Photographer Benjamin Von Wong Turns a Shy Email into a Dream Come True

Photographers have the power to make dreams come true, and if you’ve ever doubted that statement you won’t after watching the video above and hearing the story behind it — a story that includes a sweet, sick woman’s shy email, and a photographer’s determination to come through no matter what.


The story begins with an email from 54-year-old Nicole to photographer Benjamin Von Wong‘s agent Suzy Johnston. The email was shy, sweet and self-deprecating. In it, Nicole revealed that she was “ill and not going to get better,” and asked if there was any way Ben could fit a photo shoot with her into his schedule.

“I’d like some photos taken of me by a really good photographer while I still have some weight on me,” she wrote. “I’d like to look beautiful or interesting. Anything but sick.” She sent the email expecting, at best, a polite no with undertones of “are you out of your freaking mind?”


What she got instead was a resounding yes, and a whirlwind two weeks during which Ben — with help from hair stylist Malina Tang and make-up artist Tamsen Rae, among others — met with Nicole and, in no uncertain terms, turned her dream into a reality.


With Ben’s permission, we’ve included the final photos throughout the article above, but you’ll want to watch the video and then head over to his blog to read the entire touching story for yourself. Just have tissues at the ready if you’re the emotional type… and maybe even if you’re not.

(via Fstoppers)

Image credits: Photographs by Benjamin Von Wong and used with permission.

  • edgar

    Those photos are great :) amazing imagination.

  • Tomas Ramoska

    Good Job. Love VonWong photography.

  • superduckz

    Inspirational in all the finest ways.

  • Sillama

    This is so wonderful! I’m very grateful to the folks who made her dream come true. I can see that this is how she wants to be remembered!

  • Mark Anthony Artes Sola


  • Saroya

    Thank you, Benjamin for the inspiring story. My heart and positive thoughts and energy go out to Nicole to battle her devils. Hang in there, sister!

  • madmax

    Great. A real photographer with sensibility and inspiration.

  • sober looks

    Wong has lots of time to do stuff like this. he doesn’t have many (none) paying clients as per his website. he’s doing the movie poster thing for fun it seems. and pushing the internet self promotion overdrive for workshop sales, like Kim and Polin. No clients, just hype = youtube photo pro.

  • Jen Brook

    I can confidently say ‘Wong’ has very little time to do stuff like this and the entire shoot was as emotionally hard as it was physically for all, with more time invested into Nicole’s story than this single day shoot. If you took the time to see beyond this ‘youtube photo pro hype’ then you’d know his success is down to a LOT of unpaid hard work and interest in those who have supported him. He has been in touch with Nicole beyond this shoot itself – personal support that goes on behind the scenes and beyond any form of hype or payment.

  • J

    Wong seems to be a great guy and definitely is a great photographer. A friend of mine had the opportunity to work with him and the shoot turned out… great!

  • Aezreth

    Why can’t anyone do anything unselfish anymore without turning it into a viral marketing campaign?

  • Jill00

    although Charles`s blog is impossible, I just received a great new Ariel Atom
    after having made $4710 this-past/month and-a little over, ten/k this past
    munth. this is actually the coolest job I’ve ever done. I began this 4 months
    ago and right

  • CurrentCo

    It’s extremely unselfish what Wong did for her. It’s also extremely smart, because being a business man, he’s used it as a situation where she can help him market himself as well. There’s nothing wrong with the two helping each other. I believe in a universal law of sowing and reaping. Doing something nice for someone else doesn’t mean you have to walk away without someone doing something nice for you, and in doing so doesn’t mean you cheapen the gift. I’m not talking about getting money, because what he used this for was marketing his business, which seems pretty smart don’t you think? And she didn’t seem to mind.

  • CurrentCo

    I think I remember reading on fstoppers a post about top tier commercial photogs, and how they realistically only have between 1 and 3 jobs a year. those jobs take months of planning and execution but usually sell in the 6 digit range. Also considering Wong hasn’t been in the celebrity photog arena for very long, I think he may actually be doing better than what it looks like. I’ve had the same thought perusing his website, but I also remember watching behind the scenes about the series with the bear sculpture things with fire around them; where they had to travel around Europe or something and it took a long time.

  • Aezreth

    I understand your point of view but I just don’t agree with it. To me, if you use the situation for self promotion it is no longer a selfless act of kindness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad the woman got the photos she wanted, I just don’t think the photographer is to be commended like he did this great altruistic thing, as it was clearly a business decision on his part.

  • George Mosomi

    one of my friends asked me to shoot her but I was too busy, only for her to die less than a year later of cancer :(

  • CurrentCo

    I suppose. I don’t see anything wrong with it from a business standpoint. Kinda like what coke is doing with the Philippines relief efforts…the story went viral and in a way, it’s turned into a big advertisement in and of itself. So I get where you’re coming from.

