United Kingdom-born and Hong Kong-based fine art photographer William Furniss has his work displayed in the world’s finest hotels, airline lounges and private residences. A self-described artist with “intention”, Furniss and his palpable talent effectively captures the essence of a city or a time. Here, he chats with Brytehall about why methodology is as essential as creativity when it comes to photography, and (for a time when the island’s international borders unshutter) his top locations to shoot in Hong Kong.
How and when did you become a photographer?
My grandmother was a photographer. She sparked an early interest. Once I completed my safe engineering degree I took photo assignment jobs, wherever I could find them. I spent a lot of time camping on sofas and sleeping in my car. This was in London in the early ’90s. Eventually I was given a full-time position with a company called Photographic Records, which worked out of the prestigious Lichfield Studios.
I learned a great deal there about portraiture, event photography and the business side of photography. In 1993, I decided to break from the United Kingdom and went to Hong Kong, I was looking to shoot fashion, music [and] portraits and was stifled in London. My interests have changed over time and through exposure to Hong Kong, I think, now the mechanics of city life are my focus.
How did you discover NFTs as a medium for art?
I work with a wonderful art consultant called Levina Li; she is a trailblazer. She introduced me to Frank Smits, an avid, early NFT collector. They were founding The MetaArt Club, and I was intrigued. I like to work on adapting processes to my ideas and I am interested in modes of presentation; digital art allows for so many new approaches. So happily I joined The MetaArt Club roster of artists, and it has been all go ever since.
Before taking a shot, what goes through your mind?
My style is first explore and find a subject/moment of city life that I want to record, then I plan how I will do it. Of course, sometimes it’s a question of just being in the right place at the right time, but most of my images are constructions of some kind. The work I do using analogue film, presented in the style of contact sheets, is an example of my pre-planned work.
In our present world of social media where everyone is a phone photographer, what do you believe professional photographers bring to the table?
The phone is today’s point and shoot. Its ease of use has greatly increased the interest and appreciation for photography; however, as a professional I must not offer work that my collector could have taken just as easily with her phone, so there is certainly some good pressure to create even better work. The standard issues of where to stand, when to press the button and the quality of light are the same as ever, but mastery of those things is no longer enough. ‘Intention’ is a hot word these days for good reason. The intention to create a good collection of works on one subject is the professional difference I think.
“The intention to create a good collection of works on one subject is the professional difference I think.” – William Furniss
Hong Kong is a very photogenic city. Which are your favourite spots?
A big rock above the section of Lugard Road on the Peak that is viaduct, where there are great views down the harbour. Violet Hill and Mount Butler on Hong Kong Island express the fundamental magic of a city, built in the midst of country parks. Western Hong Kong Island, Sheung Wan and Sai Wan Ho plus Kowloon, especially Mongkok, all have great street vibes.
The West Kowloon Cultural District in the late afternoon is delightful. Riding the Star Ferry and the tram at dusk are both great photo experiences. The Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier windows are a great place to stand and shoot the harbour while waiting for the ferry to Wan Chai to depart. Wanchai itself is a great district to shoot at night.
Much is being said about Hong Kong becoming a different place from decades past. As a photographer, what do you think your role entails to keep a visual narrative of a city that’s becoming someplace else?
Sentiment may have changed, but the fabric of the city is the same. Earth is a paradise, Hong Kong is a part of that paradise, and I work to remind people of that fact. Almost all the problems we have as a species are self-inflicted, but rather than despair I want to encourage people to appreciate what we have.
In what ways do you think NFTs will augment or transform the roles of artists/photographers?
I think beyond the opportunity to create work for screens, the great benefit is the chance for artists to reach a wider audience, and for a bigger audience to develop, as more people come to enjoy collecting art digitally. Time and cash flow have always hindered artists’ efforts. I think NFTs may well reward the very hardworking and obviously talented artists with bigger audiences and more frequent sales, which must be a good thing.