Interview: Hours of Gold – Kris Vervaeke

In this interview, Hon Hoang talks to Kris Vervaeke, a portrait, commercial, and street Photographer.

Physical exploration abroad can bring about much left unexplored within one’s own mind. Many questions that people are not confronted with are presented to the foreground as we move across the globe, finding ourselves in different yet familiar places. Observing those that breathe the same air and bleed the same blood yet noticing the subtleties and idiosyncrasies that make us unique. The ability to observe and even admire these quirks are necessary as a North Star for most photographers. Guiding them towards their subjects and creating stories through images. Photographer Kris Vervaeke presents his work with realism yet accompanies it with a tinge of wonder as he’s guided by this sense of direction.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

Just taking a few snap shots here and there during my travels when working for a steel company. Nothing special.

China Factory
China Factory

Whether through formal education or self-taught, how did you develop your style as a photographer? Are there any photographers that influence you in particular?

After many years working in an industrial environment, I switched careers completely. Did some evening school and I’m still self-teaching me with every experience. Photography is what I do now. I think I developed my style by just wandering around, looking and trying out different things.

Some old and classics: e.g. Cartier-Bresson and August Sander,  Lee Friendlander.  Martin Parr, Alec Soth,  also  Larry Sultan. Kadir Van Lohuizen, Misrach… but I also can get inspired by some starting photographers.

China Factory
China Factory

 

Being born in Belgium, what is it like to photograph people native to your country compared to the projects you take on abroad?

To be honest I have not really photographed many Belgians yet… and if so it would not be that different I assume. I probably will adjust in some details here and there but in general, the way I approach and connect with the street and with people would be the same.

 

You spent 13 years living throughout Asia. What can you tell me about your first year there and how did it compare to your last?

As I was just new in the photography business with no experience, I started with variety of small jobs from shooting 1500 wine bottles to silly portraits for a little local magazine. With each job I learned more and added on experience. Over the years you get to know the region better and I started doing more personal projects towards the end.

6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities

Can you tell me a bit about your House Full of Gold series? How did the project start?

The title refers to the name of a fortune tellers booth. When living in Hong Kong, I visited this temple taking pictures of the Chinese New Year rush. This is when I first saw those fortune tellers in the back building and became interested with them. I didn’t pursue any images with the fortune tellers at the time, but it always was in the back of my mind.

House Full of Gold

A unique place of worship and wishes, 160 fortune tellers concentrated in one building, neatly lined up in tiny offices; waiting for customers to come by for good fortune. They invite you in their little sanctuaries, stacked to the roof with knowledge and paper and history. They read from ancient shading books, from the cracks of your smile and from the shape of your jaws. They juggle with jostle sticks and birth day numbers and find the future in your hands and forehead while you sit on hard wooden chairs. I found myself going back many times. I started talking to them and eventually had my hand and face read by some. This gave me a better understanding of these fortune tellers and the traditional art of fortune telling. It made me want to document this unique place.

House Full of Gold

So I started to take portraits of the fortune tellers and their empty booths when they did not want to be photographed. It is only later on that I decided to do something with it. That year I participated at a photography workshop organized by Magnum. I wanted to re-create these rows of fortune tellers and the bizarre atmosphere that is at the same time religious, superstitious, carnival, shopping mall, historic site, temple and theme park, all packed in one. Allowing you to see the shops and its interior from the outside makes you a visitor choose your fortune teller. I also included detail images of the interior , plus quotes of the fortune tellers about my own fortune.

House Full of Gold

Are there any particular moments or stories from this project that has stayed with you?

When doing the interviews, one fortune teller said ‘Once I told a customer she would become a prostitute and she did. I’m not sure if my prediction led her into it.’ I smiled, sometimes people put too much trust in others. As mentioned for this project I had my hand and face read several time . One fortune teller (an ex fireman) advised me ‘OK, Mr. Kris , you pay first’ ‘You have long ears. You can be famous, but you are stubborn. Keep good Feng Shui. This year, put some fresh flowers every day at the north side wall in your house. This will help you become famous’. Well, I tried this but it did not help. Another one said ‘Your career is like a river, like it cannot stop. At 65 you’ll still have a career.’ So now I guess I’ll keep my faith in that one…

House Full of Gold
House Full of Gold

 

Do you have an image in mind before you take a photograph? How much do you allow the moment and your emotions to dictate the direction compared to what you have planned?

I work very intuitively. I often find my inspiration in daily life or on the street. I like to take pictures of what I think is somehow intriguing, bizarre, senseless, curious or surreal. Sometimes it is so bluntly ordinary that I find it becomes queer, daft or surprisingly entertaining. For my new project where I take images of objects in a studio I do have the image in mind and work with more structure.

 

How much of yourself do you put into your photographs? What is it about your subject that makes you want to create a photograph?

Unconsciously I put a lot of myself in my photographs. I see subjects, I see stories. With an eye toward storytelling, I use my camera to take you to some strange and wonderful places that you may not experience in your own day-to-day life. I love to make photo stories that capture some of the humanity and goofiness I discover.

6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore or are currently working on?

My personal work tends toward in-depth projects that become books and exhibitions Currently I’m working on a project called ’98 objects found in my mother-in-law’s-basement’ I photograph objects found in people’s basements. A surprising collection of prosthetic devices, dysfunctional tools, tooth brushes, 20-year-old cans of food, old toaster, decapitated toys, to a single shoe. Through these kept items a portrait of an era emerges, everyday objects as a capsule of time of society

 

If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I should have started with photography much earlier…

6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Follow your instinct, don’t be afraid to throw yourself into it and own your project. It’s advice I still need to give myself.

