Andrew Kung on continuing his mission to “normalise Asian American beauty, belonging, and individuality”

In Andrew’s recent series To Be Seen, he’s stepped away from using set design to focus on creating narrative through “lighting, composition, and gesture”.

23 October 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

Andrew Kung is a New York-based photographer who uses his camera to explore his Asian American identity. In the past, this saw him delving into situations and spaces where Asian Americans feel invisible, recreating these spaces through careful set design and shooting models of this descent in those spaces. When lockdown hit, however, Andrew was forced to reconsider his practice which previously saw him making images on a regular basis. “I instead saw an opportunity to study the greats and the craft so I can refine the visual language in which I create images,” he tells It’s Nice That.

With his newfound time, Andrew turned to the books, studying the work of photography greats like “Horst P Horst, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Cecil Beaton, etc.” What he discovered was an appreciation for “their use of lighting, composition, and gesture to create drama,” which “has definitely informed the lens in which I see my subjects now.” In turn, Andrew has released a new body of work titled To Be Seen which takes on board these influences, marking a change in his visual output but sticking with the themes he is so passionate about.

The series “envisions Asian Americans in mid-1900s-inspired fashion images that largely featured white models,” Andrew outlines. “Instead of solely using east Asian subjects, I wanted to challenge the idea that Asian Americans – especially in fashion – are a monolith. The photo series showcases a spectrum of genders, sexualities, and ethnicities, and features an attempt to normalise and reimagine the beauty and individuality of Asian Americans.” Andrew’s intentions with the series span beyond the fashion world too though: “Asian Americans are often viewed as a monolith not just in fashion, but in all walks of life – we’re seen to all have the same personalities, to all look alike, to all be the model minority. This project is a rebellion against that monolithic view.”

GalleryAndrew Kung: To Be Seen (Copyright © Andrew Kung, 2020)

Having spent so long with the work of photographers like Horst and Penn, Andrew wanted the aesthetics of the series to be “dramatic yet simplistic,” a goal he has certainly achieved. The images in the series portray a tenderness between Andrew and his subjects, one that the simple studio set-ups only further. Free from distractions, the emphasis is placed on the relationship between the models and Andrew, and the scenes’ intimacy is only amplified. The work has also been a chance for Andrew to challenge himself – to step away from “using set designs and locations, but rather create compelling images based purely on lighting, composition, and gesture on a cleaner background,” Andrew explains. “I ultimately realised that these stripped-back images can be just as narrative and impactful.”

There’s a timeless feel to the images, which is perhaps also inspired by Andrew’s recent immersion into film, particularly those which express “Asian excellence”. He’s been revisiting classics like In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai as well as focussing on contemporary works like Saving Face by Alice Wu. “I get a lot of inspiration, from not only the narrative elements of filmmaking, but also from the intentionality of camera movements, framing and use of colour,” he says. What’s more, “When I sometimes get overwhelmed at all the elements that go into making a single image, I’m reminded of how much more complex a film production is!”

Continuing his mission to challenge stereotypes surrounding Asian Americans through photography, Andrew is currently working on a new series that showcases Asian Americans in “all-American” spaces, doing all-American activities. “We’ve often been portrayed as not American enough – the ‘other’ who will always be seen as a perpetual foreigner,” Andrew concludes. “I’m excited to start this project and a few other fashion editorials, all with a goal to ultimately normalise Asian American beauty, belonging, and individuality.”

GalleryAndrew Kung: To Be Seen (Copyright © Andrew Kung, 2020)

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Andrew Kung: To Be Seen (Copyright © Andrew Kung, 2020)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

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