Advice for Aspiring Photographers by Photographers

Written by Hon Hoang

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing talented photographers from around the world. In these interviews, I would always ask questions that are a reflection the photographer and their work.

With few repeating questions from one interview to the next, there were usually two questions I would end the interview with:

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

and

“Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?”

The first question being an attempt to incite any sense of nostalgia. An opportunity to reflect on the time they have spent taking photographs. A retrospective of how they started, where they have been, and where they are now.

The second question is an attempt to help aspiring photographers and a somewhat shameful attempt on my part to seek advice from photographers who’s work I admire.

I know how information can easily be lost in the heavy traffic flow of this super highway. From interviews I’ve done for Asia Photo Review and EnFlight.Design, please see the compiled answers for the two persistent questions. Hopefully these words help guide you to where you need to be, whether it’s where to begin or how to get back on course.

Interview: Hidden World – Yuriy Ogarkov

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

Get yourself a mentor. Go assist other photographers. Make connections with the students and professors while you are studying.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Don’t be afraid. Experiment. See what speaks to your heart. You will go through the phases, where people will start to call you a “photographer” but you will have doubts about if you are ready to be called so. You will go through the phases where you will think that everything you do is worthless and you suck.

You will reach the point where your work will be valuable and it can even feed you. This is where you have to organize yourself and see photography not only as a hobby but something that is valuable for other people. The responsibility comes into play. You will have time where you will think, that you never going to make it, it is too hard and complicated. This is where you have to tell yourself: “Don’t be afraid. Follow your heart. Be honest with yourself. Have a plan”, and one day you will eventually get there, where you want to be. Everything is just a game.

 

Interview: Capture of the Human Condition – Brendan Hoffman

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

In the beginning, I wish I had picked one story and pursued it extensively on my own. Instead, I started many stories, assuming (naïvely) that if the idea was at all good, some magazine would put me on assignment to finish the project. If that didn’t happen, I would start another story. That’s just not how it works, and I ended up with the nubs of many stories but few that were complete. I also wish I had started studying Russian sooner. Speaking a foreign language is incredibly helpful.

Otherwise, if freelancing, get serious about understanding the business side of photography. Read contracts before signing them, negotiate always, and act like the small business owner you are. Demand respect as an equal, but always, always be a professional. Don’t whine or complain or make excuses or expect an editor to hold your hand. Network. Last but not least, make work that speaks for itself.

 

Interview: Traversing Tales – Ed Jones

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

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.

 

Interview: Society of Intrigue – Oleg Tolstoy

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

Ha, it’s hard to know where to start with this question. It’s a good question. The thing is, photography is just a medium, there are so many areas with it.

I would advise any up and coming photographers to let themselves experiment, really try out a lot of different styles and techniques until you find something that works best for you. Photography can be a very personal thing, and many photographers can feel lost until they find their style.

It can also be hard working alone so much as a photographer. The best decision I ever made was to move into a studio with 30 other creatives where I do my editing and administration work. I find that being around others often inspires me and it’s good to be working around others and to have that human interaction on a day-to-day basis. 

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Never give up, if you believe you are going to make it, you will. Although the catch is, once other people think you have made it, you might not think you have.  Generally, there is no end. There is no great achievement that will make you think you have done it, and made it. It’s all part of a cycle. It’s a lifestyle and a way of life.

 

Interview: Cities of Color and Sound – Gustavo Gomes

Whether they are new and aspiring or experienced, would you have any advice for other photographers?

Keep shooting, even if it’s very likely you won’t get a great set of images before one year on the streets. Photograph whenever you can. If things aren’t working on that day, stop for 20 minutes and get a beer or an ice cream. And don’t expect much from street photography. Probably you won’t make money or be famous by doing it. So, learn how to take pleasure just by walking the streets and enjoying the experience. When you stop worrying too much about the photos, great photos will come.

 

Interview: Humanity in Focus – Mahesh Balasubramanian

Would you have any advice for new and beginning photographers? What was some of the best advice you were given?

I suggest all my friends to believe in you and take pictures that stands out from the crowd. Read a lot about pictures from masters and understand what made them shoot in that way.

The best advice which I ever got is, “Take pictures from your heart and for yourself.“

 

Interview: Hunters in the Frame – Dotan Saguy

What is one of the best advice you’ve received?

I attended a Momenta Workshop about shooting photo stories for non-profits back in February where Craig Semetko was a guest speaker. He gave me the best advice I have ever received and I still use it everyday:

A successful street photograph needs to include three elements that can be summed-up in the acronym: D.I.E.

“D” stands for Design and includes aspects like composition, light, color palette, etc.

“I” stands for Information. It means that the information conveyed in the image should be clear: The viewer should be able to know instantly what the image is about.

“E” stands for Emotion. It can be an emotion depicted in the photograph, an emotion triggered by the photograph or both. To me it’s synonymous with the sense of a decisive moment.

What kind of advice would you want to give to beginning photographers?