 

House Full of Gold

Photos Courtesy of Krisver Vaeke

www.krisvervaeke.com

Instagram: @krisverv

Editor’s Showcase: Faces of Khlongtoey – Tim Russell

Name:
Tim Russell
Submission Title:
Faces of Khlongtoey
Country:
Thailand
Photographer Bio:
Originally from Coventry in the UK, I’ve been in Bangkok since 2012, prior to which I lived in Vietnam for just short of a decade. I’ve been a keen amateur photographer since about 2009, and am particularly keen on street and travel photography.
Submission Information:
Home to over 100,000, and a no-go area for many more others, Khlongtoey (aka Khlong Toey, Khlong Toei) is one of the last remaining parts of ‘Old Bangkok’ within the central business district. There has been a port here since the late 1930s, and people from all over Thailand – and beyond – have flocked here ever since to live and work, many of them living in tiny shacks within easy reach of the port and market. This is the Khlong Toey ‘slum’, as it’s locally known, and which I put in inverted commas as it’s not really a fair description – it’s certainly not as squalid as the slums you’d find in, say, Mumbai or Manila, and most of its residents are as houseproud as their circumstances allow. But nevertheless it is a marked contrast to the nearby skyscrapers and shopping malls of Sukhumvit and Silom, an area of poverty, drugs, crime and ill-health that Bangkokians tend to avoid, seeing it only from the flyover that passes above the shacks. This project began with my first visit to the slums in 2015, following several visits to the market. I’d begun following the local football team – Port FC – in 2014, most of whose fans come from Khlong Toey, and their friendliness convinced me that a visit to the slums might not be as bad an idea as one might think. And I was right – yes, I found an area that was poor, run down, even squalid in places, but I also found the friendliest people I’ve met anywhere in the city; people always happy to have a chat, pose for photographs, and share their drinks with me (usually beer or Thai whisky). Since that first visit I’ve been back at least 40-50 times, either on my own or escorting visiting photographers, and that first impression has never changed – I’m always made welcome. Sadly, the news for Khlong Toey’s residents is not good, with the area due to be levelled to be replaced by yet more condos and shopping malls within the next couple of years, and the locals moved out to who knows where. To better conditions perhaps, but at the expense of what strikes me as a strong community spirit and an area that, for all its negative points, has bags of character. I’ve set up this website to put my favourite Khlong Toey images in one place and to show another side to the area, one that will hopefully persuade others to visit and experience this unique part of Bangkok before it disappears for good.

Editor’s Showcase: Living Landscapes – Shafqat Nabi

Name:
Shafqat Nabi
Submission Title:
Living Landscapes
Country:
India
Photographer Bio:
I am a freelance documentary and commercial photographer based in Delhi and Kashmir.‌ I belong to a middle-class Muslim family where choosing photography was a stigma at some point in time, but I chose it against the will of my parents. Now that times have changed, my parents think about photography as a respectable profession. I have worked with local newspapers and online magazines as a photojournalist in Kashmir. Right now, I am working as a commercial freelance photographer in Delhi. I cover e-commerce, events, weddings, advertisements, and interior shoots, besides my personal projects.
Submission Information:
The Living Landscapes is a project dedicated to my people and my Motherland which has suffered so much due to the ever growing power struggle inside and outside its borders. I want to bring to the world the untold stories of the unseen lands, where people are moulded and enriched by the beauty and love around them, not by violence and despair.

Interview: Families of the Dump (Forgotten Laughter) – Gerry Yaum

The internet is saturated with one article after another that requires our undivided attention, attention that is few and far between in the digital age. This article and interview will contribute to such saturation, but it is well worth the time to read for the stories photographer Gerry Yaum provides and the work he does for the Families of the Dump.
The interview is about Yaum and his decade long project in Mae Sot, Thailand, documenting the Burmese refugees that call the dump home. The project consists of his charity work and photography.

Photographer Bio:

Self Taught social documentary photographer and security guard.

Submission Information:

A BRIEF HISTORY “Families of the Dump”

My social documentary photography project “Families of the Dump” dates back to 2013. In 2013 after viewing a CNN story on YouTube I learnt of Burmese refugee families who were living in a garbage dump in Mae Sot Thailand. I had been searching for an important very human story to tell. The families in the dump became for me that very important, life-changing story.

In the vicinity of the Mae Sot dump approximately 100 families who have escaped Burma (Myanmar) live and work. The people are mostly from the Mon and Karen ethic groups but there are also other groups in the population. They have escaped Burma for economic and or political reasons. Many families working the garbage in Mae Sot have experienced war and extensive human rights abuses. Life in the garbage is a better choice for them, a better option than where they came from. They can work everyday, make money and build better lives in Thailand at the dump than they could back home in Burma.

At the Mae Sot dump all types recyclable goods are of value, plastics, bottles, cardboard, metals etc. Everything is dug out of the waste and then resold to local buyers based on weight and quality. Everyday the people, sometimes-entire families including children and the elderly come out into the garbage to scavenge. Food is often taken out of the waste, raw meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, foods of all types, everything of value is used.

The families either live in shacks directly on the garbage, or next to it. Many of the photographs in this presentation were made in the homes the people live in, sometimes up to 9 human beings in a single dump shack.

My first trip to Mae Sot and the dump of the families was in April/May 2013. I took a second trip in 2013, another in 2015, 2016 and a 6-month trip in 2017-2018. Over that time period I have visited the dump over 100 times. The work has been both photographic and donation in nature (please see end section for the donation work).

Website or Social Media Links:

https://www.facebook.com/gerry.yaum (to follow his documentation of donations spent)

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

I started in photography when I was 14, after taking a darkroom class in my shop education course. After high school, I tried to get into a college photography program, but was rejected two years in a row. I got angry and frustrated so I decided to do it alone. Making the kind of pictures I wanted to make. If a school would not accept me then I would teach myself. 