  • Rav

    totally Agree

  • Nicole Mackenzie

    Sober Looks. Nothing you have said about Ben Von Wong is correct. You’ve eaten some pretty sour grapes and why you have come to this ridiculous characterization of Ben is beyond my understanding. You have a problem, clearly. The only thing preventing me from blasting you into the stratosphere with my opinion regarding your post is my respect for ‘Wong’. He is one of the most extraordinary artists I have ever met, and I know quite a few. There is nobody else I would have entrusted my story with. He has made me very happy. His work with me had NOTHING to do with self-promotion, you idiot. Oops. Sorry. Must keep this civil. His work is beautiful. His work is inspiring. How terrible it is that he finds joy in what he does! How despicable it is that he works for days with little sleep, because he’s passionate about what he does and – GASP – that he has fun with it! He is a VERY busy man and ah, perhaps this is what you don’t understand – he is a man with compassion. I could go on but I realize it would be a waste of my time. Nicole Mackenzie.

  • Nicole

    “She” is me. Do you think this was easy for me? For Ben? For his team? What’s wrong with you guys! Ben and I are not “helping each other”. He is an artist. He took my pictures. He let me tell my story. WE decided it might be good to put it out there because…. drum roll… maybe we could show that the journey doesn’t have to be sad. Yes, the story was shared. It was picked up by some sites. Was that the goal? Absolutely not. Do not talk about my being sick and this professional photographer taking pictures, working his a** off to make them special FOR ME, as some kind of marketing ploy.

  • Nicole

    1. You are clear on nothing but I’m happy to help you. You have no idea why this artist chose to help “the woman” be photographed.
    2. Let me make this perfectly clear. This was ABSOLUTELY a selfless act of kindness. If you’re unsure of what I have just written, re-read that sentence one hundred times. It was also fun for the photographer and for his client, me. Everything happened as Ben wrote in his blog. It was a great project!
    3. There would have been the pictures, there would have been a blog post even if less than 100 viewed the pictures. This is how the photographer shares his work. It did not go viral. As far as I’m concerned, Ben’s work was Shared and other sites picked it up because the photos, the concept, are great.
    4. Did you read anywhere that Ben said he did an altruistic thing? Did he blatantly self-promote this particular shoot? ANY shoot?
    Please, if you’re reading this then you are photographers. Don’t condemn a peer’s actions when you have no idea what you’re talking about. You know what you DON’T understand? If you had written Von Wong, if you had expressed these thoughts/concerns directly to him, he would have answered you. How sad that you chose the behind the back approach.

  • Nicole

    George, please don’t be sad. “Busy” happens! I was lucky that Von Wong re-arranged his schedule to squeeze me in. But if he could not have done that, if today I did not have those beautiful pics, it would have been fine. Pictures capture moments. She was already your friend; you had moments. :-) Maybe one day you’ll have another opportunity to take photos of someone who wants pictures of themselves “just because” so if that happens, have fun with it. You’ll be paying it forward for your friend who passed away. I’m sorry you’re feeling badly, and that you lost a friend. But please believe me, being ill doesn’t mean that life has to be suddenly all or nothing. Of course I can’t speak for her, but I’m pretty sure she understood “busy” and though she may have been disappointed, it was ok.

  • CurrentCo

    Wait, what? I think you misunderstood me. I’m happy for you guys. I’m stoked for you, that he did that for you. It’s incredible. I was trying to point out to “Aezareth” there that he was being stupid and not properly assessing what happened the right way, without being a jerk. It’s undeniable that the story has gone viral, and as a byproduct, helped showcase his business. however, I didn’t mean to state that this was a marketing ploy, nor did I ever think that it was intended to be. I would love the chance to give that kind of gift to someone, and I plan on doing it in the near future. Not as a marketing ploy, but because I like to be kind to other humans just as much as you do. The fact that the viral videos helps his business was “aezareth’s” complaint. I was simply trying to introduce a concept that nobody was doing anything wrong here.
    There’s no need to get so defensive, I wish you all the best.

  • Nicole

    CurrentCo: I’m sorry. Truly. The comments shocked me so much last night because frankly, it was so difficult to put the story out there and I, personally, never even considered that anyone would think Ben’s work, my story, subsequent shares, were marketing ploys. But mea culpa for sure! I was most certainly defensive and I’m sorry I reacted so strongly. I’m not attempting to right a wrong but I should have made it clear that I was reacting mostly to “aezareth”‘s comment. Thank you for your response because it gave me a chance to apologize to you. Yup, you can’t get more defensive than I was last night, that’s for sure! I’m staying away from the internet for a while! Sorry, CurrentCo, you didn’t deserve my anger. A very contrite Nicole.