CHRIS VONGSAWAT

What's funny though is that I actually don't see photography and video as different mediums, even though clearly they are. I come from an animation background, specifically character animation, so in terms of my creative process, still images and moving images are closely interrelated. They exist together in the same space for me. That said, I consider my medium as whatever you can see on a screen. I'm not all that interested in sculpture, painting, or print.

But you're right that I do have an interest in versatility. I was deeply influenced by an idea I picked from an interview with a commercial advertising photographer that I read when I first started learning how to shoot photos several years ago. Unfortunately I can't remember who it was, but he was talking about images with strong style where you could tell who shot them just by looking at them, which seems to be a goal for a lot of photographers. He said he prided himself on being able to recognize the photographer in the work--oh that's Annie Leibovitz, oh that's an Avedon, etc. But then he said he'd see a great portrait. Who is this? Joe McNally? Cool. And then he'd see another portrait. Who shot this? Oh, Joe McNally too? Oh this magazine cover is incredible! Who shot it? What? Joe again? It occurred to him that instead of trying to create a recognizable style, Joe was more concerned about putting the content first. That is, let the subject determine the style, not the artist. It struck me how much being surprised affected that photographer being interviewed. It clearly left an impact--that the same person shot in such different ways and still be compelling. It's essentially the opposite of trying to develop a cohesive and recognizable visual style. It's much more of a focus on delivering the content on the content's terms and being useful rather than trying to convey my own voice as a matter of priority. That doesn't mean I'm trying to shoot anything and everything--there are genres of imagery I don't really have much interest in. But, whatever I do decide to spend my time on, I pay attention to the language it's speaking and who it's trying to speak to and I make decisions from there. Being multi-lingual visually goes a long way in delivering that kind of value and process. It's very service-oriented.

 

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All my confidence comes from the end goal of what I'm trying to do with all my projects--build leverage for other people in the market. It might seem odd to say, but I actually don't think of myself as an artist and I don't look at what I do as art. Infact, I actively try to stay away from seeing myself in those terms. Obviously I make art and a lot of what I do has artistic and creative aspects to it, but I've found that I'm much more effective if I look at my process from a business-oriented standpoint. When I shoot a model, for example, I look at the work she's done, I might talk to her about what direction she's looking to go in, and I shoot her not with the sole intent of making pretty images that I happen to like (which is basically subjective), but rather, media assets that are useful for helping her better position her brand. Or if not that, make something different for her than she's used to so she can explore the market a bit and see if there's a better way for her to attack things. We're still making evocative imagery that's impactful, but in a way that's informed by marketing, goals, market dynamics, regional aesthetics, all in service of creating leverage and not just interesting for the sake of interesting. Basically, I'm focused on helping people gain an advantage and it's easy to have confidence when you're focused on giving and adding, which in turn, is easier to see looking through a marketing filter than an art filter.

 

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That was a fun shoot I did with Charles Lucima that I ended up working on through a stylist I know, Tiffani Chynel. It was my first time working with Kate Compton. The process was similar to how I usually do collaborations with photographers, I let the photographer take the lead, shooting over their shoulder as they shoot, then I direct the model for a few minutes between looks. I try to be as fast and unobtrusive as possible, improvising off of whatever creative direction the photographer is steering things. I try to overshoot (get more than I need) with as much variety as possible so I have options to explore in the edit.

One memory stands out from the shoot that I always laugh about whenever I remember it. It was this one moment when Charles asks Kate to go underneath a glass table. "Under the table?" she asks skeptically. "Yeah." Charles replies. So she gets underneath it and starts messing around, exploring what she can do with this perplexed but intense look on her face, and then all of a sudden she starts laughing and she says "This is why I love you Charles. You fucking challenge me." There's something about a group of people gathered around a naked woman underneath a glass table trying to figure out what she can do with it that seems totally absurd but also absolutely beautiful. I think this kind of work is always filled with silly moments like that.

 

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I try to give equal attention to the various styles I'm juggling. If I shoot a lot of more serious, styled, androgynous fashion work, I'll make it a point to swing back towards LA style nudes or interesting sexy shots of tattooed girls. Or if I feel like I'm spending a lot of time on sexy stuff, I'll flip it and try to shoot something weird or that has a graphic design element to it.  The point is to keep myself familiar with the languages I have some fluency in so I don't get rusty speaking them while also trying to become more fluent in languages I don't fully understand.

