24 Minutes with Malaysian fashion photographer Michele Yong on living and working in Paris

24 Minutes with Malaysian fashion photographer Michele Yong on living and working in Paris

Her best shot

Text: Joan Kong

Image: Michele Yong

Michele lets us in on her photography career, her life in Paris, and living abroad during the pandemic

From designers to models, there’s no denying that Malaysia has an impressive list of local talents in the fashion industry, and when it comes to photographers, there's a slew of names who have amassed a fantastic portfolio too. Cue Michele Yong—a Sabah-born, Paris-based fashion photographer who has shot for international titles, and a slew of renowned and up-and-coming fashion brands.

In conjunction with Malaysia Day, we got in touch with the local creative who gave us more insight into her work, her career in the City of Light, and what she misses most about Malaysia:

Tell us more about your career journey. How did you get into fashion photography?

I enjoy both photography and fashion, so I thought why not combine them together? It was also because I failed to get into my first career choice which was music production, so this kind of ended up being plan B!

How would you describe your photographic style?

My photographic style is constantly changing, mainly because I tend to get bored of sticking to one particular style. Right now, I would say it’s somewhere between pretty, ugly, weird, and humorous. I thrive off the energy of creative people around me and other artists.

How did the move to Paris happen?

Partly due to boredom, and also the desire for bigger and new challenges. I was young and I had much more energy before!

Has the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted your job? How did you fill in your time during the lockdown period?

It definitely has been impacted in many ways seeing how I now have lesser foreign clients as they’re not able to travel to Paris. The logistics for shoots also became a lot more complicated. During lockdown I did nothing useful—I walked my dog, I cooked and ate a lot, and I watched Korean dramas. But I loved it.

Many photographers have explored with virtual shoots during this period. What are your thoughts on that?

Nope, it’s not for me.

What are the biggest challenges of working in Paris as a photographer?

As almost every other person in this city is a photographer or an artist, competition is extremely tough. Many clients also have ridiculously low budgets for production because they know they can always find someone else who will do it cheaper.

Tell us about the most interesting shoot you’ve had so far.

I would consider many of my shoots to be interesting, otherwise I wouldn’t even do them. What stands out more are the great clients that I get to work for, and those are a rarity.

What have been some of your career highlights?

I had the chance to work with a number of cool musicians such as Metronomy, Kindness, and up and coming fashion brands like Nanushka, Monica Cordera, and more.

What do you think is the most important quality as a photographer?

It’s important to have some degree of imagination.

Who are your current favourite fashion photographers and why?

I currently enjoy Johnny Dufort, Boris Ovini, JP Bonino, Jorre Janssens, Tom Blesch. Their work are fresh and unapologetic.

What do you miss most about Malaysia?

The food and the company. I miss all my noodle dishes (Beaufort Noodles, char koay teow, curry laksa, yee mee, pan mee...) and Kit Chai Ping!

Where’s the best spot to get your Malaysian fix in Paris?

My kitchen! There are maybe two or three restaurants in Paris that offer Malaysian dishes but I find them subpar. I usually go to London to get my fix—there are some great places there.

What are you up to next?

Something very, very different. Two words: Rice wine.