Interview with Aaron Kho by Kiara Ventura
Aaron Kho is a Singaporean Chinese photographer who moved to New York City in August 2014. He is currently studying photography at NYU`s Tisch School of the Arts. His journey with the camera began when he was 13 years old and he mainly has experience in travel and portrait photography. One of his best works is called “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please” which was known for capturing the essence of New York City. I had a chance to have a conversation with Kho and dive into his perspectives on photography.
Why do you chose to express yourself through photography?
I`ve always found photography as my mode of personal expression and in recent years I have found that photography can evoke emotions in people. These emotions are really powerful because every photograph, every image, and every form of art is a tool that encapsulates the mind of people. It brings out a message of what a person or artist photographer are thinking. I have found a lot of joy in photography because it has the ability to bringing life and happiness to people. That is how I find value in it; I find so much happiness in translating this happiness or emotions to people.
How did your interest in photography start? What sparked you to actually pick up a camera and get into this whole world of photography?
Well initially, I did not know that a passion for photography would be within me. Back in high school, I started off with being in the track club as my main extracurricular activity. I was in track but my parents opposed it because the commitment to track was too heavy and demands a lot of hard work. I decided to quit track and join a Media tech club in my freshman year of high school. My commitment to photography in this club involved hard work too; I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to take a better image, how images communicate with one another, how they are composed, who are the more creative people out there, and discovering the Singaporean community out there that are also taking pictures.
My commitment itself started growing from there. I provided my photography service for my school, organized classes for photography, and built a website dedicated to this new hobby. That is where I learned what I call “the face value of photography:” something that is very functional, something that is extremely didactic, and something that has a purpose. So with that I tried to learn the technical skills to it; I research techniques I could use which included watching youtube videos on photography. I eventually became the president of the photography club in junior college where I chaired around 20 people who were equally passionate in this practice.
Are there certain types of photography that you specialize in? If so, what are they?
I mostly do street photography. Portraits and street photography has been an art that I have always been keen in doing. I have a very strong background in event photography as well; I've been doing that in highschool and in junior college back in Singapore. I consider myself to be a jack of all traits but a master of none. There are a lot of photography genres that I`d like to explore but I haven't fully explored yet and now I'm trying to dip my toes into various genres of photography.
So what other types of photography would you like to explore?
The next new thing that I really want to explore is fashion photography. In New York City, fashion is a something that is really huge and popular. It defines what most New Yorkers are because most here have their own sense of style. Fashion photography is all about what people wear everyday and I'm really keen in exploring this genre which I did not have much experience in prior to moving in New York City.
What is the big difference between fashion photography and portrait photography?
The value of fashion photography is much more recognized and popular especially through the media. It has always been classified as something of a form of high art. On the other hand, I feel that portrait photography is more about the individual, how each image itself can only speak to the person who is involved, and the people who are related to this individual. In comparison to the people, one is more of a mass production kind of thing and portrait photography is more about an individualized experience.
Since you entered the world of photography, what have you learned about yourself and other people?
After I moved here to NYC, I realized that photography is perceived very differently in NYC and in Singapore. In Singapore, since the room for creative expression is limited, photography is perceived to have a very functional and business-forward objective. Many photographers are employing tried and tested means to create photographs; I have a feeling that photographers take on a very mechanical approach to making art works. Compared to NYC, photographers are more willing to take on the current conventions of photography and push them further to exist in multiple mediums, forms, and content. This boldness is what I find lacking amongst artists in Singapore. Many artists here show extreme dedication to their craft work, producing works wholeheartedly even though their payoffs may be meager. As such, many of the works I have seen here (in NYC) presents a highly intimate expression of an artist's thoughts and feelings. In Singapore, pragmatism is an overriding value that dictates the lives of many artists. As such, artists find themselves hesitant in developing new ideas and new perspectives in the arts for the fear of not being to receive much returns.
How did the difference between the photography in NYC and Singapore affect you? Did you happen to get inspired by this NYC style of photography?
Yes, now I have a lot more room for creative expression. I can explore a lot of different styles and initiatives of photography in ways I didn't back home. In whatever I have done so far in my first eight months here, I have seen a lot of growth in myself. In a way, I`m not just thinking of ways of taking better photographs of people or landscapes themselves but about how photographs really capture the essence of what a photographic image should be.
And now what would the ideal photographic image for you be? What would it do or have within it?
Instead of a functional value, it really should express what the photographer really feels about a certain situation and show the openness in expression that the photographer has. It is more than a “face value” kind of image, and rather has a stronger sense of purpose and opinionated sense of image that photographer has.
So a successful photo would communicate a message clearly? And it would express and generate opinions that the photographer was aiming for?