When I was 21, I took all my cameras and darkroom gear, borrowed my parent’s motorhome, and drove from Edmonton to Vancouver, Canada before heading South into the United Stated for 6 months of picture making. I ended up photographing in an African American ghetto in Oakland, California. Met many friends there, people who lived in a completely different culture, and with very different life experiences than my own. 

For me, it was a life changing event. I learned so much. I photographed the jazz scene there as well as heroin users and ex San Quentin convicts. It was a real eye opening experience for a naive 21 year old white boy from Canada. That 6 month trip cemented the way I would do things in the future, gave me a working method to make photographs. 

There was another 6 month US trip 5 years later. Later in life there would be a  3 month, 10 month, 1 year and 6 month long trips to Thailand. I just worked whatever job I could, saved money, when I had enough, I dropped everything and went to make my pictures!

 

What do you do for work? How does this work affect your photography?

For the last 25 years I have been working as a night time security guard. Gerry Yaum is a pseudonym, the made up name Yaum means security guard in Thai. 

The good part of being a guard is that you have plenty of free time during the night to study. I can read art biographies, browse photography books, clean my camera gear, roll bulk film etc. One of the most important things I do during my security nightshifts is to study languages. I have learned to speak a fair amount of Thai and to read and write a bit. Language is key when it comes to doing social documentary photography. You can build friendships and build trust when you can speak directly with your subjects. I am now trying to learn Burmese so I can speak to the people at the dump. 

Most importantly, working night security allows me to plan my photo projects. I can think things out, work on ideas, get everything settled in my mind. 

Tell me a bit about your project, how did it get started? How did you learn about this community?

Well now you got me going, I can talk all night and on about ‘Families of the Dump”.  I started to photograph inside Thailand way back in 1996. Initially, I was photographing the night scene in Thailand. Mostly concentrating on sex workers who worked with Western sex tourists. I did a series of portraits with female, male and transgender (ladyboy) workers. After doing that work on and off for around 15 years I was burned out and needed to go in a new direction. I then left the bar world to photograph in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum. This was a series of portraits done of people in Klong Toey, their lives, their stories. 

In 2012, I was working as a night security guard looking for another subject to photograph. I wanted to tell an important story, a story of good people who had been forgotten. Not only that, I wanted to do photographs that could help the people in the pictures. So I looked online, and searched for ideas through out my security nights.

In an Asian newspaper story, I found an article about people in Siem Riep, Cambodia, working in a garbage dump. I thought that might be what I was searching for. I have been to Cambodia several times, but do not speak much Khmer. I thought, “maybe I can do this type of photographs somewhere in Thailand.” The idea being that I could then speak Thai to my subjects, learn about their lives, explain why I was making photos, build trust, make friends, etc. So I did a search on ‘Thailand garbage dumps’ and up popped Mae Sot and the families who work there. The strange thing about this story is of course that very few people in the dump speak Thai, the family members all speak Burmese and their own particular dialect depending on what ethnic group they are from, Karen, Mon, etc. Probably less than 10% of the people in the dump speak any Thai. So when I got to the dump, my Thai was sort of useless. I have been trying (‘trying’ being the key word) to learn Burmese ever since.

The project is basically my interpretation of the lives the families live in the garbage. We work together making the pictures and later on I show the work and tell the stories, on my blog, on my social media and in exhibitions at galleries and other sites like libraries. The photos, people seeing the pictures lead to all the donation work that is now being done. 

My first trips to the dump in April and November of 2013, I would just hand out bags of food to different dump shacks, 2 or 3 bags each trip. Over time that evolved into much more. At the company where I work security, I showed the pictures to my coworkers and they started to donate hats, toys, clothing and money. So I started to take and distribute those things in the food bags. Later people started to give me money. With the donated money I would buy rubber boots, more rice, and other food goods to hand out to the families. With more money donations we (myself and the donators) started to buy headlamps, some basic medicines and a better quality boots for the families. In 2017-18 we did over $4000 CAD in donations, this coming trip I have $1630 CAD that I will use to buy goods to donate. For me, this is all a dream come true. The photos have led to direct help for the people in the pictures, as it should be.

From your years working on this project, what are some stories that have stayed with you? What do you take away from these moments?

On my 3rd  day in the dump, near a group of dump shacks, an older Burmese mother said something to me in Burmese, then placed her fingers together side by side. I had no idea what she was talking about about, she then repeated the strange hand gesture a second time with more Burmese talk, which I still did not understand. I smiled, nodded and walked away to do  some dumpscapes down the road with my 4×5 camera. As I was making those photographs I looked back and saw a table had been setup up on the roadway. Curious, I headed back. There were people gathered round and a young couple dressed in their best clothes. The woman was wearing a pink jacket shirt, with a long golden skirt, she had beautiful fresh flowers in her hair. Next to her a man was wearing a clean white long sleeved shirt and a traditional Burmese blue Longyi (a cloth tied at the waste and worn as a long skirt). I realized that this was a wedding and the pressed fingers gesture represented marriage, a joining of a man and woman becoming husband and wife. The husband was 17, the wife 15. I made pictures, donated some money to the new couple and shared the small amount of food and drink (shared hot chocolate) provided. It turned into a great time. I lent the family my point and shoot digital camera and they made a series of pictures of each other. Family photos while standing in front of the walls of dump garbage. When I returned to Canada I had the images printed up and then later in November 2013 during a return dump visit, I handed out the wedding photographs. As you can well imagine the pics were a big hit! Loved by all, smiles everywhere. 

