"One of my worst fears is that one day I would run out of ideas. Therefore I constantly try to find new inspirations. I love indie films, literature, psychology, music, painting, installation art and so on. I like to observe people’s behaviors and interactions or just everything around me. I collect random elements that I find interesting and store them in the back of my mind, then let those mingle and dissolve together; and magically, ideas are born. Haha."
How did you find New York City when you arrived and how did New York City welcome you?
I love New York city the moment I arrived. I have always wanted to be in New York. It reminds of home: everything is so compact and crowded and full of things going on. The energy in New York is infectious. The city is always alive and I love it. I also love how competitive everything in New York is. I would rather be a small fish in a big pond than being a big fish in a small pond. Haha. It keeps me striving to be better. And New York city has been kind to me. I have met a lot of new creative people that inspire me to create better work. It is amazing to be able to surround yourself with such positive and artistic environment.
In the editorial “In Strange Land” lots of life can be seen. As can be noticed the presence of tree can be seen from any perspective. Was it difficult to bring your Vietnamese roots to a foreign land?
No, it was not difficult for me to bring my Vietnamese traditions or customs to the US. I adapted it pretty well. I guess I came here at a good age, 15, when I was not too old to adapt to new environment and not too young to forget all the traditions and customs or beliefs I have learned from home. So actually I was be able to use both cultures, the East and the West, as a source of my inspirations. I like to fuse different/opposite things together.
Is there a photographer or photo that gives you inspiration?
I do not just find inspiration solely from one individual photographer or artist or a single image. I admire many artists, scientists, or mathematicians for many different things. I love Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Mert & Marcus, Joel Peter-Witkin, Picasso, Duchamp, Dali, Lars von Trier, Carl Jung, Freud, and so many more.
The quality and professionalism is evident in all your work. How much work is put into your projects including after the production?
I always treat every job very seriously whether it is a personal project or a commercial jobs or fashion stories for magazines. I put my most care in every final image. I usually use a lot of artificial lighting, strobe lights mixed with hot lights, and gels. I do not do much post-production because I try to get the best that I can in-camera first before the post-production process. I do a lot of group shots and I do not like compositing people into a shot. So I usually just to thumbnail sketches and composition prior to the shoot so that I can get the look that I want to have in camera primarily. I also use all kind of different gels and diffusions to get the lighting and tone that I like in-camera. The post-production process is mainly to work on skin and clean up things such as stray hair or threads or things like that. I also do work a lot on the colors as well in post-production. But sometimes, if I see a potential or a vision for an image that I haven’t thought of before or during the shoot, I would to more intensive post-production or whatever it takes to get the result that I have in mind.
How much time do you usually dedicate to after the production?
On average, 1 hour and a half to 2 hours and a half.
Does the up-side –down clock in “The Caged” denote that your idea of time is a cage that lives within us daily?
The cage is a very personal project that explores the concept of domestic violence, sexual abuses and childhood confusion and resiliency amidst the chaos, the repetitive cycle of modern life, memories, and so on. For that one particular image, the upside down clock, your interpretation is one way to look at since nowadays we are so caught up with everything, being busy and subconsciously knowing that we are running out of time since death is inevitable. I usually do not like to explain my work too much but just only give the viewers enough clues to make up their own stories and interpretation when they view my work. It is more interesting that way for me than explaining exactly what I mean.
According to you how important is marketing today?
I think marketing is very important these days. You have to know how to market yourself and know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are. The industry has become so competitive now that you have to be constantly present and creating new work or people will quickly forget about you. It is exciting. And of course, no matter how talented you are, but if people don’t know about your existence, you would not be able to get your vision out there. Marketing is very important.
The surrealism of “Myira” makes us think of the great artists of the past. What did you want to communicate to us with this work and what is the significance of all those different colored cubes you put in evidence?
First, I just want to thank you for the compliment. But again, I really don’t want to be passively talking about the meaning of the series. This series is very personal to me. I did it to explore myself, my inner reality. In our modern life, time has been transitioned into digital clock in which we cannot see its span, seemingly going forward forever, or into analog clock in which the repetitive, reciprocal quartets go over and over again, giving the impression of endless cycles that never stop; but through the hour-glass, our life time is reflected—it is fleeting and terminable—therefore, time definitely has an effect on us. In this series, Myira, with time as the undertone element and the fear of death lurking in the sub-consciousness, I explore how my mind negotiates and compromises with reality, dreams, delusion, fantasy, lust, longing, anger and fear. The cubes, the spheres, and the different colors have specific meanings to me but if I tell you what they mean then I would limit all the other possible interpretations that you or the viewers might have personally; and that would defeat my purpose of sharing the work in the first place. I want the viewers to be engaged with the artwork and have their own conversation with the piece rather than with me directly. There are already so many pieces of myself in the work already. Hahaha.
Although you’re so young, you have a great number of editorials. “Fleur de la Nuit” is amazing. What does the woman portrayed in the picture signify to you?
I do not quite understand what do you mean by this question or “the woman” in the picture. We used two female models for “Fluer de la Nuit” so I am not sure if you are asking about a specific model, or about the concept of “woman in images” in general? If it is about the woman in general, then what you ask is a huge question, which requires a much more serious discussion. The concept of this shoot is simple, flowers of the night, I want to explore more of a mysterious beauty, darker in tone and flesh.
What are your future projects?
I have been dabbling with video for a couple of months now and I really enjoy it. I am not very interested in fashion videos but more of a fine-art or experimental videos. I recently just finished one of my first videos ever (you can check it out at An Le - Jon). I will definitely want to learn much more about video and keep on shooting new editorials for magazines of course.
Before you leave the scene to your art, as a curiosity: how did the idea of “The Rose Bone” initiate?
Ah, the rose bone, it is one of my personal favorite editorials. I have had the concept for about a year ago and I just now had time and means to do it until since it is a huge production and a massive 40-page editorial. The idea is that I want to create a fashion story that actually has a narrative or a story underline. It is a family saga that has an American gothic undertone, inspired by the concept of exorcism/mental illness. I want the viewers to come up with their own version of the story when they look at the images or what are the relations of these characters, etc. I also wanted to make something that you do not see often out there in magazines these days. I want to make people excited about photography and fashion again.