I would encourage beginning photographers to hunt for scenes with emotion. A lot of street photography out there these days focuses only on composition, design, etc. But there’s not much happening in the frame and above all there’s no human emotion emanating from the scene.

The typical street shot we see everywhere is an urban background with someone walking across the frame. Emotion is the rarest element to find and the hardest element to capture so why not start there and learn to compose around it? Photography is about freezing time. It’s all about the moment. Everything else is secondary.

To become a better photographer, you first need to become a better hunter of moments.

 

Interview: In Pursuance of Light and Vocation

David Bowie by Sunny Bak

Would you have any advice for young artists pursuing their love and passion?

Just do what you love and never give up, just like my Dad said. Just never give up.

 

Interview: The Beautiful Mundane – Michele Palazzo

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

Try to take pictures for yourself for your own pleasure, watch the masters, read, travel and focus on the images you want to create and maybe one day you will find a your style…I’m still looking for it.

 

Interview: In Light and – Gabi Ben Avraham

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

I would advise a new photographer to look at other photographers’ works on the Web and try to build his own style, exercise a lot with the camera, find his own master and be open to critics.

I would advise myself not to shoot so much in the first years, to shoot less and think more although I believe it is a natural process every photographer has to go through.

 

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.

 

Interview: Ever-Changing New – Ash Shinya Kawaoto

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

First of all, begin by deciding one city where you want to take photographs. It is then important to take a lot of photos of that city. Then, you need to always be prepared to point your camera at subjects that interest you as soon as they appear. The diverse things that happen in the street disappear in a moment. That is why it is important to always walk with your camera at the ready. I personally recommend taking photos with manual focus. This is because I believe that manual focus makes it easier to take photos instantaneously.

 

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.

Interview: Roadmaps of Mythology – Vasantha Yogananthan

The Lakshmana Rekha Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

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

Work very, very hard. I often hear about ‘talent’ but work is what will make you progress. You have to try, fail, try again, and keep pushing yourself. Study and look at the great masters but don’t end up browsing the internet looking at everything people are doing. Look at books, it is where you will learn the most about editing and sequencing. And photography is 80% about editing and sequencing. Try not to mimic the last fashion. Trends don’t last.

 

Interview: Captured Spirits – Dr. Dirk Schlottmann

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

I always thought about whether science, art and photography do not exclude or even hinder each other in my work. Nowadays these thoughts are meaningless and no longer relevant to me. You can photograph artfully and still be a good scientist. This is ultimately not a contradiction but a gift.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Photography has a lot to do with technology (whoever is denying this has no idea…) but above all photography is passion and expression. What others think about your topic matter is of no importance. Do what you want.

 

Interview: Ocean View – Mijoo Kim

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

I always keep these sentences in mind. Photograph toward expressing your voice. Photograph things you are in love with. Keep up what you are doing and trust yourself.

 

Interview: Impermanence of Perception – Wen Hang Lin

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

Do not give up easily. Being an artist is not easy especially when we have many obligations in life. You will not get to where you want to be overnight; however, if you work hard every day, you are one step closer. Run your artistic career as a business and learn every aspect of it. For example, you should know how to write a grant proposal or artist statement, file taxes, understand the copyright law. They are not exciting, but equally important to artists.

 

Interview: A Face in the Crowd – Pushkar Raj Sharma

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

Do it for yourself. Do not run for fame and do not waste time on showcasing on social media. Dedicate more time shooting and less time showcasing it.

I am a working IT professional and have a family to support, I dedicate much less time than I should. I am blessed with a daughter of 6 months old. Most of my time goes into household stuff and family. I wish I started my street photography when I was single and much much younger in age.

Also earlier I fell into the trap of showcasing my work everyday on social media, it just ruins everything. I am not saying it’s not important. But what’s more important is to take new and good photos as frequently as you can.

Street Photography is all about failures. You fail 99% of the time.

 

Interview: Stagnation of Time – Colin Kopp

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

Just enjoy it, especially if you’re still in school. Experiment as much as you can. Find a mentor and stay in touch. Don’t worry too much about taking amazing photographs. Just shoot! All of your photos can’t be winners.

Interview: Roadmaps of Mythology – Vasantha Yogananthan

In this interview, Hon Hoang talks to Vasantha Yogananthan, a photographer currently in based Paris. 

In our youth, we would often listen to fairy tales and myths. Tales about people and places of grandeur, imagining events of mysticism. For most people, these stories would remain to be only that, but for Vasantha Yogananthan, they’re roadmaps.

Using The Ramayana and remembering the epic poem, Vasantha set out to recreate the stories he learned as a child and observe how it has pervade itself into everyday Indian life. The result being A Myth of Two Souls, an ongoing project where he retraces the legendary route from North to South India.

Vasantha Yogananthan speaks about his project, how it has affected his life and photography, and provides advice for aspiring photographers. Presented are excerpts from his fourth installment called Dandaka, from his ongoing series.