One early morning that first year in the dump I was photographing with a 4×5 camera on a tripod. An hour or so in I heard lots of yelling, there was just this sudden unexplained panic then everyone in the dump was gone. They all ran for cover and had disappeared into dump shacks or the nearby sugar cane field. It was surreal, the whole event only took seconds.  In a flash all the people in the open were gone, all the people that had been working disappeared. I had no idea what was going on, I just stood there with my camera looking stupid, trying to figure out what to do next. I asked myself, “What was happening?” Figuring I better get my ass out of there, I grabbed all my gear, put the 4×5 on my shoulder and stumbled over to the nearby sugarcane field hiding area with the others. I stood there with an old man I knew a bit and he just shook his head he said in English “Burma!” then shook his head again. Then I heard it, the sound of a helicopter in the far distance (the Myanmar-Burmese border is very near to the garbage dump).  I had not realized it before but it was quite loud now. Everyone had run away from that sound, the sound of helicopters frightened everyone. I was never quite sure what happened but I think this is the story. The people in the dump thought the Burmese military were coming across the border in a chopper to get them! What you have to understand is many of these people are escaping mass murder, rape, war and loss. Many of the people in the dump have experienced genocide. That noise triggered something from their jointly held past, and they just ran in fear without thinking. After a few minutes the helicopter noise went away and everyone returned to work. It was as if nothing had happened. I started to take pictures again with a new insight into what these peoples past lives were like.

During my last trips to to make photographs at the dump in 2017-2018, I spent about 4 months photographing the dump at night. The photos in your selection are from that time period. I would walk the garbage all night while the families worked, making pictures, always looking for photos, trying to tell the story as best I could. This one time I was making photos, standing in complete darkness as usual, the only light coming from the headlamps of the people working. Suddenly, I felt something grab my left hand. I looked down and there was a bald young girl (children have their heads shaved because of the lice problem), maybe 5 or 6 looking back up at me and smiling. She just held my hand tightly and just looked up at me. It was a very simple and very beautiful thing, I will never forget it. We walked around the dump for 10 minutes before she let go. I then continued to make pictures. I do not know who she was, but it is one of those moments that sticks with me. It is one of the the reasons I go back to the dump again and again. I feel an obligation to return, a duty to try and help that anonymous young child who held my hand. 

 

 

Do you still see the same families when you go back?

That is the best part of the whole social documentary photography process. Because you become so involved in the lives of your subjects you see them over and over again, this happens for years on end. When I did my series of portraits on sex workers in Pattaya Thailand, I photographed many different workers over many different years, it is the same with “Families of the Dump”. Most of the family members know me by name because we have established long term relationships. One example, is from that  earlier wedding story. I photograph that same couple every trip, first in 2013 at their wedding and every trip since. I now have photographed 2 of their children, this coming trip when I return to the dump in a few days I expect to be photographing their 3rd child. Of course some people leave and new families come in, but for over the 6 years I have been photographing at the dump I have established long term relationships with dozens and dozens of people, so many people I have lost count. 

Being able to photograph family members over many years, to be able to photograph the children as they grow up is a wonderful experience, it connects you to everyone on a much deeper and personal level. You remember that little girl as a baby, you remember that older person when they were still healthy and strong, you see the different family members interact and work together for years. Longevity, continuance in photographic works adds depth and nuance to everything. It is the only way to do things in my opinion, it adds so much richness to everything.

 

When people donate, how do these funds help? 

Yes, yes and YES! There is no waste, no administration costs, 100% of the money goes for goods that are then donated to the families. It is a simple process. I go to an ATM machine in Mae Sot, I then go buy what is needed at local stores and markets. I buy headlamps, rubber boots, rice, food goods, over the counter medicines, working tools, treats for the kids (lollipops, cookies) and I haul it all on my rented  motorbike (I pay for the bike out of my security guard money) out to the dump and hand it out directly to the families. Your hand, to my hand to their hands. No BS, no waste. 

I can speak Thai well enough to negotiate good deals with the Thai folks selling goods at the markets. In fact sometimes when the Thai market sellers see what I am doing they actually donate some free things of their own, usually for the dump kids, hats, balloons etc. What I have found is that if you give freely, if you help others yourself, if your heart is in the right place, others will join in, they jump on the bandwagon and help. People are usually good, you just need to give them a chance to be good. 

I should also mention I document everything, I make photos of the bought goods, of the handouts to the people.  I also do videos if I have time. Everything is on the up and up, I try to make things as transparent as I can, 100% of the money raised through donations is handed out in goods.

The donation money raised is a combination of money donated by friends and by money I raise through my work as a security guard or through my artist talks at galleries. I also try to donate my artist fees from any exhibitions I get as well. So it becomes the perfect circle of art life. I make the photos in the dump, the photos are exhibited, the money from the photos being exhibited and the money donated by people who see the pictures goes directly back to the people in the photographs. So making photos creates funds to buy boots and headlamps for the “Families of the Dump”. IT IS PERFECT!

Link for donations

 

As a photographer, how do you engage with these families? Do you get to know them before you take the first photograph? 

I take things slow and easy, return again and again to establish trust, friendships and long term relationships. The people in the dump are escaping all kinds of personal suffering. The last thing they need is some smart ass rich western white guy who is dragging around 4 Leica cameras making pictures. So I try to build things up slowly over an extended period of time.

Now 6 years in, it is quite easy to photograph at the dump for me. Most everyone knows the deal, knows why I am taking photos. Many folks see it as a collaborative effort to tell their story, most people at the dump trust me now. We work together as a team. The only time there might be an issue is with new families who do not know me. Then it is a matter of them getting used to me and the cameras. I get positive comments and support from the established folks, they all talk amongst themselves. It is a karma thing, if you’re good, positives comes back at you, if you’re a selfish SOB, that comes back at you too. Because of past actions lots of good karma comes my way, I am very lucky.

