Being involved in a design-scouting concept can sometimes be so stirring that you almost feel the adrenaline levels in your body rise. Those who have at some point in their lives discovered something worthy - a treasure, a theory, an innovation or even a talented individual, can only comprehend this feeling. In our case, Yatzer is all about originality, and when original artists cross roads with us, we can but only feel this excitement.
I was asked to carry out an interview with an artist for whom the initial introduction involved the words ‘young in age’, ‘original’ and ‘inspired’. Very promising hints, yet I admit I was not expecting to be as positively surprised as I was.
Vietnamese in origin, AN LE is currently carrying out the last year of his studies in photography. At only 22 years of age, having moved to the US to pursue his artistic cravings when he was only 15, he constitutes an emerging talent in our watch-out lists. Extremely inspired, conscious and exceptionally mature in his thoughts, AN LE’s snaps constitute a narrative of inspirations, symbolism, challenge and attraction. It is what we call, art.
You are quite young in age. What do you remember as your first attempt at being creative?
I have always been creative as far as I can remember, but that was never with photography. I drew/doodled a lot when I was young, all over my school notebooks and papers; I got scolded because of that but I couldn’t help it (laughs). I remember I used to hate people taking photographs of me. I always kept myself out of pictures and also disliked taking photos of events or when I traveled with my family. It is strange. I still don’t like taking random photos. I definitely don’t carry a camera and take pictures of everything cool I see or every place that I go to. I want to preserve that private relationship that I have with the images when I actually shoot/create something that I am passionate about—it is like a delayed gratification approach (laughs).
I read in your past interviews that you are interested in both fine art and fashion photography. What are the forms of art that attract you and what are the elements that appeal to you most?
Ah, well I am interested in film, installation art, literature and painting. I am mostly drawn into the forms of art that allow me to be indulgent in the endless reverie of complex symbolism, metaphors, puzzles, rhythm and emotions. I look at art like a visual puzzle that the viewers have to decipher with their own personal and emotional language combined with the language that the artist uses to communicate. I am more attracted to the conceptual, the ideas and the meaning of things rather than the technical aspects of art. Everyone can learn the same techniques from school or from books or from other means. You see almost identical replicas of Picasso or Van Gogh paintings everywhere. But what makes each artist stand out is his/her ideas and new combinations of old elements. But of course, I don’t think the technicality is any less important. In fact, you can have all these amazing ideas, but if you don’t have the skill to convey it, your art would be incomplete.
Looking at your portfolio, I perceive very strong ‘character’ in your work. What are your inspirations and what is the thematic scope in your fashion photography?
I love film, psychology and literature. My images almost always have a sense of narrative. I like to tell a story. I love to explore the darkness of the human psyche and the fragility of human emotions and reflect these through fashion. I like to capture the issues that most people don’t like to confront or deal with such as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual fetishes, etc. My work usually always has a sense of contradiction, sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is disturbing, and sometimes it is both. And I like that. I love to explore new things, new imagery and new symbolism. I definitely don’t want to get stuck with one look or one kind of lighting and as a result, get too comfortable with myself. Actually, I like to discipline myself and push myself into a state of discomfort. I think my mind is sharper when I am not too relaxed or too comfortable. I work better when I am hungry (Laughs). I always try to apply the same philosophy into my work. As of now, I am still not very happy with my work. I always want to do better. In fact, I get sick of my work a week or two after I finish it.
Does art have to be provocative in order to be interesting?
I would say yes, it does. But I look at the word “provocative” in the sense of being challenging, stimulating and not just being offensive, shocking, or aggressive. The artwork has to evoke some kind of response, intellectually or emotionally for it to have a conversation or a dialogue with the viewers. I like to create images that captivate the viewers visually and conceptually. I always strive to create something fresh and different.
Would commercial commissioning limit your artistic freedom? Do you think it is possible to find a balance between the two?
I definitely think it is possible to find a balance between the two. I don’t think that you have to sacrifice your artistic visions for commercial jobs. The clients come to you because there is something about your work that they like. And I believe that the market is diverse enough for you to choose the clients whose tastes are similar to your style, so that everyone is somewhat on the same creative page when things first get started. For me, when it comes to commercial jobs, I still have fun doing them. I choose the jobs that I like to begin with. I do not just accept the jobs for the money. For example, I wouldn’t say yes to a job for which I have to take pictures of a coke bottle, no matter how much money I got offered for it. I chose this business because I want to do what I love first and foremost. I would not want to put the pressure of money into what I love. But if money comes in doing what I love, then that’s great. If not, oh well, what can I do but try harder (laughs).
What is your current project and what are your plans for the future?
Right now, I am just prepping and shooting editorials for magazines freelance, interning full time as a producer assistant at Art + Commerce and doing homework for my online classes at night. So I am pretty busy. But I love it. My plans for the future… (laughs) I don’t know but one thing is for sure: finishing up school in May 2012, flying back to Vietnam to visit my family for the summer and then moving to New York permanently. After that, working hard and creating beautiful and interesting work. But down the line, later in my career, I would definitely want to venture into film. I would love to be a movie director.
An Le in ten years from now?
(Laughs) An Le in ten years…I will be 32 years old for sure (laughs). But as for everything else, who knows…
photo © AN LE