“It’s okay to be different and to stand out,” says photographer Brian Vu, whose dynamic and distinct portrait shots have gained him over 24k followers on Instagram. “I’ve spent so much of my life hiding from the world and never trusting others. I built a wall up around me, one that I’ve been trying to break down brick by brick. I want the work that I make to ignite the exact opposite feeling. I want others to feel like it’s okay for them to be loud with their ideas and views. My art is my freedom and my livelihood.”
Brian’s fascination with photography began when he first borrowed his dad’s digital camera as a teenager: “I suppose it was my way of relating to the world around me,” he says. After taking a break from high school to pursue a BFA in Graphic Design, Brian moved to New York to better his chances of making it in the creative industry. It was only then that he started developing – what is now – his unmistakable photographic style. “What really inspires me is the QPOC (queer people of colour) community I have only recently been surrounded by since 2017. There are finally safe space parties for us that didn’t exist when I first moved here. It was, of course, an immediate source of validation and inspiration for me. As a portrait photographer, it’s important for me to capture these people I hold dear. We’re all a bunch of outsiders that have come from different cities. It’s beautiful that we’ve found each other.” Aquaria, Alok Vaid-Menon and Ari Fitz are, alongside his immediate group of friends, just some of the inspiring people Brian has photographed over the past year.
“Whenever I begin a body of work, I imagine what it will look and feel like. I envision a colour scheme," Brian says of his photographic approach. "There’s always a new skill I’m learning to incorporate into my work. Recently it’s been makeup and set design. I probably shoot around three to six times a week, with subjects, makeup artists, hair stylists, and stylists all coming to my studio.” Each of Brian’s photographs is a glorious spectacle; his images are populated by assertive characters who gracefully pose in front of dramatic backdrops. Brian’s creative vision is unapologetically unique, and his ability to extend it across disciplines – styling, set design and make-up – is a testament to his imaginative outlook. His most recent endeavours, in fact, include a makeup line entitled Brian Beauty, which he has developed alongside Nyle Fisher, as well as an upcoming solo photography exhibition set to open in New York this autumn.
Like his creative interests, Brian’s relationship to photography has evolved and matured over time. “When I first began taking up photography seriously, my focus was mainly on the aesthetic of an image,” he says. “How can I create an eye-catching photograph that will grab people’s attention? It was likely due to my graphic design background. My work back then was very ego-driven. It was all about my struggles with my identity, my queerness, and my relationship to the world." Now, however, Brian sees the medium as a powerful vehicle through which to foster solidarity — something that feels particularly urgent in today’s increasingly fragmented political climate. "I’m making work about the people I look up to. Through their vulnerabilities and their experiences, I see so much strength and integrity. If I can capture that, then I’ve succeeded.”