV) and created series, specials, and documentaries for clients such as PBS, Martha Stewart Living, MTV, Food Network, NBC, ESPN, Animal Planet, and Christie’s. Her photography has appeared in a variety of international publications, including Vogue, Four and Sons, Telva, and Le Monde. She specializes in documenting the creative processes of renowned artists as well as helping brands visually communicate what makes them exceptional.
Kimberly’s passion for making the world a better, more beautiful place is incredibly inspiring. We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.
How does photography allow you to best tell a story and craft your vision?
I spent the first half of my career creating television programming for Martha Stewart, ESPN, Food Network, and the like, where it was commonplace for shoots to involve large crews, lots of lights and equipment, and many voices. Sometimes, a big production has the effect of making the subject recede or project a persona that doesn’t feel real. And though this kind of large-scale production is at times necessary when I’m directing video, as a still photographer, I strive for a minimalist approach more often than not. Whenever possible, I shoot without artificial lights or even a flash.
What I love about photography—especially when shooting in this pared-down way—is that it allows me to create a sense of intimacy and connection with the people I document. This connection creates a pathway to authentic storytelling that imparts a deeper truth, one that inspires or moves people to action, which is always my goal. So, it’s important to me that I create a quiet vibe that allows trust to build between me and those in front of my lens. This safe and calm environment encourages them to reveal their true selves, their complexities, and their passion for their work.
Tell us about your last magical experience—either one you created or one that you experienced.
This past summer, the mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato returned to Greece to volunteer for the third time with the NGO El Sistema Greece, whose mission is to promote the social inclusion of refugee children in Greek and European society through music. El Sistema brings teachers and instruments to the refugee camps and offers free, regular instruction to the children who are detained there indefinitely. Joyce invited me to document her work with the kids as well as a performance at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, where she performed with children from the camps as part of the tour for her 2018 Grammy nominated album In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music. Joyce and I have shot a great deal together over the years, but the opportunity to document her and the teachers of El Sistema as they taught music to the children in the camps was a revelation. We visited Skaramagas, the largest refugee camp in Greece, which houses over 3,000 refugees, roughly half of whom are children. There is little structure there—no formal schooling or recreation, and only one small playground. The ease with which Joyce interacted with these children who were born and raised in conflict zones from around the world…Congo, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan…many of whom do not speak the same language as Joyce, was astonishing.
Despite her great stature as a performer, Joyce has none of the ego associated with famous divas. She intuitively knows how to motivate and connect with anyone who is simply curious enough to learn. Language and age are not barriers for her, and she is as inspired by the children as they are by her. The children are given singing lessons and become part of an orchestra, and music serves as a conduit for connection and a tool to help the kids understand how to resolve conflicts and collaborate. These are children who have suffered grave losses and unspeakable trauma. But they crave the opportunity to learn, to be mentored, to commune with one another in a peaceful and yet stimulating way. When given the chance, they blossom.
Observing Joyce as she instructed and encouraged the children made it clear that music is indeed a great communicator. Music heals. It inspires. It brings joy. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It was a reminder that I am incredibly fortunate to have been born to immigrant parents in America who were able to provide a solid roof over my head and who made my education a priority. In turn, it’s my duty to use my skills to help better others’ lives, especially those whose voices and experiences must be amplified in order for progress to occur.
My photo essay and interview with Joyce about this special time in Greece will soon be published in an arts and culture magazine devoted to change-makers. I’ll be sure to share more information as soon as the publication date is set!
What has been the most important skill for you to hone as a craftsman and storyteller, and how does your creative process begin?
Listening. It’s very difficult to tell a story that accurately reflects the experiences of a subject if you aren’t an active and engaged listener. Before I shoot a single frame, I ideally have a chance to interview and observe people in their element. This is one of my favorite aspects of my work because I’m naturally curious. My work as a television director and producer was built around researching extensively, interviewing people from all walks of life, and then shaping the story based on what I’d learned. So, doing my homework and thoughtful inquiry are a real joy to me.
These first stages—asking questions and taking in the answers—also help me to key into what matters most to the subject, what is essential to capture, what to explore further, and where and when to tread lightly. It’s important to stay flexible and open to developments that I might not have anticipated, because those often take the story in an eye-opening and exciting direction. If you’re not nimble and alert, you’ll miss what may be crucial moments that are key to the story.
