Uncertainty has become the norm, our local community spaces have closed their doors, and people all over the world are worried – scared about their jobs, their families, their friends, and what the future holds. The need for real solidarity and allyship, is so important as we all try to collectively navigate the storm.
Here at Yellow, we wanted to do something for our community. So, for starters, we’re overhauling our ‘In the Industry’ segment and relaunching it as ‘In the Industry from Home.’ Over the course of the series, we’ll be talking to freelance creatives and those working from home about their artistic practices, how they’re coping in the current climate and any general bits that could help others who need the guidance, advice or inspiration at the moment. To kick things off, we got chatting to British-Chinese photographer, Naomi Wong.
Hailing from a place somewhere between Hong Kong and Scunthorpe, Naomi shoots exclusively on film – an ode to the bold, saturated colourways and grittiness that inform the films of her favourite director, Wong Kar-Wai. She lenses poignant moments of tenderness with a certain softness and familiarity that ebbs and flows throughout her entire body of work; fleeting recollections and hazy nostalgia lingering in the grain of every frame.
A photographer with an acute dexterity in visual storytelling and the coming-of-age narrative, she’s a firm fave amongst the editorial and fashion cognoscenti, having worked with notable clients like The British Journal of Photography, Liam Hodges, i-D, NYLON Japan, Dazed Beauty, INDIE, Converse, METAL, Schön!, Urban Outfitters, Nowness and many more.
Get to know Naomi a bit better below, as we chat about her photographic practice, planning for the future, and how to keep mindful in these trying times.
· Marketing Assistant, Ben Adams Architects (February 2019 – April 2019)
· Social Media Intern, Dazed Media (August 2018 – October 2018)
· Editorial Intern, Little White Lies (March 2018)
· BA Filmmaking, Kingston School of Art – London, United Kingdom (2013 – 2017)
· Film Production and Photographic Arts with Philosophy, Grand Valley State University – Michigan, USA (2015 -2016, Study Abroad)
My name is Naomi and I’m a British-Chinese photographer based in London. I’m currently in the coronavirus lockdown and have been at home for over 35 days! I might retire and just bake at home forever.
When and how did you start freelancing as a photographer?
Last year around April time. I was actually working at an architectural office in marketing briefly before being let go. It was a strange time since I was so used to a regular routine but figured it (a 9 to 5) just wasn’t for me. I took a stab at finally freelancing properly after getting a few commissions straight after losing my job and I’ve kept up freelancing whilst working in luxury retail part-time on the side. I’d like to get to a point where I won’t need to have a side job, but right now I don’t mind it at all and I’ve met some interesting people on the way.
Can you describe the process from initially being approached by a client or pitching an idea, to the finished visuals?
Usually, when I’m approached by a client, there’s a very high chance I have to pitch an idea to be judged alongside other photographers whereas, in some instances, I just start working on the job. I always make a well detailed moodboard with visual references, casting choices, possible styling ideas and a short description of each creative I want to place on my team. If it’s a commercial job, I would write a short summary of what I can bring to a brand and how my work can help elevate what they are trying to do.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice someone has given you or the most important thing you have learnt during your career?
I actually don’t think anyone has ever really given me advice. I didn’t study photography at school, so I haven’t really had a mentor. I’ve always learnt myself and spoken to other creative friends for opinions on things. It’s great to have a good support network of close friends who work in the creative field - we’re all learning together and helping each other on the way. The advice that always repeats itself amongst ourselves is probably don’t sell out (or at least don’t put your name on it) and learn to say no to things! We always remind each other to take care of ourselves mentally and to reach out at any time if we’re struggling.
How has your normal client base been affected and how are you approaching brand deals, pitches etc. in the current climate?
All my upcoming shoots were cancelled and things have been pretty quiet since! However, I’m currently taking time to work on my website and update my online portfolio on creative network websites such as The Dots. I have also been planning a few shoots ahead which I’d love to work on when things go back to normal again.