In terms of the stuff I find challenging, I think there's something challenging in all the looks and languages if you make it a point to seek it out. Faster, more complex, stripped down, different cities, new team members, different social media platforms, monetize it, do it as a video, do it as a photo, there's always another angle to explore. I let random curiosity lead me.

 

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One of the most challenging aspects of my work, but one that I'm grateful for is: Trying to shoot what a model doesn't have. Early on I might have seen that a model had a lot of certain images in her book, like say LA style nudes in black and white, or colourful fashion shots on location, and I'd think, that's what this girl is good at so let me utilize her strengths. But over time, as I became more confident in my ability to execute different styles, I became more interested in delivering more unique value to girls, which in my mind meant shooting them in a visual language that they didn't have in their portfolio. So if I shoot a girl from LA who has a lot of sexy stuff, I'll throw her into a button up dress shirt, slicked back hair and a black blazer over her shoulders and shoot her straight on looking bored. Or if I get a girl with a lot of polished fashion work, I'll shoot something in a more disposable camera look or a quirky situation that feels more in the moment. The toughest girls are the ones that have extremely diverse portfolios with a lot of different visual styles. In those cases I'll look to hair or location, and see if there's a different angle I can hit from there. In a way I'm shooting against a model's portfolio, but with the ultimate goal of increasing her leverage and still staying in a range of ideas that are in line with where she wants to go. It's not about variety for variety's sake.

 

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I'm intensely optimistic about the future. We live in an incredible time in history where there is unprecedented opportunity to make impact if you're willing to put in the time to figure things out. There is so much undiscovered country out there for image makers and storytellers. I think of it like the transition in the movie industry from silent films to talkies--a major disruption, that if embraced, put you in a great position to have an effect on people's lives and that allowed you to make art that didn't exist before. There's virtual reality on the horizon, I'm sure we'll have augmented reality in contact lenses eventually, self-driving cars will probably create opportunities for moving movie theatres or new kinds of entertainment integrated with social media. But even if you're not interested in any of that, you can do way more today as one person creating media than you could have hoped for ten years ago. Most DSLR's shoot high-quality video, drones are cheaper, you can do really impressive stuff with a lower budget and with smaller/lighter equipment which means you can focus more on the creative. Only recently have I been able to put together a setup that allows me to edit RED footage on a laptop on the go. That wasn't practical a year ago. There's even more opportunity to take "traditional" imagery like street portraits and package it differently--like say Humans of New York where instead of taking a somewhat voyeuristic, photojournalism approach, the emphasis was placed on permission, interview, and talking to each other through comments on the blog. In terms of my own career, I'm optimistic that I don't know what it will look like because the opportunity in front of me has never existed before. Maybe I'll be making fashion films for contact lenses, who knows? But I'm excited about the vast unknown, that maybe I'll carve a career path that has never existed.

 

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The end of civilzation will be caused by: Disconnection. Feeling like we're not connected to other people or that we matter. It makes people do terrible things.

 

















01 // Brittany Bochart // brittany_bochart
02 // Sam Tressler // sam_tressler
03 // Oliwia Pawelczak // oliwiaorwhatever
03 // Katie Belenger // katiiee.b
04 // Katie Belenger // katiiee.b
05 // Arielle Billie // billie_jane_
06 // Brookelyn Kelly // brookelyn_kelly
07 // Arielle Billie // billie_jane_
08 // Uncredited
09 // Arielle Billie // billie_jane_
10 // Nathalia Castellon // nattcity
11 // Oliwia Pawelczak // oliwiaorwhatever
12 // Agata Jen // madeinpolandxx
13 // Glass Olive // glassolive
14 // Uncredited
15 // Chelsey Merrill // cmerrill5
16 // Oliwia Pawelcz // oliwiaorwhatever
17 // Alee Rose // aleeroseak

 

Chris Vongsawat // cvongsawat // chrisvongsawat.com

 

JUNNNKTANK is an online zine which has existed in one form or another since 2006.
For over a decade, the focus has been on highlighting the efforts of inspiring individuals and artists from around the world.

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Submissions are always welcome to junk@junnnktank.com.