Many photographer types just show up at the dump, take stuff for themselves and never give back. Always felt that type of photography was so selfish and predatory. I wanted to take my photos of course, it is what drives me but I also wanted to give back. So when I first arrived back in April of 2013, the first thing I did before making my first picture was hand out 3 bags of food to some of the dump shacks. Only then did I start to very slowly photograph.

I never take photos unless I have permission. If someone does not want to be photographed, then fine, I will move on with a smile. It is so important to treat everyone with the proper respect. To follow their wishes. To not exploit their situation for your personal benefit. That relates back to the Yaum name thing I mentioned earlier. The reason I came up with the name YAUM is that I never wanted my real name on a wall, getting my real name on a wall in a gallery is of no importance, who cares. It always seemed to me to be a bit exploitive to use your real name up there beside the pictures. All I want to do is tell the stories, tell the people’s stories, that is VERY important to me, the rest does not matter. My simple photography philosophy is, treat everyone you photograph with complete respect, give back as much as you can, and tell their stories not yours.

 

 

What is your process like when you take photographs? Do you have a goal in mind or do you wander until something catches your eye?

I have ideas all the time. One of the good things about being a security guard on nights is that you have a lot of time to think and plan. It is amazing how much planning you can do during 7 straight 12 hour night shifts in snowy, freezing Canada. So during work shifts I create all kinds of goals, have all kinds of gear thoughts, make all kinds of photo series plans.  

While on site, I try my best to do my Cartier-Bresson ‘decisive moment’ thing but I also work very hard at achieving my goals. Hard work makes up for lots of screwups. What I try to do is capture the ‘heart’ of things. The visual moment that tells the story in the deepest and most personal way. Of course that is easier said than done, but I do my best. Like I said earlier most of what I do accomplish is simply a matter of hard work, not giving up and pushing through my countless mistakes.

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore?

I have many ideas on the go, the one that comes immediately to mind is “KANATA”.

“KANATA” is a long term 10 year project I plan to do in Canada. It will be a series of landscapes and portraits using the traditional wet plate collodium process.

“KANATA” (the indigenous people world from the Cree language for Canada) will be a series of landscapes and portraits done across all of Canada. Canada is the second largest country in the world, most places I have not visited. I want to tell the story of what Canada is through photography. I plan on using 8×10, 11×14, 16×20 and even a super large 35×35 inch view cameras for this series.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell young photographers to make the kind of pictures they want to make regardless of any other factors. Simply put, follow your dreams. If you need to work other jobs to make only the type of non paying photographs you want to make, then do that! Only by following your heart and throwing yourself into your own personal photography can you be truly happy. For me, I became content in life when I made the decision to follow that path. Chase your own type of photographs down, have the courage, have the  strength to follow your dreams and to create your own personal beauty. You will never regret it.

Photobook: Impermanence – South Korea in Portraits and Photographs

Name
Hon Hoang
Submission Title
Impermanence – South Korea in Portraits and Photographs
Country
South Korea

The process of producing a photo book can be difficult and intimidating. Most of us wouldn’t know where to start and even more difficult, we wouldn’t know where to end. This is the 3rd revision of my photo book and one of the most important things that got me to this point was making the book available for feedback.

One of the most common feedbacks I had was that the photo book is “bulky” or “daunting.” That the sheer size of the book dilutes the impact of more interesting photographs. I had to let this project sit for awhile, putting it aside so the photographs feel more like a distant memory. This was necessary, I found it difficult to omit certain photographs, they all felt important because of the memories I attributed to them. Objectivity is important when editing your own work, it may not fit the criteria of a good photograph or contribute to the larger body of work, but there is a desire for it to be seen all the same. It is important to learn to overlook that desire and focus on the project as a whole.

The time away from the photographs was helpful, it became easier to edit aggressively without feelings of guilt and anxiety for omitting images once seen as important. I feel like there is more work to be done before this project ever goes to print, if ever. For now, please enjoy the free digital download of the entire book.

If you like, hate, or have any suggestions on how to make the book better, please comment below. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

 


 

From August 2016 to August 2017, I lived in South Korea. I traveled throughout the country trying to encapsulate what I saw and how I felt through portraits and photographs. As a result, I created Impermanence: South Korea in Portraits and Photographs.

This photo book presents my experience as a visitor to a country in flux, showing the rapidly evolving culture and landscape of South Korea.

View the photo book below or click here to view and download Impermanence.

 

Interview: Affect Effect – Yoon Jeong Vin

In this interview, Hon Hoang interviews Yoon Jeong Vin, a street Photographer from South Korea currently in Kuwait. 

The original interview was featured in Enflight.Design on November, 2017. It is now being featured on Asia Photo Review.

There’s a lot that goes into making a photograph. People consider concepts such as composition, colors or lack there of, lighting, etc. But what often seems to be forgotten are the emotions. Emotions felt at the moment, captured and confined within a frame. Something that is felt and is not as quantifiable when calculating the construction of an image. It’s more about the moments and sensations in life that makes you want to turn it into a frozen still as oppose to the elements of design that are in front of you.

In this interview, Yoon Jeong Vin speaks about his work, travels, and the emotions involved in capturing photographs.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

Since early 2015, I had a desire to get into photography to give an emotional expression, but I didn’t know what was an essential point of that feeling until seeing photos by great photographers like Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, etc.

I realized that the small details make a great picture. At that moment I tried to find my way.

What do you do for work? How does this work affect your photography?

In my previous job, I would get a two week vacation every four months, and it’s not easy to get a vacation like this if you work in Korea.

Then there was a time where I worked at an overseas plant construction site. During this a period, I could concentrate more on myself.

How did you begin your photography career? Do you remember a moment when you realized that this is what you wanted to pursue?

In the beginning of 2016, I had enough time to quit my job and go where I wanted to go. From that time, I traveled with a focus on photography.