Mareecha’s Magic Trick Kattumannarkovil, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018 Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar

Dandakaranya Nuapada, Odisha, India, 2017 Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar

The Spider Barnawapara Sanctuary, Chhattisgarh, India, 2017

Tell me about your project A Myth of Two Souls? How did you come up with the idea and what steps did you take to get it started? 

Back in 2013, before leaving for a trip to India I bought a few books about the country, among them The Ramayana. I read it while travelling in Tamil Nadu, and I started noticing things in everyday life relating to the myth. I had vague memories of the epic because my dad used to have the Amar Chitra Katha comic book version of The Ramayana at home. I remember loving these comic books a lot during my childhood, although I did not read any English. The pictures from that first trip in 2013 were a disaster. I got only 2 or 3 good photographs in a one-month trip. I came back to Paris realizing I had found a story but without a visual concept. I started reading different versions of the myth. I bought Ramayana related stuff on Ebay: old books, vernacular pictures, lithography, etc.

 

What does time mean to you and how does this definition affect your photography?

Most of my projects are produced over long period of time. In the case of The Ramayana – the tale being so complex – I wanted to do a multi layered project. Trying to rush things by studying intensively my subject matter and/or traveling extensively to photograph in a short period of time was not going to work. Instead, I had to travel twice a year to India, in order to have long period of time in between each trip to sit back, look at the pictures and try to make sense of where I was heading. The longer you work on a story, the more it is going to “sink” in your imagination. After six years of work and more than ten trips to India, I am obviously seeing things I was not looking at during my first trips.

Farewell Hampi, Karnataka, India, 2016 Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar

The Golden Deer Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2015 Black and white archival inkjet print with additional drawings by Mahalaxmi & Shantanu Das

The Lakshmana Rekha
Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013

You have dedicated seven years to reinterpreting an ancient Hindu text, The Ramyana. As an Atheist, how has this process affected your own beliefs on spirituality and religion? Has it affected how you approach photography?

As mentioned in other interviews, I don’t relate to The Ramayana as a religious text, even if it is of course. To me its appeal lies in its philosophy, as well as its structure – how does the story unfold. It uses mechanisms that you see at play in many other stories – two lovers, a drama, a war, etc. India has affected my own beliefs in terms of spirituality but it has more to do with the country itself than the story. I think it has changed my approach to photography unconsciously. Time passes differently in India and it has affected my working process. When I started photography I was really looking forward to ‘get the shot’ while I was in the field. The problem is that if you try too hard you often end up duplicating old formulas. You have to be patient and to accept that most days you won’t get any pictures that will last.

 

Growing up with stories from The Ramyana, what are your goals for reinterpreting them? Why did you choose photography as the medium for that?

A lot of writers have reinterpreted The Ramayana. A lot of filmakers too. Nina Paley did that great movie (Sita Sings the Blues). But strangely no photographers did it – so when I started the project I felt at the same time lucky no one tried it before, and haunted by the mountain in front of me. I think that one of photography’s greatest strength is its ability to deal with the real / unreal. It seems like the perfect medium to try to look into a fiction shining into the everyday life (if you know where to look).

Ravana Fighting Jatayu
Kodiyakarai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018

Disappearance
Trivandrum, Kerala, India, 2013

Jatayu #1
Kodiyakarai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018

As a creative, what is the importance of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone? Do you notice a difference in the quality of your photographs when you’re comfortable versus when pushing yourself?

This is something I’m struggling within most of the so-called “contemporary photography”. Usually people find a way to photograph and then stick with it for years. No matter the topic/idea you are working on, you will use the same formula. From the start I knew I wanted to shoot differently the seven chapters of The Ramayana. The first ones were the most “easy” ones because I shot them in a zone where I was feeling comfortable. Then I bought a large format camera and moved onto staging portraits. It was completely new to me and I had a blast doing it. So much fun and so different than shooting ‘straight’ photography. Staging photographs made me feel the medium could be so close to cinema. I was acting as a movie director rather than a photographer. I was scouting location, casting people in the streets, etc. Now, after I did that for the past two years, I bought a Leica and went back to shooting very fast! For me changing cameras is a good way to make you photograph differently. And I truly think it is a very important thing to do, if you wish to evolve in your practice.

 

While working on this project, how does India interpreted through The Ramyana compare to the India you have experienced?

The Ramaya’s itinerary I am following is mainly off the big cities. I ended up shooting mostly in the countryside and in small towns. A country that is far away from the modern India you hear about in the medias. Sometimes the India as described in the tale  – the landscapes for example – would feel very close to what I was seeing – whereas in some places I had to look really hard to find ‘hints’ of the myth.

Bloody Letterbox
Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, India, 2018

The Riders
Barnawapara Sanctuary, Chhattisgarh, India, 2017
Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar

Howling To The Moon
Ramtek, Maharashtra, India, 2015
Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar Shankar

Your images from the project are a blend of natural and staged images, how do you decide when an image needs to be staged versus natural?

It’s always difficult to decide whether or not you should stage something. I would say though that the staged pictures I like the most are the ones inspired by a close observation of the real. I would hang out in a village for a few days, looking at how people live and then would carefully recreate scenes I have seen. Usually a staged picture works when something does not go according to your plan. A hand shakes, the wind makes the trees blurry, the actor improvises.

