'Not everyone can make a photograph' City native among nation's top photojournalists

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Jonathon Naylor Editor 'Anyone can take a picture,' Larry Wong says, 'but not everyone can make a photograph.' Wong would know. The Flin Flon native ranks among Canada's top photojournalists, with an uncanny ability to click his shutter at just the right millisecond. 'I get to meet people from all walks of life and capture a moment of their time, which many will probably remember for the rest of their lives,' says Wong, a staff photographer with the Edmonton Journal. 'How often does one get to have their picture published in a newspaper? I have a great job.' And it's a job that for 34 years has taken Wong to locations that include the hazardous jungles of Ecuador, the rowdy arenas of Stanley Cup championship games and the frightening chaos of urban murder scenes. A look at his extensive portfolio is captivating. Mounties sobbing at the funeral of gunned-down colleagues. A stern Stephen Harper waving his finger in front of a giant Maple Leaf. An airborne mixed-martial arts fighter whose fist is about to smash down on his rival's face. On the lighter side there is Buttercup, an English bulldog, riding a skateboard with a string of spit dangling from her tongue. Or how about the full-grown bison reading a newspaper at the kitchen table? Just recently Wong, 52, took Global Photographer of the Year honours at the prestigious 2012 Global Photo Awards. He was also named Photographer of the Year in the sports category for a series of pics from the London Paralympic Games. Unimaginable Such achievements were unimaginable to Wong growing up in Flin Flon in the 1960s and '70s. Born in The Pas, he was just three years old when his Chinese-immigrant parents, father King and mother Shui Chi, moved the family further north to the oddly-named mining town. King worked as a cook at the now-defunct Flin Flon Hotel as he and Shui Chi raised five children _ four girls and one boy _ at their Hill Street home. 'I loved growing up in Flin Flon,' says Wong. 'The summers were beautiful and the harsh winters were... not! (I) loved to spend warm summer evenings fishing and contemplating life on a boat at Beaver Lake.' As a teenager, Wong could often be found curling at the Uptown Curling Club in the winter and practising karate at the Flin Flon Karate Club the rest of the year. But it was hardly a fairytale upbringing for the young Chinese-Canadian. 'Racism was evident everywhere in the '60s and '70s,' Wong says. 'I remember I used to get beat up in elementary school just because I was not white like 99 per cent of the other students in school.' Wong used those experiences, horrible as they were, to his advantage. 'I think those beatings really helped me learn about adversity at an early age and helped prepare me for life,' he says. Wong similarly turned the lemons of a conversation with a high school guidance counsellor into lemonade. 'One thing that really motivated me was when my high school guidance counsellor told me that I really did not have any aptitude and suggested I go work in the mine for the rest of my life,' he says. See 'Deter...' on pg. 10 Continued from pg. 1 After he graduated from Hapnot Collegiate in the latter half of the '70s, Wong worked over the summer in preparation for a move to Calgary. There he would attend the acclaimed Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, better known as SAIT, to study business. Lured by the promise of an accountant's salary, Wong entered college with gusto. Too bad his studies were nauseatingly boring. In his second year at SAIT, Wong switched to the more rousing choice of journalism. He now wanted to be a newspaper reporter. The program covered all aspects of reporting, including photojournalism, Wong's worst subject. He was never a shutterbug and didn't expect that to change now. But he was determined to pass the course, no matter what. Somewhere between pushing himself to learn and applying his new skills, Wong discovered he preferred snapping photos to penning articles. In 1979, a year before he was to graduate, Wong was offered a position as a photographer at the daily Calgary Albertan newspaper. Opportunity Sensing such an opportunity may not come again, Wong took the job. He wasn't a college graduate, but so what? He was where he wanted to be. Starting out Wong made mistakes, of course, but he never repeated them. He also made a point of constantly learning from both books and other photographers. Not long after he joined the Albertan, the paper was purchased by the upstart Calgary Sun, making Wong an employee of the Sun Media conglomerate. He was still with the Sun chain when, in 1983, he relocated to the Alberta capital to go behind the lens for the Edmonton Sun. As he had in Calgary, Wong used his artistic eye to capture visuals from a range of sporting and news events. It could be stressful work, but one of his assignments was as plum as they come for a young, single man. In addition to his regular duties, Wong photographed the Sunshine Girls, the beautiful, often scantily-clad women who appear each day in the various editions of the Sun newspapers. 'I was in my 20s and it was a great way to meet girls, as I had to actually find them myself,' he recalls. 'And I also became quite proficient in studio lighting. Friends used to ask me if I had lost my mind when I decided to quit that job.' But quit he did when in 1988 he accepted a position at the more respected (and presumably higher paying) Edmonton Journal, where he remains today. As a daily newspaper photographer, Wong must be proficient in all aspects of photography, including shooting and editing video for the Journal's website. 'Ready' 'I have to be ready at a moment's notice to photograph news, sports, portraits, fashion, entertainers, etc.,' he notes. Since the Journal is part of the Postmedia chain of newspapers, whose chief asset is the National Post, Wong's work is hardly restricted to an Edmonton audience. Nor are his assignments limited to the city. In 1998, for instance, the Journal dispatched him to Ecuador and Colombia as part of its coverage of Canadian oilfield workers who had been kidnapped by guerillas. 'The writer and I met with the president of Ecuador and he would not allow us to go into the jungle without a heavily armed platoon of soldiers,' Wong says, 'as he did not want us to become kidnap victims and become another international incident. It was bad for tourism.' At the time of his overseas adventure, Wong was still adjusting to the rapid advancements in photography. Earlier that year he had swapped his film and darkroom for a digital card and a computer. Indeed Wong is amazed at how much photography has evolved since he launched his career. 'When I was shooting film, I used to travel with many cases of heavy equipment, which included a portable darkroom that I would have to set up in my hotel room,' he says. 'Today I can do the same thing with a laptop, smartphone and a backpack full of camera equipment, from anywhere in the world.' Secret One of the secrets of being a good photographer is the ability to anticipate. When will the bodycheck at centre ice happen? When will the toddler finally crack a smile? When will the breakdancer stand on his head? Wong has that capability in spades. He just hopes that his career anticipation _ that he will be able to retire from the Journal _ will also materialize at a time when big-city newspapers are shedding staff. Should circumstances require he find work elsewhere, Wong will approach that challenge with the same determination and raw talent that have brought him to where he is today. After all, anyone can take a picture, but not everyone can make a photograph.

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