April 23, 2020
FINDING HIS ZEN
Photography by Jason Phang
Interview by Melanie Meggs
New Zealand photographer, Jason Phang uses his photography as a way to regain his zen, drawing strength from the people he observes through his viewfinder.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH JASON PHANG
TPL: Jason, when did you start getting interested in photography?
JP: As a kid my mother made me pose endlessly and we took lots of photos together. At that age, I associated the camera with pain and boredom. But as I grew up, what my mum said about how to take photographs stuck with me and I was keen to try my hand at it. I also liked how those painful moments posing for my mum gave me a way to remember my childhood and keep those memories alive.
When I started my first job out of school, the digital revolution had started. Digital cameras allowed a real novice like me to experiment through trial and error. Mistakes made can be deleted without paying good money to have them developed. That ability really gave me the confidence to invest in a camera and give photography a shot.
Over the past 20 years, I continued that journey of learning and experimenting. I also came to realise that photography was a really good way to help me achieve mindfulness. I retreat into a studio in my head and the time spent making photos gave me a sense of peace can tranquility that I crave.
TPL: Where do you find your inspiration?
JP: Inspiration can be found in two ways, simply going out shooting and letting the scene in front of me develop and researching. I carry my camera with me all the time when I’m out and about. My photography preference tends towards un-staged street photography. As such, just getting myself out there allows me to inspired by the people and architecture around me.
Prior to social media, I found inspiration in National Geographic, Travel magazines and Life magazine. Stories and journalism intertwined with powerful images evoke a strong emotion in me and make me want to get off my chair and go make some photographs.
Social media is often portrayed in a negative light because it encourages people to compare and not be content. I’ve found so many instances of strong storytelling through video, words and images from talented people around the world. Rather than comparing myself to them and forming a judgement of any kind, these photographers have opened my mind up to different viewpoints.
TPL: Who are your favourite artists and photographers?
JP: Sean Tucker has definitely inspired me the most in the first 1-2 years. I appreciate his reflective approach to photography and his unobtrusive style of street photography. Fan Ho is a master. Alan Schaller also inspires me.
Here are other photographers that inspire me -
TPL: Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
JP: When I started photography, I took photographs that directly helped me record memories. As I continued my journey, I also started to use photography as a means to record memories indirectly. I wanted to record the world around me, not necessarily faces and moments I was involved in but the environment I was in. I hoped that in doing so, they will trigger richer memories and help me be more aware of the people and situations around me.
TPL: Where is your favourite place to photograph?
JP: I’m starting to realise that the city environment is my favourite place to shoot. Places where people come together. It is kind of scary for me to admit this as we are planning to move away from an urban environment to a rural setting which might change what I shoot.
TPL: Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?
JP: “Money is only important to the person who has heaps”. I am inspired by my camera of choice. I won’t deny that my Fuji X-T30 has both enabled and inspired me to shoot. I’m also a victim of camera envy. While I might sound like a hypocrite, I also think that the best camera is the one you have with you.
Cameras are expensive. Full Stop. Period. My advice to a starter will depend on how much disposable income they have. If you’ve got disposable income and are able comfortably look after yourself and your family, I would encourage the photographer to get a mid range camera (like a Canon M50 or Fuji X-T20/30) as they allow a new photographer to fall back on solid automatic settings and grow in confidence to try different approaches like aperture priority or full manual. However, if disposable income is low, I would feed the passion and grow your skills with any camera you can get your hands on. A phone camera is plenty good enough as it is with you all the time and it teaches storytelling and composition skills.
TPL: What characteristics do you think you need to become a good photographer? What’s your tips or advice for someone in your genre?
JP: Be patient and slow down. This is something I personally struggle with. I use photography to be more mindful because I have a tendency to react when I should simply just wait and pause.
It might sound counterintuitive when street photography is about living in the moment and capturing the world as it goes by. But so far in my limited experience, slowing and and pausing before clicking on the shutter has served me better than the whack a mole approach.
TPL: Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
JP: I have not. I like art.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
JP: No. I’ve read/watched other photographers talk about projects with themes and all. But I personally have not arrived at that stage of my journey yet. However, I’m keen to see what my answer to this question will be in 2 years’ time.