 

What are your plans as you continue to work on A Myth of Two Souls?  Are you planning for any future projects?

As we are releasing Dandaka this month, I am already in the process of working on chapter 5 (“The Quest”). This book will feature only animals and it has been a real challenge shooting it. It will be quite different from the first chapters and I am looking forward to its release in March 2019. Next year will also be the first time I will be exhibiting the project which is going to be a new challenge.

 

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

Work very, very hard. I often hear about ‘talent’ but work is what will make you progress. You have to try, fail, try again, and keep pushing yourself. Study and look at the great masters but don’t end up browsing the internet looking at everything people are doing. Look at books, it is where you will learn the most about editing and sequencing. And photography is 80% about editing and sequencing. Try not to mimic the last fashion. Trends don’t last.

Interview: Society of Intrigue – Oleg Tolstoy

In this interview, Hon Hoang talks to Oleg Tolstoy, a portrait, commercial, and street Photographer currently in London. 

Being a photographer is more than taking photographs. It’s about observing human behavior and interactions. How we change from place to place, culture to culture. How something obvious to one group can be intriguing to another. Through his lenses, Oleg Tolstoy found himself observing and capturing some of the intricacies within Tokyo, Japan.

In this interview, Oleg Tolstoy speaks about his work, travels, and curiosity for social interaction. Presented are his series Shibuya Unmasked and Who’s Driving Tokyo (companion series to Who’s Driving You).

What were some of your early experiences with photography? Did you know in those moments that photography would be your career?

Since I was very young, I always knew I would do something artistic as a career later in my life. As a child I was encouraged to explore art, and found myself immersed in it from a very young age; as my mother, brother and uncle are all artists. I started out with painting, then sculpture, then street stencils. I’ve had a camera for as long as I can remember. When I was 14 I really wanted to create work that was clean cut and slick and found that photography was the best way for me to achieve this. My older brother is also a photographer so I realised that I could ask him any question I wanted and learn more about the medium, so it seemed an obvious and natural path for me to walk down in life.

Whether through formal education or self-taught, how did you develop your style as a photographer?

I went to the London College of Communication to study a BA degree in Photography. I learnt the art of creating a series, and a narrative within images. Creating an atmosphere, not just an image; this way of working has very much stuck with me and has helped me form my style of photography.

You have a varying portfolio of celebrity portraitures, commercial work, and social documentary. Do you approach all of these assignments the same way or do you prepare for them differently?

It’s important to plan a portrait to some degree: to find the location, the backdrop and work with the person you are photographing. With my social documentary work, I find a location where these three elements are already formed in one place, and provide an interesting cultural narrative.

Do you plan most of your projects or do they grow into one as you take more images? If planned, what is your process like?

I plan all of my projects out in advance. Something usually sparks a concept. I might have seen something on the internet, or on my travels and then I go to photograph it. I have to plan these trips out in advance, as I need at least 10 days to a month to capture a photo series.

I find accommodation very close to where my shoot location is as the location is often in one area, on one road. I need somewhere close so I can upload images and change cameras and rest.

Your series Who’s Driving Tokyo and Who’s Driving You focuses on the subject of taxi drivers, what was it like to capture the same subject matter in two distinctly different cities?

It felt very comfortable, as it was a subject I had a lot of experience in photographing. I didn’t need to go through trial and error. From a shooting perspective it didn’t really make a difference, it was much the same. Busy street, loads of cabs – that’s what I needed. However, it was the cultural differences and nuances between London and Tokyo that fascinated me. The taxi drivers in Tokyo were very well presented, wearing suits and white gloves, they had a real charm to them.

Cab drivers in London are much less formal and more laid back in their presence. I like observing the cultural differences in day-to-day activities, what some people may think is mundane, I see the opposite. I see a subject with a story to tell and I want to capture it.

Living in London, what was it like to travel to Tokyo? What was it like to observe the people and culture? How did this experience affect your photography?

I went to Tokyo about 10 years ago so I knew I would be stepping into a completely different world. I did notice that a lot more people speak English now there. Tokyo is my favourite city in the world after London. I love the energy and the cultural undercurrent that just runs everywhere throughout the city. A lot of people don’t like busy places, I actually feel more comfortable in busy places rather than quiet places. I find my peace in a busy metropolis like Tokyo. The bright lights, the smells and the sounds all invigorate me.

How much of yourself do you put into your photographs? 

I put all of myself into my work. The way I work, it gets very addictive, there is always one more shot to get, there is really no end to when I can stop taking photographs and the project is complete as there is always another image to capture. Hence why I can spend 8 hours non-stop on a street corner every day for 2 weeks at a time.

For your social documentary work, what was the most tense moment you have experienced? What did you do in this situation?