You’ve previously said that what you see around you, travelling, memories and nostalgia all influence or inform your work. How have you managed to adapt and continue to hone your practice with the restriction of some of these things at the moment?
I’m writing a lot of notes on photos I want to create after the lockdown and collecting references along the way. I’ve also been looking into a lot of documentary photographers with an emphasis on human connections and physical interactions through small gestures. Hopefully by the end of all this, I will have learnt a few more things about myself and have a better understanding of what I want to create in the future.
It’s so vital to network as a freelancer. How have you continued to expand and engage with your network?
If I’m honest, there has not been much expanding at the moment. I think the shock of what is going on is still reeling a little bit and I’m just focusing on myself first. I’m looking into reaching out to a few creatives and editors about creating work together in the future, but I want to feel good before I attempt to set things in stone. As for my existing network, I have reached out and checked in on friends and past collaborators.
Do you have any places or platforms you would recommend to find work?
Not necessarily for photo work. But, I really recommend ifyoucouldjobs, creative opportunities run by UAL, and The Dots - there are more design, digital marketing and fashion related jobs there. Fashion Workie and Fashion Jobs are also worth a mention, but there are a lot of unpaid long-term internships on their job boards and I really believe those things should be illegal! It’s just classism - you can't really afford to live and work unpaid in the long run in London unless you have or have come from money and that's not fair on young people from lower income backgrounds.
If you’re a fresh graduate or even still at school, please consider before deciding on taking an unpaid position. I have done many unpaid full-time internships in the past with companies that can afford a budget and it’s really not worth stressing over whether or not you can eat and pay rent by the end of the month! Your hard work should not be free. I’m happy to speak to anyone about this if they need the support so feel free to get in touch.
How do you balance the negative impact social media can have on your mental health with the need to use it for work?
I’ve always been good with social media. When I know it will affect my mental health in any way, I just log off and don’t look at it for a while. I deleted the Instagram app on my phone after a breakup last year and the next day I quickly checked my DMs on the web browser version in case I had any work messages. Then, there it was: three new messages about potential projects. I just laughed and thought “wow, when I decide I want to go MIA - people get in touch!”. I didn’t really want to tell clients that I was hiding away because of something personal. I just replied to their messages and moved it to emails but remained off social media until I felt like it.
How have you found navigating the current climate – personally or professionally – as an East Asian woman of colour? Do you have any thoughts for people in a similar position?
I had an interview for an internship with a Shoreditch based concept store after I graduated uni back in 2017. Their clientele consists of a lot of East Asian international students who make up a large portion of the luxury market. As soon as I sat down for the interview, they complimented my vintage Versace jacket - which has belonged to my mum for over 20 years - and condescendingly asked me if I’d ever worked a day in my life. I don’t like to think they judged me on the fact that I was Chinese and wearing a designer jacket, but I remember it made me really uncomfortable. I replied blankly that I was working 40 hours a week in a restaurant and have lived in the UK practically all my life and they completely changed their attitude within a second. It wasn’t even necessarily the fact they said anything intentionally offensive. I genuinely felt judged in that moment because they assumed I was a wealthy international student who threw money at their store. But, even if I was, was there any need for a question like that? By that point, I didn’t want anything to do with them, but I just sat and answered their questions. I should have just got up and left. That was definitely one incident professionally where I felt really judged as an East Asian person of colour.
As a woman, I’ve definitely been in a few situations where I have not been included in conversations or have had people overlook or patronise me. This was first introduced to me when I was in film school and I was working within predominantly male groups. I had a producer assigned to me on a film in second year of university who never spoke to me directly or would just shut down my opinions and concerns and proceed to talk over me to the male cinematographer. Similar things have happened since but not as much as when I was younger now that I stand my ground more. People unfortunately always presume things from a quick judge of character and things like sexism still remain prevalent in the workplace. I think if you’re ever in a similar position of feeling uncomfortable or harassed, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. I know it can be daunting when you’re put in that position but always remember to give yourself a voice and to talk about it with others.
Written and edited by Linda Sou