Who are a few of your favorite artists to document ? How do they inspire you in
your work or day-to-day life?
I tend to be drawn to people who are on a mission to use their talents for purposes that go beyond their respective careers and status. The most accomplished creative people in the world have built massive and devoted audiences and therefore also have a great deal of power to affect change via their example, their speech, and their philanthropic efforts. That they make these missions central to their work inspires me to capture and share their stories. Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, and The Masters of Sex; the mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, whom I’ve already mentioned; the choreographer Elizabeth Streb; the ballerina Ingrid Silva; and the visual artist Betye Saar all fit into this category. These are people whose art and philanthropy focus on education, equality, identity, and the ability of art and music to transform lives. I’m fortunate enough to have worked with them all behind the scenes as they’ve created their art and worked for change.
But there is a long list of other artists with whom I’m aiming to collaborate and document: the architect David Adjaye, the musician Alicia Keys, the director Mira Nair, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the visual artist Shahzia Sikander, the chef Jose Andres, the feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem...the list goes on. These are all brilliant creatives who are committed to giving voice to the oppressed and making the world a more loving place where diversity, equality, and a focus on education are embedded in our laws, practices, and way of life.
At the root of all of my work is authentic storytelling, via imagery and words, that communicates how people confront difficulty, solve problems, and use art, music, and invention to create meaningful, healing, powerful connections with one another. It’s important for me that my photography conveys the stories of those whose life’s work is groundbreaking and progressive, because documenting their experiences helps inspire others to follow in their footsteps and keep moving progress forward. Whatever I can do to share the stories of those who answer violence, injustice, and inequality with action, I will do, because this is some of the most rewarding and essential work for me. It helps me transform my own anxiety about the state of the world into something focused on solutions.
What do you find satisfying about brand storytelling?
I develop an instant affinity for the clients with whom I work because I admire their vision, efficacy, and work ethic so much. They have a dogged sense of purpose and know that their work is exceptional. But while they know they have something important and special to offer the world, they often don’t have the visual tools to effectively communicate what makes them unique. So, the work I do with these clients is truly collaborative. We discuss what a typical day looks like, what their goals are, what they love about their work, and then it’s my job and joy to create a shoot that beautifully conveys all of this in an engaging manner.
I’ve spent my entire adult life telling stories, whether for broadcast, publication, entrepreneurs, philanthropic organizations, or major corporations. And it’s this process of putting the pieces of the puzzle together that I love. It starts off as a bit of a mystery, but then it all comes together as we go along. When what we’ve created is published or goes live, it gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction to hear my clients tell me that I’ve captured them in a way that reveals the best version of themselves.
What are you working on next?
This year, I’ll begin collaborating with Bill Shipsey, the founder of Art for Amnesty, Amnesty International’s global artist engagement project. Bill is a renowned human rights activist and barrister who first joined Amnesty in the late ’70s. Through Art for Amnesty, Bill has combined forces with a diverse roster of illustrious artists, including U2, Sting, Yoko Ono, Paul Simon, John Legend, and Peter Sis, to create events, original art, and projects that help fund Amnesty International’s initiatives and bring attention to human rights issues worldwide. I’m thrilled that I’ll have a chance to document the evolution of these historic works.
Why did you choose Eardog Productions as the name of your company?
When I started my own production company years ago, I had an adopted mutt whom we nicknamed Eardog. She was an incredibly expressive dog, with a generous soul, kind eyes, and enormous, cartoon-like ears. She became the mascot of the company. Because the hallmark of a skilled producer and director is the ability to listen keenly, the name seemed apropos, and it remains so, even as I’ve branched out to focus on photography.
The dog who appears in our logo now (created by the talented illustrator Natalya Zahn) is a depiction of a different dog named Theodore. He also has enormous ears. I named him after Vincent’s brother, Theo Van Gogh. He’s been a wonderful mascot as well as a service and therapy dog who has worked with both children and adults for many years. Like his namesake, he’s brought comfort and support to many artists, young and old, during his lifetime.
Where can we see more of your work?
Thank you, Kimberly. It’s been fantastic to get to know more about you and your craft. We look forward to working with you.
Thank you to all of you at The Craftsman Agency! It’s been an honor to chat with you and learn more about your groundbreaking and inventive work via our conversations!