I experienced a very tense moment once in Piccadilly Circus in London when shooting Who’s Driving You. A drunk man ran up to me and tried to take my camera. I wasn’t expecting it as I was in the middle of capturing images. I couldn’t figure out if he was trying to use the camera to take a photo himself or if he was actually trying to steal my camera. I decided to run away from him… Apart from that, there haven’t really been any.

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

I recently got back from China where I was shooting on a beach there! I’ve also been working on a project in Jamaica and in Hong Kong. They will be coming out later this year… I travel a lot for my photography, and am always planning a new trip.

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

Ha, it’s hard to know where to start with this question. It’s a good question. The thing is, photography is just a medium, there are so many areas with it.

I would advise any up and coming photographers to let themselves experiment, really try out a lot of different styles and techniques until you find something that works best for you. Photography can be a very personal thing, and many photographers can feel lost until they find their style.

It can also be hard working alone so much as a photographer. The best decision I ever made was to move into a studio with 30 other creatives where I do my editing and administration work. I find that being around others often inspires me and it’s good to be working around others and to have that human interaction on a day-to-day basis. 

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Never give up, if you believe you are going to make it, you will. Although the catch is, once other people think you have made it, you might not think you have.  Generally, there is no end. There is no great achievement that will make you think you have done it, and made it. It’s all part of a cycle. It’s a lifestyle and a way of life.

 

Photos Courtesy of Oleg Tolstoy

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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

Interview: Ever-Changing New – Ash Shinya Kawaoto

In this interview, Hon Hoang interviewed Ash Shinya Kawaoto, a street Photographer from Yokohama, Japan. Thank you to Ash Shinya Kawaoto for the permission and use of his photographs.

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

 

Everything changes, it is the nature of all things to be fluid. To change and be changed, these constants are known best by those that live within a metropolis. Photographer Ash Shinya Kawaoto knows this truth to be evident as he explores the evolving skylines of Tokyo, Japan and the people that live within it’s streets in his series Scrap and Build.

In the series, he explores the idea of what is lost with the pursuit of modernity. How history and tradition falls to rubble as the ever-changing new takes center stage.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

I have been taking photos for the past four or five years. I mainly took portraits at the beginning. I started street photography about a year and a half ago. I like capturing people’s expressions; that hasn’t changed since I started taking portraits.

How do you find balance between running your web development company and your photography?

I believe that I need to spend a lot of time in order to be able to take good street photos. The offices of my web development company are in Tokyo. This is why I can slip out during my breaks to take photographs. As it is a fairly flexible job time-wise, I have the work-life balance of taking photos when the sun is out and starting to work when the sun goes down.

What does the phrase “honesty in photography” mean to you?

I believe that, regardless of whether a photograph is the real truth or not, it has the strength to make people think that it is the truth and it is something that really happened.

What draws you to the subjects in your photographs?

The most important thing in my photos is the expressions of the subjects. I believe that people’s expressions represent their lives.

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

I mostly take photos of my subjects at close range. This is so that I can take even more accurate photos of their expressions. I think it is OK if my subjects react to my camera when I do this. There are cases in which I can get a more tense atmosphere if the subject realizes I am taking a photo.

The subjects in most of my photos are aware of me even if they are not looking directly at the camera.

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 believe that the light is most important when I am taking photos. Light, like time, is constantly changing. I look for places that have good light for the subject and then I take the photo. I also believe that it is important to walk around town a lot. When I find a subject with an attractive expression, I try to get as close as I can to them to take the photo.

What was your inspiration for Scrap and Build?

I went to London to take photography this spring and it was a starting point to create Scrap and Build. I felt that London was a completely different city to the Tokyo where I take photos on a daily basis.

London still has many historical buildings which are still in use. In comparison, almost all the buildings in Tokyo have short histories and there is a repeating cycle of knocking them down when they are no longer needed and replacing them with new ones. For this reason, the landscape of Tokyo continues to change at an extremely high speed. I think that the speed of change in a city affects the lives of the people who live there.

How do your subjects compliment what you’re trying to say in this series?

My subject is capturing the changes of the city of Tokyo. The city will host the Olympics in 2020. New buildings are going up all across Tokyo at the moment and it is changing at an extremely high speed. I associate this with the image of a huge, continually growing living creature.

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

I don’t think that there is enough tension from my subjects to affect my street photography. People have completely different expressions when they are at home and when they are out and about in town. I think these are similar to the differences in expressions of pets and wild animals. The street is the place where people connect with society and with other people. They do not have unguarded expressions in this situation. I feel a great attraction to people’s tense expressions.

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

My most tense moment was when a homeless person got angry at me for photographing them and chased me. My street photography subjects sometimes get angry with me. When that happens, I tell them that I am a photographer and explain politely why I took the photo.

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

First of all, begin by deciding one city where you want to take photographs. It is then important to take a lot of photos of that city. Then, you need to always be prepared to point your camera at subjects that interest you as soon as they appear. The diverse things that happen in the street disappear in a moment. That is why it is important to always walk with your camera at the ready. I personally recommend taking photos with manual focus. This is because I believe that manual focus makes it easier to take photos instantaneously.

