What lies behind social media fame? Photographer Naomi Wong meets TikTok star Mia Wells

Shooting the TikToker at her London home, the photographer digs into the reality of life in the limelight and the pleasure of putting an online star on paper.

26 March 2024

The photographer Naomi Wong isn’t on TikTok. But that hasn’t stopped her from creating a whole photo series and zine dedicated to one of the platform’s many stars: Mia Wells. Since the rise of TikTok, Naomi’s been intrigued by how fame on the platform might impact its stars, how they go about balancing two lives, one online and one offline, and how they deal with a sometimes scary level of interest in their personal lives. To answer such questions, Naomi met Mia in her London flat, where she photographed her in some of her favourite looks, and spoke to her all about life in the small-screen limelight.

Alongside her brilliant wardrobe, one of the things that first drew Naomi to the 22-year-old content creator was her presence. Growing up, Naomi recalls having very few East Asian figures in Western culture for her to look up to, bar the “legendary” Lucy Liu and Michelle Yeo. “I think representation is a lot better now, maybe because the internet is a lot more easily accessible with content creators and internet personalities,” says Naomi. “I was really fascinated by this fandom [Mia] has of teenage girls – particularly Asian girls – who admired her because there seemed to be such a strong connection with her interests and the way she expressed her style.”


Naomi Wong: Mia Wells (Copyright © Naomi Wong, 2024)

This interest in the online sphere is one that makes sense for Naomi – early social media was one of the first things to help her express herself creatively. As a young teenager growing up in Scunthorpe, when Naomi’s older sister came back from university she would bring back magazines like i-D, Dazed, and Super Super. “I remember seeing an old issue of i-D with Agyness Deyn on the cover and being quite overwhelmed and in awe of how different the imagery was,” says the now London-based Naomi. “They weren’t polished and over luxurious like more traditional fashion titles, they were candid, intimate and free – as if two friends were hanging out and taking pictures of each other.”

After taking A-Level photography and her mum buying her a Pentax Me Super, Naomi began “obsessively” taking pictures of friends and her first boyfriend, before uploading them all to Tumblr. Making many fellow photographer friends through the platform, Tumblr became a space of connection for Naomi, and one that helped her creativity flourish.

Much like the Agyness Deyn cover that first left Naomi awestruck, the photographer wanted her shoot with Mia to have an intimate and personal feel to it, which made Mia’s flat the perfect location. “We just hung out and talked throughout the shoot and in-between some outfit changes,” says Naomi. Mia styled herself for the whole shoot, gravitating toward pieces that she feels a “cultural connection” to, Naomi says. In fact, most of the pieces she’s wearing in the shoot are all by Asian designers. Some choices, however, were more spontaneous, like the inclusion of her large plushie collection and her bunny bonnet – inspired by her affinity for rabbits.

GalleryNaomi Wong: Mia Wells (Copyright © Naomi Wong, 2024)

Originally, the project was simply meant to exist as a series but when Naomi received the films back she knew she had to do something more with them. “I thought of the fan magazines I used to collect of artists and actors I loved as a kid in Hong Kong, ” says Naomi. The grain of the film imbues the zine with a nineties and early noughties quality, only exacerbated by the nostalgia evoked by Mia’s fashion choices. Naomi also noticed that there were few in-depth interviews with Mia online, and so conducted one herself, digging into her relationship with the internet, her influences, the meaning of her Chinese name and some of the pitfalls of fame – like people projecting their opinions onto her, without really knowing her. “For a girl so visibly on the internet, it was nice to put her on paper,” says Naomi. Answering one particularly fun question, Mia lists her (pretty eclectic) dream dinner guests: Sofia Coppola, Elizabeth II, Jennie Kim, Graham Norton, Jane Austen and Stanley Tucci.

After spending so much time with Mia, Naomi realised how well she had managed to balance her offline and online life, retaining a sense of identity, as well as protecting her confidence. The zine is far from a cautionary tale about being online, rather, it’s a call for others to reflect on how they perceive those in the limelight. “[It’s] a reminder to not form instant misconceptions about someone just because their life or appearance intrigues you,” Naomi ends. “I think because people on TikTok are more ‘real’ than the classic notion of a celebrity, we somehow feel more entitled to be closer to them because they seem more accessible. We really think we know them but we don’t, and that’s okay.”

GalleryNaomi Wong: Mia Wells (Copyright © Naomi Wong, 2024)

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Naomi Wong: Mia Wells (Copyright © Naomi Wong, 2024)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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