Yes, and that has impacted me quite a bit because I learned to have a expressional value in my work where its not just about what I think as a photographer but how others view my work. Eventually, the photos taken aren't about the end product but the process behind it, which defines whether the picture would be successful in communicating its message. For example, when I take portraits of models, it is not just about the photograph as an image, it is about the crafted experience, it is about the experience I share with the models and team including the makeup artists and lighting assistants which all ultimately defines whether this whole experience is successful. So that photograph itself has more meaning that what's presented in the image.
Is there anything in the photographic process that you feel you need to improve on? What would they be?
I think I could improve on technical skills such as lighting and how it could be positioned. In terms of my portrait photography, the main aspect I want to improve on is working with people, communicating with them, studying what they do, and how they act which is very crucial in determining how the photos would turn out. What I really think I need to improve on is in figuring out how to clearly translate messages in my photographs and evoke emotions in them whether it be by making viewers happy, sad, or even making them treasure the people and things around them. I would like my photos to have multiple layers of meaning to them.
What steps do you think you need to take to improve in communicating these messages to your viewers?
I think I need to expose myself to more artworks not just in NYC but across the world. I also want to really understand how artists/photographers think and what values they attach themselves to when creating their work. Throughout the past few months here, I have been visiting art galleries in New York to seek new inspiration for my future photographic works. I have also been looking out for current trends in the art world and how been meeting artists to understand more about their art processes and intentions.
I really want to dig into your process behind taking a photo so please describe your “art” of taking a photo.
My aim is to capture a photo in the decisive moment where there is a certain response, action, or reaction in what I am taking no matter if I'm taking a photo of a landscape or person. My goal is to capture the highest moment of expression. This decisive moment is the moment that tells the climax of a story.
I`m thinking that the decisive moment is the moment you decide to click that button and take the picture. How do you know when is the right time to click that button?
I think the decision is made through intuition. There is not a certain technique to it, it is mostly based off an emotion or kind of feeling where what you feel internally connects to what you see externally. It a situation where you should just trust your heart during those moments.
What do you hope for career wise? What kind of photography do you see yourself doing and what kind of business do you see yourself in? What is your dream?
Well, I have a lot of dreams. Everything is in flux because there isn't a certain thing that I have fixed myself upon. Eventually, I don't see myself as a photographer but a creative director behind the scenes or in a photoshoot itself. I could work for magazines, newspapers, clients, or campaigns. Eventually, I don't see myself as a photographer but someone who is really passionate about visual arts where I don't encompass just photography but everything in general regards to the arts. I have also been planning on being a curator for photography art exhibitions one day in various countries around the world. That is my dream.
You are thinking about becoming a curator. So how do you think being a photographer/ artist yourself will translate into choosing artworks for an exhibition and directing that whole process?
I think it is a lot about how the skills and messages that are being conveyed. The skills involved in being a professional artist that are gained from constantly looking at things and seeing things as artist is crucial in determining whether a work of art has value or not. The skills involved in visual thinking is crucial in translating an experience to people as a curator. It is not just about creating the artwork but on how to become a better spectator for your work.
Congratulations! There is a exhibition of your work at the MoMA. What do you hope your audience feels/senses when viewing your work?
If I were to have an exhibition, I would have something related to the digital and visual arts where a person who walks through it can automatically feel a liberating sense of experience and emotion gushing through them. That is something that I really want to evoke among those who spectates my work through this exhibition itself. It could be an overwhelming sense of emotion whether it brings out feelings of crying, happiness, dignity, or embarrassment. I would like them to receive a huge sense of an emotional reaction that will bring out the core of being a human being.
Of course I don't have a team or idea that will fit into an exhibition right now. But I want something that relates to this emotive experience and it is something that I would really like to explore someday.
What certain emotion would you prefer to give off to the audience?
I would rather have a form of reactions that relates to making people feel an eureka moment. I would like to have an idea that deals with what the core of what a human being is in a way where things are just devoid of all the material aspects and stripped down to its basics. It is pretty abstract right now. I just want to bring out a strong emotive experience.
What are you up to nowadays? How can we stay in touch with you and connect with your future works?
I am currently working on my final project for my freshman project which is mostly based on analog photography. It is about taking objects in a unconventional place. For example, a book in the middle of a desert or a panty on a tree. I am looking to take photos that taps in our unconscious mind. This is related to works of surrealist artist such as Salvador Dali or Giorgio de Chirico. These are the ideas I have been currently exploring in the context of NYC. If you'd like to see my work, you can visit my website, www.shootingwithmyheart.com. There you can find my portfolio and everything I expressed through my photos.