Photo Series Scrap and Build, courtesy of Ash Shinya Kawaoto

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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: Captured Spirits – Dr. Dirk Schlottmann

In this interview for Asia Photo Review, Hon Hoang interviewed  Dr. Dirk Schlottmann, an Ethnologist, Visual Anthropologist and Photographer from Berlin, Germany. Thank you to Dr. Dirk Schlottmann, for the permission and use of his photographs.

Why did you decide on photography as a medium to tell your stories?

At the beginning of my field research on Korean Shamanism, I documented some rituals with a film camera. It quickly became clear that photography is appealing and fun for me. As a result, I have increasingly focused on photography. My encounters with Korean photographers then influenced me to decisively search for a visual language and for an appropriate form of representation of Korean shamanism.

Can you please tell me a bit about the academic degrees you have and how they relate to your photography?

I received my PhD. at the renowned Goethe University Frankfurt am Main in Germany. My thesis is about “Korean shamanism in the New Millennium”. In terms of content, I have on the one hand dealt with the various national variations of Korean shamanic traditions and on the other hand investigated the interaction of economic crisis and indigenous religion. My doctoral thesis on Korean shamanism is, in German-speaking countries, regarded as a standard work on modern Korean Shamanism.

As an ethnologist, the camera is part of the working tool and was therefore always present. Besides, visual anthropology was already very important for my work and so I took every opportunity to photograph shaman rituals. At that time, I was still working with slide films and so my field research budget was quickly used up. Since my research was supported by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) for 2 years, I was fortunately able to continue my photography.

During this time, my attention has been drawn to the North Korean Hwanghaedo tradition. This ecstatic and wild shaman tradition fascinated me. But the unbridled expression of spirituality seemed to be very unpleasant for many Koreans. Korean photographers and scientists were primarily interested in the issue of “shamanism and national identity” or researched/photographed classical subjects such as music, myth, performance, clothing, etc. The topic “altered states of consciousness” in the form of trance, ecstasy and incorporation of spiritual entities, for me the center of shamanic religious practice, was and is largely ignored.

After my doctorate, when I had the opportunity to come back to Korea and work as a visiting professor at a university in South Korea, I saw the opportunity to start a new visual anthropological field research project and to focus on the ritual practice of the Hwanghaedo tradition. This turned into a long-term project, which I dedicated myself to as a scientist and photographer until today.

How did the Institute for Korean Shamanism in Berlin come to be? What are your goals for it?

After teaching at Korean universities for almost 10 years, my wife and I decided this year that we would go back to Germany. One of our thoughts is to build a shaman museum with a gallery. In the last 10 years, I have collected several trucks full of exhibits, like statues, instruments, altars, many paraphernalia, paintings and many other items. It started off quite harmlessly with a small gift here or a purchase there. But when I realized that many ritual objects were simply burned or thrown away, collecting became more systematic. The more I collected, the more older shamans gave me ritual objects. They recognized that the topic is important to me and is close to my heart. Especially the Hwanghhaedo shaman Han Gong-ju supported my collection and encouraged my vision of the shaman museum.

The Institute of Korean Shamanism is a mix between a shamanic museum, gallery, science and photography. It will become the hub of all activities. The head office is in Berlin. We are just moving to Kreuzberg with the institute. This is perhaps the most multicultural part of the city in Berlin … maybe in Germany. For the moment we’re planning photo exhibitions, seminars and performances. As soon as we have a larger space, we will build the museum and invite shamans, scientists and artists. The goal is a small, but special Korean museum with a cultural center. The thematic focus is in particular on Korean shamanism and Korean spirituality but we are also open for art, music and lectures related to Korea or Asian spirituality.

How has the study of Eastern spirituality affected your photographic work? Does this manifest in your photography in anyway?

The study of Asian spirituality and the preoccupation with East Asian religions and world views probably influenced my photography only from a motivic and thematic point of view. For example, only if you know the symbolism of certain items or objects or the functions of some Gods in the extensive, shamanic pantheon, can you construct visual chains of associations and establish connections. But these are primarily intellectual aspects of photography, which in turn are only appreciated by recipients who are already very well versed in the subjects.

Much more important for my photographic development was the discovery of East Asian aesthetics, which was the result of meeting Korean photographers and artists. I was not aware of the difference in perception and how much cultural identity influences our work. I mean that in either a positive and a negative sense. Visiting traditional concerts where I learned to love the sound of the haegum and the sound of the kayagum, Korean films that touched me because of their emotionality or the colorful, wonderful architecture of Korean temples are impressions that have shaped my ideas of Korean culture.

My first encounter with the fabulous and famous photographer Kim Soo Nam was a milestone for me. Kim Soo Nam invited me home and showed me his work from several decades of photographing religious rituals in Asia and Korea. I was impressed by his diversity, style and dedication to his subject. When I left his house that night, I had learned a lot about Korean photography and Korean shamanism. I bought all his books and spent nights studying his photographs.

