Ejen Chuang Interview

We’re really excited to bring you this interview with L.A. based photographer Ejen Chuang. Aside from being one of the coolest people I know and an incredible photographer, Ejen has also been a big supporter of Snapshot Galleria from the very beginning. Enjoy the interview and be sure check out his website at www.helloejen.com and follow his Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/helloejen/.

Please introduce yourself and tell our audience a little bit about your work.
Hey y’all, my name is Ejen Chuang. I was born & raised in Houston, TX to immigrant parents, packed my beat-up car and drove to Los Angeles after college. Spent the past 15 years in the photography industry from working at film labs to camera shops to assisting photographers and shooting for editorial clients.

How did you get into photography? What motivates you to keep shooting?
My father introduced me to photography by passing down his Canon AE-1. There’s a photo of me as a 3 year old grabbing the tripod legs so I like to say I’ve been interested as a toddler. I figured things out through trial and error and took as many photo-related courses in college as I could. When I graduated, I move to the closest big city from my tiny college town and started freelancing as a photo assistant. I spent a year in Dallas before making the move to Los Angeles. I’m very lucky that one of my part time jobs I do is at a photo lab and see variety of images from folks like Kevin Novales, Ed Templeton, Clint Woodside and others inspires me. Going to zine fests and art book fairs makes me happy as well. Nothing like seeing folks out there shooting film and putting out photo zines !

Tell us about your upcoming zine? The photos we showcased are from a trip to Japan in 2002 and in your upcoming zine, you include images from a more recent trip. What are some of the changes you noticed? Tell us a little bit about your experiences putting the set together.
My upcoming “Tokyo” zine reflects a 15 year span from a perspective of a twenty-something to a thirty something. My first trip to Japan, all I care about was bars, clubs and graffiti, We did hit up a few tourist sites but we spend most of our time roaming the city at night through different bars and clubs.We dance & drink till morning and watch the drunk salarymen at the stations puke. I bought along my Yashica T4 camera and photographed some of the spots. Looking back, I wish I would have photographed more. When I return this year, I was much more aware of my surrounding and always looking for shots. I would sometimes walk around a subway station just looking for an angle or a scene to capture. Sometimes the universe would grant you an image, other times you have to hunt for it. Tokyo is amazing to photograph and lends itself well to just wandering and stumbling upon happy accidents.

Honestly I have a hard time editing my own work. I can easily see someone else’s images and arrange them to a pleasing manner but honestly, when it is your own work, it is tougher. I usually make a draft, then show it to a few friends. For this zine, I’m making a very small run just to test out people’s responses, It is 60 pages in a square 6×6 format. Oh, half the zine is shot on film (Kodak Portra 400VC & NPZ800) and the other half is shot on digital (Canon 5DII & Canon G15).

You have also published 2 books on Cosplay in the past, can you tell us a bit about that scene and how you got into it?
I’ve been a geek my entire life and so when I attended my first anime convention in 2008, I bought my own lights and background to photograph cosplayers. This was the genesis in the idea that perhaps I can do a coffee table book showcasing cosplayers from coast to coast. I was more interested in doing portraits that reveal the person underneath the costume so there’s a few interviews scattered throughout the first book. Financed by a few credit cards, I travel to 6 cons, set-up my backdrop at the convention center and photograph for 3 days, fly to the next city and repeated the process. The first book was pretty simple – images of cosplayers photographed against a grey seamless backdrop and while visually interesting, it felt a bit empty. That is when I realized I need to examine the entire process, not just the final stage where cosplayers present their work. The second book expanded the concept of the first book by tracing the cosplayer’s process from creation, to construction to premiering the costume at the convention. This time it took 3 years to travel to twenty cities, spending up to a week in each city. Both books were independently produced and released through a series of distributors as well as book fairs and conventions.

Aside from the zine, what upcoming projects are you working on?
I have file folder boxes of negatives lying around my apartment with at least 5 years worth of film so I hope to go through and perhaps put together some more photo zines in the future. I’ve been inspired to return to shooting with film so I plan on acquiring some film cameras but first I have to get out of debt from making those cosplay books !

Are you originally from Los Angeles? If so, what part of the city did you grow up in? And if not, where did you move from? How did either process influence your photography?
Living in Los Angeles is a different beast than Texas where I was born and raised. Here in LA, you are thrusted into a melting pot of a wide variety of culture, a definite change from Houston and Dallas. The interesting thing was I’ve been feed images of Los Angeles all my life. I consumed a staggering amount of television shows as a child and sometimes I’ll be driving by an alley and recognize it from a decades old television show. Today I live in Koreatown where the subway, Ralph’s, my bank and my favorite taco truck is literally blocks away from me. I love walking the streets and not understanding what stores are because many signs are in Korean. Been a K-town citizen for over a decade now.

Anything else you would like to add?
My favorite taco truck is located on north side of Wilshire Blvd. between Oxford and Serrano in Koreatown. They are there from noon to 7-ish during the week. Tell them the book guy says hi.