I participated in a photo workshop and began to think about why I take pictures. Maybe this is the beginning. I started to have a great interest in establishing a relationship visually with places and people.

Where were you born and where did grow up? Did these early life experiences affect you and your photography in any way?

I was born in a small mountain village in Korea. So it seems that I have always had a longing for a big city.

Last year, when I selected a place to travel to and stay in Korea, I shot the scenery and people of big cities.

You travel often to many cities around the world, what is it that you’re trying to capture when you go to a new destination?

I draw a big picture and arrive at a travel destination, but sometimes I change my mind while staying somewhere. Before I went to India, I was attracted to famous pictures I had seen in the past.

After staying for a few days and concentrate on my daily life in a big city. In the end, what I want to shoot is more like the feeling I feel after arriving at the scene.

How do you blend in so your subjects don’t react to you and your camera?

I mainly make snapshots. Or, take a shot first before talking to a subject, or take a shot at a sudden situation. Staying in the same space for a while seems to reduce the alertness.

What is your process like when you take photographs? Do you have a goal in mind or do you wander until something catches your eye?

In the past, I took pictures based on my interests and traveling to new places. Nowadays, I shoot the same place many times. I do not want to deal with a huge situation when I take pictures. I shoot if I have something that makes me feel different from other things. I think photography is another expression of dreams.

What inspires you and your work? Are there any photographers that influence you in particular?

I get inspiration through various medias. Music, movies, paintings, etc, there are no restrictions. I like the pictures of modern photographers of Magnum homepage and Instagram. (e.g. Garry Winogrand, Trent Parke, David Alan Harvey, Christopher Anderson, Maciej Dakowicz etc. so many)

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore?

I want to show contrast between the big African cities and the surrounding area. I want to repeatedly capturing and collecting images of what I see around me.

How much of the tension and emotions of a situation affect your photography?

I want to express it with a picture when the subject and I have a sense of tension. Using color and light.

What was the most tense moment you have experienced? What did you do in this situation?

The sight of a man full of tattoos in Bangkok’s alleyway caught me by surprise. I got permission to take his picture, I shot it, but this guy did not laugh afterwards.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

This advice is for me not for others. I take pride in taking the idea that I am the best photographer in the world. Do not hesitate.

Photos courtesy of Yoon Jeong Vin

Editor’s Showcase: Emilio Espejel

Title: The Island of White Foxes 
By Emilio Espejel
Location: Himeshima Island, Japan

Obon is a Japanese custom honoring the spirits of ancestors that normally takes place from August 13 to 15. It’s one of the biggest family reunion holidays in which people return to their hometown to welcome their dead relatives to their home after visiting the graveyard. Bon-Odori, a dance with neighbors is the main event of this festival and it used to be the biggest leisure for Japanese until the 50s. Celebration in Himeshima island it’s different from the rest, Implementing color and customs to dance as a unique way of personality from the residents of this town.

Now, this tradition is fading away among young generations, that find attractive other activities than participating in the island dance. This place is decreasing inhabitant numbers making harder than a big amount of people participates in the activities.

Photographer Bio:
Emilio Espejel is a Mexican Photojournalist based in Mexico City, he started at the age of 20 to cover social and political issues reflected on his country, now in days, his work is focused on daily life and breaking news, culture and traditions in his homeland and the world. He contributes for agencies as Redux Pictures, Associated Press, Getty Images and diverse web media.

Media Link:

https://www.emilioespejel.com/

https://www.instagram.com/emilio_espejel/

Interview: Sights and Sounds of Tokyo – Tatsuo Suzuki

In this interview, Hon Hoang interviewed Tatsuo Suzuki, a street and portrait Photographer from Tokyo Japan. Thank you to Tatsuo Suzuki for the permission and use of his photographs.

The original interview was featured in Enflight.Design on September, 2017. It is now being featured on Asia Photo Review with updates from Tatsuo Suzuki. Since I last spoke to Suzuki, he has progressed to shooting portraits based on his street photography. 

 

Photography is more than capturing what is seen. It’s about the emotions, sights and sounds of the moment. No city is a better place to capture these elements than Tokyo, Japan. Home to photographer Tatsuo Suzuki.

He is known for his captivating photographs of everyday life in Tokyo. The claustrophobic sense of inhabiting the busy and noisy city is captured through his camera lenses. The murmurs of passing conversations, unsynchronized footsteps of people with different deadlines, the sounds of daily life reverberates and echoes in his photographs. These mundane moments are filled with sounds and emotions, portraying the people that call the city home.

You started taking photographs in 2008, how have you changed since that time? Has your photography been affected by this?

Yes, of course there has been changes. In the early days, I shot the river, night views of factories, the sea, etc. I didn’t know what I should mainly shoot.

However, I felt that pictures of people taken by chance were best. So gradually, I shot the street day after day. I found people interesting.

What is it like to live in Tokyo? How does the city and your emotions affect your photography?

It feels normal because I was born in Tokyo. Since I was 18, I live in Tokyo and Yokohama.

I was originally shy and nervous, but it changed greatly when I encountered the punk rock scene in my junior high and high school days.

I learned to express my emotions through music. The crowded feeling, the tense feeling of Tokyo, the depressing emotions I felt within myself, the sharp emotions of aggression, or an aesthetic sense of self. They’re all overlapping.

Now, I am overlapping my feelings and this feverish heat of Tokyo in the photographs I shoot.

How do you find beauty in the ordinary and everyday?

When walking through the city, I search. So it means that I go out for as long as possible if I have a time.

What is it about your subjects that makes you want to freeze them in that moment?

Beauty, strangeness, cruelty, and what I feel to be fascinating. I try to catch the moments of that scene.