However, after a while I noticed that I was not the only admirer of Kim Soo Nam. Obviously, his photography has shaped and continues to shape generations of Korean photographers whose only goal seems to be to imitate Kim Soo Nam’s images. I noticed how clearly concepts of aesthetics in Korea are framed and defined. The longer I lived in Korea, the more often I had the feeling that I had already seen an exhibition. After a while photographs of Korean shamanism and Korean shaman rituals (gut) seemed to me like “trophy pictures”, like the infusion of a tea bag again and again.

I didn’t want to work like this and so I started looking for my own project and found it in the spirituality of shaman rituals that was ignored by Koreans. Spirit contact (접신) and the idea of incorporation fascinated me. The resulting altered states of consciousness became the center of my visual anthropological work. In this respect, my photography has developed from the contradiction of fascination and demarcation to Korean aesthetics.

How did you become interested and involved with the world of Korean Shamanism?

The topics religion, shamanism and ritual interested me already during my studies. Before I came to Korea, I had already visited shamans, healers and gurus in other countries in Africa and Asia, photographing rituals there. It was already clear, so to speak, that my future research would go in this direction.

Korea became interesting to me the first time I visited my parents-in-law with my wife. My first encounter with Korean shamans was in 2000 in the Chungcheongbukdo Province, it was unplanned and surprising. Attracted by the echo of drums and the sonorous sound of the taepyeongso, my wife and I suddenly stood in the courtyard of the very small Emileh Museum. There the death ritual (jinogi gut) was celebrated for the Korean folklore researcher and museum founder Cho Cha-yong. Fascinated we watched the colorful hustle and bustle of famous shamans like Kim Keum Hwa, Kim Gyeong Hwa and Kim Mae Mul, whom we had never heard of before. A large, hectic court of photographers and cameramen whirled around those shamans and left no doubt that they had to be “celebrities”. The excited participants of the ritual, the unusual music, the bizarre acts and the dances in traditional clothes created an extraordinary atmosphere, which quickly captivated me. We were immediately invited to be part of the ritual. We were served Korean rice wine and traditional food. The feeling to be welcome and to participate as a guest in the shaman ritual, which we did not recognize as a funeral service at first, has left a lasting impression on me. I knew straight away that I had my thesis topic in front of me. I remember this aha-experience as if it had been yesterday, because this ethnological “love at first sight” was so wonderfully combined with my interest in rituals, photography and Asian spirituality. Of course, I didn’t have the slightest idea that dealing with Korean shamanism would become a passion that has been affecting my scientific and photographic work for more than a decade now.

Can you please tell us a bit about Korean Shamanism and your work regarding it?

Korean shamanism is so diverse and exists in so many variations that it is difficult to “briefly tell you a bit about it”.

At the beginning of my research, I travelled thousands of kilometers around the country to experience and photograph gut. Whenever I thought that I have seen almost everything, I was wrong, because there were always places, rituals and ceremonies that I hadn’t visited before. That hasn’t changed much so far. It seems to me to be an endless topic that is difficult to grasp in its complexity and its local variations.

In this respect, concentrating on one tradition was an important decision because I was able to deepen my focus on the topic over a number of years, which has led to progress in my research. Concentrating on the Hwanghaedo tradition has also created a closer bond with shaman groups and individual shamans and created an intimacy that is reflected in my photographs.

The aim of my scientific research is to document Korean shamanism in modernity, both in terms of preserving traditional elements and describing recent changes. I see it as a contribution to the research complex “Asian Spirituality” and “Ritual Research”. The visual anthropological work is the search for a new visual language (visual-anthropological aesthetics of religion) that moves between art and documentation, while doing justice to both aspects.

When documenting rituals, what is the photographic process like?

As a photographer, I am very active and I want to be as close as possible to the action. I participate in the ritual literally from the first to the last moment. Every moment is important to me. Of course, I’m waiting for the ecstatic moments, for scenes that are extraordinarily wild and expressive. But Korean shamanic rituals are so varied, colorful and expressive that a mysterious picture can be hidden in every gesture, no matter how small. In intensive phases of the rituals, I experience trance-like states in which I forget time and completely dissolve into the process of photographing. For me, these are particularly beautiful moments of my work, which are usually crowned with great photos.

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

I always thought about whether science, art and photography do not exclude or even hinder each other in my work. Nowadays these thoughts are meaningless and no longer relevant to me. You can photograph artfully and still be a good scientist. This is ultimately not a contradiction but a gift.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Photography has a lot to do with technology (whoever is denying this has no idea…) but above all photography is passion and expression. What others think about your topic matter is of no importance. Do what you want.

Interview: Ocean View – Mijoo Kim

Mijoo Kim

In this interview for Asia Photo Review, Hon Hoang interviewed Mijoo Kim, a multidisciplinary artist and educator from South Korea, currently based in New York. Thank you to Mijoo Kim, for the permission and use of her photographs.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

My interest in photography started when I was in high school. At that time, I had a vague plan to choose photography as my major. Then when I entered university, I decided to major in statistics until my sophomore year, which was when I transferred to the photography department.

