Our cover art is by Taiwanese, Brooklyn-based fine art photographer Hsin Wang. Hsin’s images are beautiful even in the sadness and melancholy the images portray. She uses photography as a form of therapy to discover her hidden feelings about relationships. De-Selfing, her latest series isinspired after the break up of a six-year relationship and incorporates everyday objects to create her unique metaphoric and symbolic images. It’s no wonder that her work was recently featured in the New York Times. We caught up with Hsin, to discuss her work, inspirations and relationships.
Litro: Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.
Hsin: I am from Taipei, Taiwan. The city and the country are both beautiful and inspiring, and full of friendly people (and really really great food). It’s kind of weird looking back at my life there. I didn’t grow up in a creative or open-minded environment. Although my family is very supportive of me and my passions, I wasn’t encouraged to create anything of my own.
You know, my first time visiting an art museum was at twenty-six years old! And before coming to NYC, I thought only certain people could make art. I thought that in order to be an artist, you had to be incredibly skilled and trained in drawing or painting.
I came to NYC to pursue a more creative, less restrictive existence. Since I moved to NYC four years ago, the city has torn apart my conception of who gets to create art. Living here has replaced it with a whole new world of possibilities. Now I truly believe that opportunities to create are everywhere, you just need to keep an eye out for them, and be brave enough to grab them.
Litro: Who inspires you?
Hsin: Many artists come to mind, but I think the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is the most inspiring to me! Her work is absolutely amazing. What I admire the most about her is her courage to break through her cultural constraints. Her family thought she shouldn’t pursue her own career, and when her work became renown in the States and Europe, the Japanese art world shunned her. And no matter what, if she’s sick or depressed or hungry or whatever, she devotes herself fully to her artwork. She still works non-stop today at the age of 81. Her desire and energy to create are just incredible.
Litro: How did you get into photography?
Hsin: I can’t say it’s a very inspiring story, but since you asked…
I only started taking pictures three years ago. After two semesters in a graphic design certificate program at the Pratt Institute, I felt so lost and wasn’t sure if graphic design was something I should pursue anymore. I wasn’t sure if I could contribute anything unique or original to the field, and that’s one of the most important things I strive for as an artist.
I decided to take a basic photography class to at least learn how to use shutter speed or f-stops on my Sony Nex 5. Long story short, after I had my very first photography project, my teacher Federico Savini (one of my best teachers ever!) encouraged me to continue shooting, build a portfolio, and apply for a Masters program, so I could start a new career path in photography.
Litro: Can you tell us a bit about your latest project De-Selfing? What inspired you to focus the project on your personal experiences and how do you feel this has developed you for future relationships?
Depression. I was suffering from severe depression when I was in school. I hated myself so much that I could barely look at myself in a mirror. Luckily, at the end of the semester, my teacher James Estrin encouraged us to do a self-portrait project. I had to look at myself.
Meanwhile, in my research I discovered the tragic story of Francesca Woodman and I took it as a sign that photography had come to my life at just the right moment.
Not to be dramatic, but this project really did save me in many ways. One of the most important things I learned from this project is that the foundation of happiness is your relationship with yourself. The project explored my personal failures, and the deeper I delved into that pain, the clearer it became that I really didn’t love myself. It made me personally realize that in order to have a healthy relationship (with your romantic partner, friends, family), you need to secure and love yourself first.
Litro: Photography, like all art, is about communication and expression. How does your work fit within our cultural conversation? And do ensure the conversation carries on with your work?
Hsin: My current work is all about my own relationships and personal feelings, so sometimes I wonder how that fits into the conversation. But then again, many people have told me that when they look at my work, they immediately get what I’m trying to say.
Everyone always has some issues with their romantic partners. There is always a time in their lives to question who they are and what they want to be. Love might be a cliché topic, but we can’t help but think about it.
Litro: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Hsin: Sometimes when I’m so full that my stomach feels like it’s running out of space or I’m going to explode, I’ll still have one more bite of ice cream…
Litro: How long did it take you to complete De-Selfing?
Hsin: De-Selfing was my thesis project for my Masters degree at The School of Visual Arts, so there was a lot of pressure for me to work it, develop it, and finish it on time. I only had about 6 months. However, that was the most intense and worthwhile 6 months of my life – to push myself to dig into all my feelings out and force myself to feel the pain again and again.
Litro: What’s your earliest childhood memory?
Hsin: This question is probably the most difficult one! Sometimes I feel like my memory is like a goldfish. There is one childhood memory that somehow keeps coming back to me. My brother and I got lost in a subway station in Tokyo at rush hour. I was probably 10 years old. The whole time we held our hands tightly and tried to pass through crowds. We barely could see which way to go. Everyone looked like giants to us. That anxiety of not being able to find the way home is still coming back to me, maybe because I don’t really know where my home is yet. I’m still looking for it.
Litro: How do you relax?
Hsin: I just got into biking again a few months ago and I am loving it! When I slow down, New York City becomes a slow motion movie. Because there is a distance between me and the people on the streets, so I can see clearly that other people are living their lives- they are laughing, fighting, singing, daydreaming, chasing a bus, carrying laundry, etc. This makes me feel so small but also somehow peaceful.
Litro: Can you give us your top 5-10 tips for budding photographers?
Hsin: Tip 1: Help out with your photographer friends’ projects as much as you can.
Tip 2: Don’t be shy to ask for their opinions about your work.
Tip 3: Find workshops, portfolio reviews, or programs to attend in order to expand your community of photographers.
Tip 4: Plan a photo walk or gallery walk with them. Discuss discuss discuss.
Tip 5: If you like someone’s work, let them know, write them a short email or share their work on social media. You never know what kind of relationships you might build with your favorite artists.
Litro: How would you define creativity?
Hsin: To me, creativity means entirely abandoning criticism and self-doubt. It means being honest to yourself, being bold, and transforming your message into the artform and the aesthetics that you feel communicates it best.
Litro: In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?
Hsin: I’m not very active on social media so I don’t deal with too much of the background babble. I will say that if I’m interested in making a connection with someone, I send a private email, or ask to meet in person if possible.
Litro: Could you name your top five photographers – and explain why they impress you?
Hsin: 1. Francesca Woodman, Every time when I see her photographs I feel taken over by feelings, like I’m immersed in a pool of her sadness and depression. Theses something about her use of blur that brings her photographs to life, full feeling and time.
2. Elinor Carucci. I can’t find another photographer like Elinor, one who has captured love and “drama” in a family so well. At first glance, her work depicts the quiet moments in life, but with closer look, so much emotion is revealed. She shows me what “rich in love” means.
3. Gregory Crewdson, He is the master of perfectionism. I love observing every detail in his cinematic work. I often find myself plotting my own stories within his images.
4. Guy Bourdin. How can you not love his avant-garde, eccentric, and fun fashion photography!
5. Philip-Lorca diCorcia. I love both his street photography and staged work. He is undeniably brilliant at transforming streets into his own studio-like stage. He also brings street portraits to another level, which always teaches me something new.
Litro: What’s next in terms of future projects?
Hsin: I’m developing a new project concept which is about loving yourself. This time I will focus on the stories of others who have struggled with depression instead of my own.
Every time someone shares her or his personal story with me, I gain strength. Not just from the story itself, but the beautiful fact that the person is so brave but also vulnerable in front of me and to herself or himself. I want to capture that brave and vulnerable moment.