BY NELSON NG
When Harvard and I first met online, we were both quite lost in life.
The year was 2009: I had just arrived in Shanghai from New York for a new job in advertising, and Harvard had just been ‘made redundant’ at an advertising agency in Australia. Because I was working at a relatively well-known agency, and had shared this information online, Harvard began to follow my blog. I was intrigued by the fact that someone from so far away was reading my blog, and so out of curiosity I decided to check out his blog. That was the first time I had ever read Harvard’s writing, and how I began following his life story.
Later on we connected on Facebook, and began to chat. Perhaps it was because I found similarities in both our situations, and so I was happy to keep in touch. During that time I wasn’t entirely happy with my job, but didn’t know what else to do. As for Harvard, after being let go once, he was sort of in the same predicament, where he was getting tired of his job and found it meaningless. We would occasionally talk about quitting, and discuss about doing things that might make us happy.
And just like that, Harvard took up his camera and began taking wedding photos for his friends. With every shoot, Harvard got better and better. At that time he probably didn’t think too much of it. It was probably just simple fun and a little extra cash on the side. While he was photographing weddings, he also went back to freelance in advertising at the same time. But during the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, when Harvard saw a car trying to escape from a tsunami on television, he decided he didn’t want to have any regrets in life, and so decided to quit his job in advertising to pursue what he really loved: photography.
“Would I be happy that the last thing I did in life, was making a web banner for an energy company?”
Meanwhile, back in Shanghai, I was still floating around in the advertising world. As Harvard left the advertising world to become a full-time photographer, here I was switching between 3 companies in 2 years, going back to the first one eventually to stay on for another 5 years. I had a love-hate relationship with advertising; because I had studied Fine Art in college, I had always seen myself as an artist and couldn’t accept commercial art. But at the same time, advertising had brought me to Shanghai, introduced me to many new friends, taught me how things worked in the real world, and most of all, allowed me to survive. And so in my 7 years of working in advertising, I was struggling deep inside: Is this really what I want to be doing for the rest of my life? 7 years is a really long time, my passion for art was slowly diminishing, and I was slowly convincing myself it was time to grow up and stop daydreaming.
Watching Harvard slowly transform on the other side of the world impacted me greatly. At the end of 2012, when everyone was predicting the end of the world, I took a ferry to Japan, bringing these questions of my job and work along on the trip, hoping to find some answers. When I came back from the trip, I didn’t have any answers, but there was something new I wanted to try. I didn’t know how to survive making art, but I thought perhaps I should at least do something exciting first, and decided to make a travel magazine, even though I had no experience making one. Thankfully, as naive as I felt back then, this silly little idea helped reignite my passion for making things.
Two years later, the first issue of LOST was published, and I suddenly discovered something that made me extremely happy and satisfied. There was a significant difference before and after the magazine was printed, and I knew something had changed the moment I held the dummy copy in my hand. In that same year, Harvard got married to a beautiful Japanese girl, and began visiting his in-laws in Japan. He mentioned about submitting a story about his visits to Japan for the next issue of LOST, and that was how Harvard became a contributor for the second issue.
In 2015, the second issue of LOST was published. At that time I was still in advertising; Harvard had found his passion in photography, and I had found mine in publishing, and after the smooth collaboration of LOST Issue Two, we discussed about making something that combined both our passions: a photography book. In the end we decided to turn Harvard’s journey of becoming a photographer into a book, and he began writing and selecting photos for the publication. He decided to share photos from the first 10 weddings he had shot, and to write about the lessons he had learned from them. During that year, while he was preparing the content, we chatted a lot more, as I began wondering if I should, like Harvard, quit my full-time job to pursue what I love, even though I didn’t know how. I had no confidence to go out on my own, so Harvard recommended me to watch “Lemonade”, a documentary about life after people quit their full-time jobs. It helped somewhat, but still, the most inspiring example was Harvard himself, since he had quit 4 years ago and was still getting long fine after 4 years.
At the end of 2015, I finally left my job to pursue publishing. It was my turn to leave the advertising world, even though I still hadn’t figured out how to survive on publishing. And because of this, the next 3 years became mostly about figuring out a way to survive, which didn’t allow any time for me to complete Harvard’s book. Meanwhile, in those 3 years, Harvard grew even more as a photographer. Before, he was photographing mostly weddings, but now he was also doing food photography for restaurants, and portraiture for various companies. But the most important thing was, after so many years, Harvard was still passionate about photography, and when he was blessed with a daughter in 2016, photography took on an even deeper meaning for him. In his talks, Harvard once said that at the end of our lives, we leave behind nothing except for all the memories, and photography is what helps preserve these memories. This statement made me realize the true value of photography, and the real meaning behind his wedding photography.
3 years later, now that my publishing business has slowly began to stabilise, I decided to fulfil the promise that I had made with Harvard from back then. This book means quite a lot to me, not only because I had personally witnessed these events happen in real-time (online), but also because these stories gave me the confidence to take the risk to do what I love. Don’t be fooled by the cover or the wedding photos inside, this book isn’t really about weddings, but about how Harvard became a photographer, or how he found his calling in life. We named the book “Isn’t It Great to be Here?” to reflect this attitude of finding joy and contentment in one’s work, where one is happy just by being.
Because Harvard is such a great writer, I couldn’t help tearing while I was working on the book. I hope everyone gets inspired to find their own path and voice in life after reading Harvard’s story, just like I did.
(9 years later, Harvard came to Shanghai and we finally met~!)
About the Book
Isn’t It Great to be Here? is the story of how Harvard Wang walked away from an advertising career and became a photographer. Told through short personal stories, each chapter offers a nugget of wisdom that Harvard learnt while figuring out how to capture happiness through his lens, and most importantly, on how to become a happier person.
Interweaved with Harvard’s insightful words are over 200 pages of his beautiful photography work, from his daily life to weddings to food photography to his wife, giving us a visual narrative of his journey to becoming a full-time photographer. Together with the bilingual text, the entire book is 316 pages thick, and bound in hardcover. This book is a photo book of Harvard’s work as much as it is about his personal life story.
About the Author
Born in Klang, Malaysia, Harvard went to Melbourne, Australia to study Architecture. He quit after half a semester and changed his course in life to creative advertising. He became an art director in 2007, but was retrenched in 2010. In that same year, he also shot his first wedding. When the 2011 Tohoku earthquake happened in Japan, he decided to leave his advertising career to pursue photography.
Format: Hardcover, 21cm x 15cm
Volume: 316 pages
Publisher: volume press
Circulation: 500 copies
微店购买 / Weidian (China)