Why did you choose photography as your medium to tell stories?

I believe I need to say something that has meaning, something that is socially enlightening and also relevant to the public through my photographs. I was especially interested in understanding and representing people’s lives in various parts of our society. As a woman photographer who is from South Korea, I would like to find my own voice through my works.

How long have you been taking photographs for? Do you think you have changed during this time and has it affected your photography?

I have been taking photographs for over 10 years. During this period of time my style of works and the approach to photography have changed from documentary photography to fine art photography. Initially, I was interested in immigrant workers in South Korea and Korean adoptees who were living in the States. Through my graduate study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the focus has changed to my voice and story. I have been interested in exploring the processes of memory and identity formation since my graduate study. I deal with the anxieties and sadness that come with the process of aging from a young woman’s perspective and the expectations that this process brings as well. These processes entail challenging the norms and asking important questions about gender roles and representations of women in society, myself included.

Growing up in South Korea, did you know much about the Haenyeo (Sea Women)?

I actually grew up in Busan, which is located in the southern east coast of South Korea. Also, the series of ‘The Mother of the Sea’ was taken in Gijang County, which is located in northern Busan, South Korea and is near my hometown. There are several groups of Haenyeo near Busan as well. I had an interest in Haenyeos because I had grown up in Busan and Kimhae City. I was familiar with Haenyeo grandmothers, but I didn’t know them well before I took on this project.

Why did you decide to pursue the project?

At the time right before I started research on Haenyeos, I was eager to find subject matters which I can express well as a Korean women photographer. I didn’t want to limit myself though as a women photographer, however, I thought Haenyeos themselves had powerful subject matters and a story worth telling as well.

The project of ‘The Mother of the Sea,’ came from below sea level. These women have a century-old history of making their own living by catching oysters, sea cucumbers, abalones, sea urchins, and squids. They hold their breaths for over two minutes and dive to depth of twenty meters without using any diving equipment. Being a Haenyeo is certainly not meant to be for the weak; hence the saying in Korea, “Haenyeos do the work of the dead in the land of the living.” ‘The Mother of the Sea’ series captures the work and portrait of Haenyeos to express how I view this job. I wanted to express what difficult and physically demanding work they are doing.

My subjects were the Haenyeo female divers in Korea. Haenyeos recognize their symbol as the symbol of Korean culture as well as being representative of women’s culture. These women divers are carrying on a Korean legacy. I hope to share not only their beauty as women, but also their courage and their tenacity in facing difficulties during their lives.

What was it like to experience and observe their lives as opposed to hearing the stories?

There is no specific experience as opposed to hearing the stories. However, the job was harder than I expected. One day I tried to take photos of underwater scenes and that was the hardest day during the project. Even though I was excited about being able to shoot underwater, the underwater situation is not easy at all and harder than I expected.

Do you have any plans for more projects involving your home country?

I have visited the town and try to photograph Haenyeos whenever I visit Korea. I still have special bonds with Haenyeo grandmothers. Last year I also visited them and photographed their daily lives.

I think I will visit Korea next year and would like to photograph them with large format camera.

In other interviews, you mentioned that you were a street photographer. Are you strictly focusing on art photography? Do you have any plans to go back to street photography?

Right now I don’t have specific plans to go back to street photography. For a while I need to focus on my public art project which I am working on.

What was your experience in street photography like in South Korea versus in the U.S.?

Actually when I was in South Korea, my subject matter were immigrant workers living in South Korea.

It was when I was at the School of Art Institute of Chicago for my undergraduate study, that my interest in street photography sparked. Because I have been immersed in observing people before I had a camera, I became convinced that the most compelling subject matter for me are people.

After moving to the U.S., how did photography help bridge the culture and language gap for you?

Taking street photography was the way I could interact with people in the States. At that time, carrying a medium format camera and wandering around the city of Chicago was a tool to communicate with people. Photography was my means of mutual understanding in life of America for a bi-cultural person. When I first came to America, I felt isolation due to the differences in cultures. Life in America was unfamiliar to me. Through taking photographs, it had filled me with a sense of achievement and confidence.

What is it like to produce work in street photography as oppose to fine art photography? How does your process differ between the two genres? 

Definitely there are differences between street photography and fine art photography, but to me photography is the medium for converting my inner curiosity of the world into an outer manifestation. Both genres of photography give me a means to reconcile my inner curiosity with the world about me.

How did you end up becoming a resident artist at Artist Residency Program in New York?

Through the A-I-R program at the Center for Photography at Woodstock. I was encouraged to develop my photographic practices and pursue my new project which is called ‘Re-figure’. It was a great experience to challenge myself and to adapt to the new surroundings, including the rural environments of New York State. One of the most beneficial experiences was that I could get various perspectives from outside of my graduate study. I was afforded the opportunity to be influenced by masters of the field through photography workshops in terms of fine art printing and publishing.

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

I always keep these sentences in mind. Photograph toward expressing your voice. Photograph things you are in love with. Keep up what you are doing and trust yourself.

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.