INTERVIEW: SMART PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE MONTH


Where are you based? 
I’m based in Seattle. I’ve lived here nearly my whole life, with a short stay in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam in the late 1960s, and my family came to the U.S. to live in my American father’s hometown. 


What are you currently working on?
I made some changes in 2013 which will hopefully give me more time to photograph and write. I’m working on a fun and exciting photography project being lead by Aik Beng Chia in Singapore that I can’t say too much about just now. I can say it’s a challenge, and I’m having fun trying new approaches, tools, etc. on the project. For the last 3-4 months, I’ve been writing more for others than myself, on dprConnect and also the AppWhisperer. Those projects are interesting but I want to spend more time on my creative projects, too. I’m looking for a publisher for my photo book, Dream Car, which is a collection of black and white photographs of American cars from the 1960s and 1970s that I’ve already published via blurb. I’m pulling together Issue No. 4 of Lys Foto Magazine, the online magazine of mobile art and photography I co-founded and curated. We’re behind schedule due to my own hectic January and February, I’m afraid. Look for a new issue in early March.


What does photography mean to you?
Photography is a means of expression for me. It’s how I know myself and my world better. It’s also a means for getting to know others, for forging deeper understanding. Photography also is a deep source of creative satisfaction and pleasure. It’s fun for me to take and look at photographs.


Describe your work.
I will try. It’s hard to describe work from the inside like this, from my own perspective, because what I see, think or feel about the work is limited. You’re just getting my bias view of my intentions. I’m a storyteller in words and images. I’m a photographer when I choose to express myself or tell stories via images. Now and again, I write poems and essays. My work tends to be essayistic, even the photography. I prefer to shoot candid street scenes (with and without people) and do so in natural light with my iPhone, most of the time. I try to take a direct, simple approach in my photography. I prefer a black and white aesthetic, often minimal, often with a kind of “grittiness” and mostly contrasty.  My photos aren’t fancy or complicated, but I hope what people take away or engage with is complex in some way, whether an emotion or an idea. I’m fond of irony and mood, exploring subjects that are quite plain and ordinary, and I’m curious about the subjects I find myself drawn to and what they have to say, especially the inanimate objects I like to photograph.


Your photos have a really fresh approach, what inspires you?
I’ve been told before that my photography is old fashioned. I don’t disagree with that statement. But it’s funny to me something that is old is also described as fresh. I’ll think about that contrast. I’m inspired by photographers, classic and influential people such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Diane Arbus, Daido Moriyama, Saul Leiter, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander. They are well known and widely influential. But I’m probably more inspired or influenced by artists outside of photography, particularly writers, such as Emily Dickinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Walt Whitman, the American Transcendentalists, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Bennet. I think often about Michel Basquiat’s work. I’m influenced by American folk blues and bebop jazz, and their play between freedom and confinement in form, structure, theme, and place. It’s what I like about street photography. For me, it reminds me of jazz rhythms and improvisation.  I’m very much a formalist, so I like to see harmony and balance in composition and form. That, too, can make me somewhat old fashioned, I guess.


Where do you feel most happy taking photos?
I enjoy taking photographs outdoors, in the woods or in a city. I’m often moving between our small urban center here in Seattle and some of the smaller towns or areas that surround us. So, I like wandering in our small towns, places that look like they may be a little lost. It doesn’t take much here to go from the high-tech city-center of Seattle to the rural areas of the Pacific Northwest. A couple of hours in any direction takes me to small towns and their stories. I like finding things more than looking for things.


What's next for you?
I’m working to get the next issue of Lys Foto Magazine out and find enough time to dive deep into my photography. I have a few documentary ideas I need to work out and explore before I try to shoot them. I’m in the middle of the winter semester at the college where I teach writing and literature, so I  have plenty to keep me busy. I teach at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.