Born in Seoul Korea in 1971, Dan Chung is a creative individual I knew I had to meet. Photography always stuck with him for some reason but was always reluctant to persue. Thankfully he let his passion overtake his logic and what we have today is an accomplished guy with some massive talent. I sit down with Dan to discuss a variety of topics spanning work ethic, photography, Anime & more. Read below for the full Q&A…
When you were first starting out, tell me a little about your learning curve, what was that like?
Dan: I’m still on the learning curve. Well, once you grasp the principles of photography (shutter speed, aperture, iso) it does get easier. I’m self taught. tons of magazines (before the internet era) and late nights trying to figure out how a photo was lit and such. In the learning process there is a lot of disappointments. More disappointments the better I think. That’s when you learn, right? It was pretty daunting but my love of photography kept me going despite many occasion when I just wanted to quit.
Everything has changed since you first started in the business including usage rights, etc. What are your feelings here and how have you adapted?
Dan: Digital age seems to have increased the ‘volume’ aspect of imagery. Clients want more images, most of the time they don’t even know how they’ll use it but they want it. I’m guessing it’s because of the ease of producing and packaging high numbers of images with digital imaging. So in a way it’s our fault of giving away the farm just because it doesn’t cost us out of pocket (but it does…). I try not to do a blanket pricing. I make the client pay for the value they get. We can’t think in terms of how much “work” we do. We’re selling our ideas, expression, our art. If see our work as a commodity then we should get an hourly job.
There are more photographers out there too. Once again, because of the ease of producing photographs with digital imaging without too much investment of knowledge and commitment, many people call themselves photographers. So what I’ve done to adapt to that is, I try to do my own thing. Well, in second thought, it’s not really an adaptation since I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. We are all different with different way of seeing things, so for me to shoot in a certain way because everybody is doing it makes no sense to me.
You seem to shoot with all sorts of different cameras. How important is it to you to have professional equipment?
Dan: From toy $20 cameras to $20,000 digital back cameras, they all do the same things. But there is a remarkable difference in using it in a professional environment. It’s all about the camera not getting in the way of making that image. It needs to do its job quickly and efficiently. Style and coolness? Sure if you’re 23yrs oldJ Of course, it has to be built so it lasts.
Are you a big fan of panoramic shots?
Dan: Yes, panorama photography has always interested me. I remember seeing an article about a photographer who would wear the swing lens pano around his neck and shoot street that way. I remember he did it in one of the hotspots in middle east country, so discretion was a must, which explains his way of shooting. His horizon was not leveled, and technically “incorrect” but I love the way that pano format 3:1, frames the street like a stage. It’s such a extreme format that you have to be very conscious in framing. I love that challenge. I don’t put that much emphasis on being technically correct. For me, the vision takes the front seat, everything else is in the back.
When shooting nature, are there any geographical locations that are either a specialty or a passion?
Dan: It great when the scenery is just so beautiful that almost any angle works. But what I’ve been doing more is trying to find the beauty in the common places. Just a regular park nearby for instance. I’m looking for a certain light, a particular way the branch curves… So in a way I’m not really concerned with the actual subject or a location. I’m more interested in how that subject relates to the light, the shapes and eventually to me.
Growing up in Korea, was growing up and being a photographer impractical? How did you work your way back to this craft after not thinking about it after so many years?
Dan: I was only 9 when I was in Korea, so I was not a photographer, even though I immensely enjoyed taking group shots of my family in front of statues and fountains. My first inkling with photography happened around when I was in high school, after hearing about it from my sister while she was taking a class in her University. From then till the time I seriously pursued photography was about 4-5 years. But since I was 9, I was always fascinated with photography. When in a line of a supermarket, I would always pick up the time life “year in pictures” issue. It was always in the back of my mind. If there was somebody who could’ve shown me what this photography was all about, maybe I could’ve started younger.
You said that photography is an art form that still baffles you. What other challenges do you hope to accomplish this year?
Dan: I would like to accomplish more by taking more pictures that I can be proud of, that goes without saying. But specifically, I want to do more video projects. Video is such an interesting platform where different creative ideas can merge into. And now you just upload onto Vimeo or the like and thousands of people can see it!
Marketing and self promotion is critical to any business and especially photographers. What is your philosophy here?
Dan: It is absolutely necessary if you want to make money. The reality is that no matter how good you are, you need to put your work in front of the eyes who can hire you. Trust me, that they will not be looking for you. You also have to make the presentation as best as possible too. Good website, working the image. Don’t think your image by itself is good enough. Take all the help from a good design, color scheme and layout of your website. In the business world you don’t have too much time to sell (3-5 seconds), so you better make the best of it when you have that chance.
Do you enjoy any Asian films or anime?
Dan: Asian films, yes. I enjoy seeing the contrast in culture in the art of film making. Anime, I just never gave it a try yet…
In one word, what would you like people to feel, upon looking at one of your photographs?
Dan: “Feel” is enough for me! This feeling is the soul of the art, I believe. So if you feel something, I’m happy. That’s my goal in photography actually, is to make people feel the human emotions that we all have. Each photo may have a different feeling/mood but this feeling is the part that communicates without speaking. Glass metal, computer chips, film… can express what makes us human? That’s magic.
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