in conversation with: KEVIN TO
Kevin To is a street and documentary photographer who is currently based in Egypt. Influenced by the photojournalists and humanists of the past, we talk more to Kevin more about what inspires to him to create images that are reminiscent of the golden days of street and photojournalism.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where were you born, where do you live now. How did you become interested in photography?
I was born in suburban Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC. Was based in South Sinai for the past six months and now I’ve just arrived in Istanbul, Turkey.
I grew up in a big family where my aunts, uncles, and cousins were all into some form of art as their hobbies, that form being mostly photography. Most them are landscape, wildlife and wedding photographers. But they were always taking photographs during family dinners and events, so it was inevitable that I picked one up sooner or later.
Where or how do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of it through film and music. But I also find a lot of inspiration through just talking to people. Hearing about their life experiences and their perspective on things, it helps me view things differently.
Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?
Film directors I always revisit and love are Andrei Tarkovsky, Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel, Wim Wenders, Wong Kar Wai.
And so many others.
What do you want to express through your photography? What are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
Want I want to express is the beauty and joy of everyday life. When working on a project or a specific story I try to expand that to include a wider range of the human experience.
Where is your most favourite place to go and photograph?
Wherever I happen to be. My favorite images are definitely made when I’m traveling and when my eyes get to see familiar things in a foreign setting. New colors, sounds, smells, cultures, and energy levels put me into a creative flow.
What happens when you go out with your camera? Do people respond positively to you, or do you sometimes get negative reactions? If yes, how do you handle it?
I’ve found that when I take my camera out most of the time people respond positively. Occasionally negative reactions occur, and the easiest way to diffuse these situations is to smile and explain. I find that a conversation about what I’m doing and why I took a photo of the person tends to allow them to understand, and more often than not they leave with a smile as well. The initial reaction of “why did you take that photo of me!?” Really scares photographers, but that’s normal and if I wasn’t in a good mood I’d probably react the same way if someone did that to me.
When you take pictures, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
If it’s a project then absolutely I have images in my head that I want to make. Telling a story through images is the same as writing one, so certain images that give context and move the story forward are essential. But If I’m just wandering about, then most of the time I let the images come to me, no matter the time or day.
Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? (What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?)
The equipment does affect the way I shoot and how I go about achieving my vision. I shot mostly with film in the past but now since I’m traveling I’ve switched over to digital.
The camera I grab most of the time is my Ricoh GR. It’s the perfect camera in my opinion, and it brings me the most joy with the most ease. The wide angle lens allows me to capture moments on the fly
What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
Some of my goals include having a solo exhibition in the future and have a few more books published.
In five years I hope to be a photojournalist for an international photo agency like Getty Images or Reuters.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
Currently I’m doing some research on the largest stateless nation, Kurdistan.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
…go swimming, cycling around the city, travel, and visit museums. Or just stay home with a good movie, a few cocktails, and some good company.”