When photographing, do you visit the same place often or do you try to explore areas new to you?

Same Place so far. I go all the time to Shibuya, Tokyo.

Do you listen to music or do you listen to the sound’s of the city as you walk the streets?

The sound’s of the city. I need the feelings of the city, so I won’t listen to music when I’m shooting.

I hear the city sounds, it lets me know what feelings are happening in the city. I try to capture and shoot it.

How much of yourself do you put into your photographs? When do you decide to interact with your subjects? When do you decide to blend into the background?

Everything that I experience is a source for my pictures.
Even if I do not shoot physically, all of my time is poured into my pictures.

In 2014, I decided to devote most of my time when I won 1st place in PhotoVogue Photography Competition. A competition among 70,000 photographers.

How do you approach people on the street for portraits? How do you think the honesty and emotions of the image changes once they know you’re there?

My photographs are mainly the face of subjects.
That is because of the conflict within myself. This feelings also comes from the city.I put it into my photography.

I am open about my shooting and do not hide. If their emotions is changed because of my presence, I shoot this change in emotions. No problem.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

Shoot with your own eyes, trust yourself, do not keep imitating other photographers, it’s killing your senses and your eyes.

Update from the photographer

This city continues to fascinate me. I am invited by its enchantment: I feel the shutter release.

Its visuals are instantaneous, but by cutting them into a picture, they becomes universal and eternal.

This series includes both traditional street photography and portraits shot on the street. Although they are not candid photos, the portraits in “Tokyo Street” are based on (and influenced by) my candid street shots. As such, I could not have taken them if I did not also shoot street photography.

The portraits and my street photography are intertwined in a complex manner. The interaction between the two kinds of pictures makes the city more fascinating; the relationship between the two draws out the charm of this city.

Tokyo is sometimes cruel, sometimes seductive: I catch those moments.

Photos Courtesy of Tatsuo Suzuki

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Interview: Traversing Tales – Ed Jones

Ed Jones, AFP
Ed Jones, AFP / Photo by Joseph Chung

In this interview for Asia Photo Review, Hon Hoang interviewed Ed Jones, AFP’s Chief Photographer for North and South Korea. Thank you to Ed Jones for the permission and use of his photographs.

Participants wait to take part in a mass parade marking the end of the 7th Workers Party Congress in Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
A woman stands between crates in a warehouse on an ostrich farm on the outskirts of Pyongyang / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
A North Korean tour guide wearing a traditional ‘hanbok’ dress waits for visitors at the ‘Monument to Party Founding’ (not pictured) in Pyongyang on October 11, 2015. North Korea is marking the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

How did you find yourself with a career in photography and eventually as Chief photographer for AFP in North and South Korea?

A misspent youth, old copies of Nat Geo on the bookshelf at the back of class, and knocking on a lot of doors. I worked my way up through full-time yet relatively short stints at a few small news agencies in the UK, which led to a staff position at one daily newspaper, and then another. By the time I was 25 I had talked my way into a freelance assignment with AFP, which gradually became more regular. I left my newspaper job in Edinburgh in an effort to be more available, and about a year later I moved to Paris to work on AFP’s photo desk. From there I moved to postings in Hong Kong, then Beijing, and now Seoul.

What are your day to day duties as Chief Photographer?

I coordinate with my colleagues from text and video about the day’s events and monitor stories that may develop into something that we need to cover, which includes keeping an eye on local media. There may be text feature stories which we need to illustrate, and similarly if there are photo-driven stories that I think may be of interest to the reporters then I let them know. Occasionally we might receive requests from other offices for coverage of events concerning their respective countries, or contributions to agency-wide photo packages that we need to respond to. I also need to message our regional headquarters in Hong Kong to let them know what we have planned for the day, which ends up as part of a global agenda for our clients.

Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldiers marched during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean soldiers leave their seats following a performance celebrating the 60th anniversary of “victory in the great Fatherland Liberation War” at the Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Indoor Stadium in Pyongyang, on July 28, 2013. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the Korean People’s Army at a military parade on April 15 to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

How do you compete to get your stories out before the other news agencies?

The photographers from the other foreign news agencies here often work closely together. They are all very outstanding photographers and operators, and have known each other for many years. The common goal we face in meeting a perpetual deadline means that the competitive element is often aimed at how each of us interprets any given story and whether we can bring new information to it, rather than the mere minutes between the time our photos hit the wire. But away from the camera logistics and diplomacy are important when covering any story, and an ability to be adaptive and sensitive to the surroundings can all add up to getting pictures to out quicker – although accuracy is always more important than speed. As for gear, I usually carry a laptop or iPad for editing and filing outside the office, and if needed I can use a wifi device on the camera to send pictures immediately to an ftp channel that can be accessed by any of our editing desks around the world.

Do you ever have spare time to work on personal projects? If so, what draws you to these projects?

So far I have not felt the need to differentiate between personal projects and my work for AFP, as the subjects that interest me on a personal level are aligned with that. Providing projects are in keeping with the principles of journalism we have a fair amount of creative freedom which allows me to experiment with subject matter and medium. I am predominantly drawn to human interest stories, but also to subjects that will allow me to try certain techniques from slow shutter speeds to softboxes, for example.

A government guide watches as attendees of the 7th Workers Party Congress arrive for a cultural performance in Pyongyang on May 11, 2016. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
A woman carries discarded silk strands at the Kim Jong Suk Silk Mill in Pyongyang. The factory employs 1,600 people—mostly female—and is named for the grandmother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
A North Korean soldier stands in the rain on Kim Il Sung Square following a mass military parade in Pyongyang on October 10, 2015. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

Can you please tell me a bit about your street photography in Seoul? What are you trying to capture while in Korea?

