SINGAPOREAN photographer John Clang has a birth defect that is also his gift - he is colour blind.
He can't tell red from green, yet regularly produces photos of such uncommon beauty that they have propelled him to New York where he makes US$700,000 (S$1.08 million) to US$2.4 million a year taking pictures for clients like Godiva, Nike, IBM and Levi's.
His colour prints have a muted, slightly antique mood where the wash can sometimes look too blue or too magenta, and there is not much contrast between light and dark colours.
But it was this trait which caught the attention of the New York fashion scene when he moved there in 1999.
'Everyone liked my colour prints because they looked different, but I couldn't let anyone know I was colour blind,' he reveals at an interview at Royal Copenhagen Tea Lounge in Takashimaya last Thursday.
He adds: 'I didn't want them to feel stupid because they kept saying they liked my colour, while I didn't even know what colour it was.'
The 34-year-old Bedok-born boy is arguably Singapore's hottest photographic export ever. But lest you think his success is accidental, Clang will have you know that colour per se does not make or break a picture.
'I use colour to evoke a mood that is basically very calm and it feels good. The tonality of my prints is always very accurate. That's why I'm extremely good with black and white pictures, which I did a lot of in my early days.'
Another hallmark is his fetish for capturing a person's back on film. 'It's like I'm a voyeur, looking at them without them knowing I'm looking,' says Clang, adding that, as a child, he tailed attractive girls home just to gain a peek into their daily lives as he was too shy to talk to them.
Simply put, his images are often simple, sometimes awkward and, like his series of transposed images currently on show at The Substation, make one pause and stare in wonderment.
It comes as no surprise then that he is represented by Art and Commerce - the dream agency for all photographers, he says - which also represents big names like Annie Leibowitz and Steven Meisel.
Says Theseus Chan, 45, founder of Work Advertising and Clang's collaborator on Werk, a fashion and graphic design magazine: 'What came through from the beginning was John's uncompromising quality and vision. His success is a by-product of his talent and unyielding character, which are a lot more appreciated in a place like New York.'
Boy from Bedok
CLANG is a classic rags-to-riches story.
Raised in an HDB flat in Bedok, he now owns three apartments in downtown Manhattan, totalling US$3.2 million.
The Soho loft in which he lives screams minimalist chic. His soon-to-be upstairs neighbour is American hip-hop superstar Kanye West.