I love the idea of showing people who have never been to (North or South) Korea what this place looks like, and I spend a lot of time exploring new locations or revisiting old ones while looking for images that can be used to illustrate various facets of Korean life. Generally I try to trust my intuition as to what might make an interesting image, although this means I often find myself loitering on street corners during sunset. I also try to capture Seoul in a way that does not rely on an approach or aesthetic that is too overbearing, as I feel the pictures belong not entirely to me but rather the people in them and others in years to come, who might need a visual reference of these times.

A fisherman smokes a cigarette as he stands before his lines on a bank of the Han river in Seoul early on January 16, 2017. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
A street worker sprays water on Gwanghwamun square during cleaning, in central Seoul on November 20, 2014. South Korea’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in October but the number of young people out of work eased slightly, government data showed November 12. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
In this photo taken on November 8, 2016, shaman Shin Joong-In (2nd R) prepares to stab a pig as he performs a ritual in which offerings are made to spirits, at a shamanic centre in Yangju, north of Seoul. Practitioners of the centuries-old spiritual tradition are furious that their reputation has been tainted by association with the corruption scandal involving a close friend of the president, Choi Soon-Sil. Shamanism is deeply ingrained in Korean culture, and despite living in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, many Koreans still consult shamans — as intercessors with the spirit world — for medical reasons, divination, or personal advice. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

When working on a series or an assignment, do you plan what you want to capture or do you develop the theme as you experience the day to day? 

I think it depends on the assignment or story. I will usually try to plan how to cover something but not how to shoot it. By that I mean trying to make sure that I am in the right place for the right moments, but not to shoot those moments in a way that is too preconceived. However there are plenty of occasions where there might be an obvious need (with a portrait series for example) to ensure an element of continuity that will lend itself to the final edit.

Volunteers take part in a torch-lighting performance at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on 10 October. North Korea was marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ party / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Performers take part in a torchlight parade on Kim Il-Sung square during festivities marking the end of the 7th Workers Party Congress in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
In a photo taken on July 9, 2016, North Koreans sit on rides at a fairground in Pyongyang. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

How much of the tension and emotions of a situation affect your photography?

There is absolutely a point where these things affect the way I shoot, the question is where that point is. I find it happens less with mass displays of emotion such as political rallies, when I might be too preoccupied with moving around and trying to figure out how things will unfold, and more when photographing individuals or groups facing adversity, for example. In those cases I try to find a balance between a desire to be empathetic and a need to be respectfully assertive so as not to do a disservice to the need to cover the story.

What was the most tense moment you have experienced? What did you do in this situation?

Its difficult to say. I’ve been mugged at knife-point, tried to sleep amid indiscriminate incoming mortar fire, and been forcibly detained. On those occasions I like to think I’ve stayed mostly calm, and tried to hold on to my memory cards. But I have colleagues and friends who face the terrifying prospect of bomb attacks and threats against their families, on a daily basis, simply for being photographers. Next to that I would be embarrassed to say I have ever experienced a tense moment.

In a photo taken on April 13, 2017 Jong Kwang-Hyok (10) poses for a portrait on a football field at a school for orphans on the outskirts of Pyongyang. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
In this photo taken on November 28, 2016, artist Hong Choon poses at the Mansudae Art Studio where he works in Pyongyang. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Korean People’s Army lieutenant and tour guide Hwang Myong-jin poses for a photo in front of the hut where there negotiations for the Korean War armistice were held in 1953, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

During moments where time and patience are unavailable, how do you blend in to capture candid moments? 

I don’t necessarily try to blend in, although I absolutely think its important to avoid attention. Most of the time I have a valid reason to be there, so I try to be decisive and observant and usually that’s enough.

The AFP formally opened a bureau in Pyongyang in September 2016, with this access, what are some projects you would like to create? What have you experienced, but have not yet been able to photograph? 

Due to being able to travel regularly between North and South, I am working on a few projects that look at the peninsula as a whole. So much of reporting from either country involves elements of the other, that to me this makes sense. Generally it is possible to photograph the things that I am able to ‘experience’ in North Korea, although perhaps not always as extensively as I would like. During trips outside Pyongyang we often pass towns and villages that I would love to stop and shoot in, but which for obvious reasons is for the most part not possible.

In this photo taken on December 2, 2016, tour guide Baek Hyun-kyung stands in front of the Three Charters of National Reunification Monument where she works on the outskirts of Pyongyang. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
19-year-old volunteer staff member Lee Young-Hwa poses for a photo in a study room at the SciTech science center in Pyongyang. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
In this photo taken on February 21, 2017, shooting instructor Kim Su-Ryon poses for a portrait at the Meari Shooting Range in Pyongyang. Kim is holding a ‘Paektusan’ target pistol, gifted by late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. Visitors to the range can pay 10 USD to shoot ten rounds. / ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

How do you usually build rapport with the subjects in your portraits? How did this process change while working on Faces of Pyongyang? 

I show an interest in what they are doing, introduce myself, and take it from there. At the start the concept of stopping people for portraits was relatively new to our colleagues there, who also act as our guides, so it was important to make the actual process quick and as collaborative in order to get them on-board with the idea. Most people are pretty happy to have their portraits taken, and I often visit them on subsequent trips to take them prints. In the beginning I had thought about using a hasselblad, or a softbox, but it would have been too difficult and time consuming to set up on top of carrying two or three DSLRs and multiple lenses. And in any case I didn’t want to augment the feel of the portraits that I think should reflect as much as possible the conditions they are taken in.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I’m absolutely not qualified to give advice to others because times change, photography is subjective, and I will always have lots to learn.

As for advice to my younger self, I might say: photography in journalism is just a medium that is used to tell stories and is often of the same if not of secondary importance to the ability to identify and understand those stories…so go and study something.