My Latest Ruby Pseudo Post: Each Site Is Only A Suggestion

15Apr09
A few weeks ago, I wrote a little post about how Joe Mietus made me completely rethink Yelp because he started using his reviews space for storytelling. Well, recently, I stumbled into Tommy Ga-Ken Wan on Flickr and tweeted, “This 23 year old’s Flickr feed is more interesting than most movies.”

I’m completely impressed and (somehow still) always surprised by the way digital kids my age are taking pretty basic sites and making them so compelling because they have the guts to do more than throw up a few posts and have the creativity to rethink and rework the medium. As Tommy quotes Sontag on his Facebook profile, “There is the surface. Now think- or rather feel, intuit- what is beyond it.”

I asked Tommy if he’d mind introducing himself to everyone reading here and dropping his thoughts on his work and how he’s using the Web to tell the kind of story he wants to share as a photographer.

Amanda: Hey Tommy, tell us a little about yourself…
Tommy: I describe myself in my profile as “a literature graduate, aspiring philosopher, habitual drunkard, amateur actor, avid reader, occasional writer, pretentious fop and…first and foremost, a photographer. The truth is, though, I’m just like everyone else, trying to make sense out of life and get through it in the best way possible. We all use different tools in this quest: mine is the camera.

Amanda: When/how did you get into photography

Tommy: When I was fourteen, my parents gave me the digital camera that was a free gift with the PC they’d bought. I remember very vividly that summer afternoon when I ran about photographing everything I saw, and my Mum saying “Tom has a new toy!” By the standards of today’s technology, though, it’s obselete: 0.35 megapixels! As I got older, I bought new cameras at the rate of one a year or so – digital point and shoots – and learned more and more about their functions. When I was 19, I bought my first SLR, a Nikon D70. I worked completely manually, but I didn’t understand the technicalities of shutter speed and aperture: I only knew that “if this number is higher it does this and means that I have to do this” and so on.

Amanda: Describe your style…
Tommy: Cinematic, certainly. It’s the sense of detachment that I like: when I photograph someone, I don’t want to produce an image of her as she is when a camera is being pointed at her: I want to photograph her in her life, I want her to forget that the camera is there.
Amanda: Your Flickr feed is like a movie. That’s one of the first things that struck me about your work. When you’re posting photos, do you think of the story each will tell individually and what story your whole Flickr feed tells?

Tommy: Absolutely. I have always had a love for stories, fictions, narratives. When I was very young, this expressed itself in the computer games I used to love playing: fantasy RPGS like the Final Fantasy series, which is very story and character-based. As I grew older, this developed into a love of novels, which took me to University and to a degree in English Literature.
I always had the desire to create, but I found that I didn’t have the imagination to write novels or stories. I would have these ideas I thought were wonderful, and then I didn’t know where to take them. And photography was the perfect outlet for that: all the stories I would see taking place around me, I could make an image of them, of a single moment. Each photo is only a suggestion: the viewer creates his or her own story around it.
Amanda: It seems like Flickr and your Web site are the key spots where you share your work? What purpose does Flickr vs. your site serve for you?
Tommy: My website is really aimed at clients, larger organizations who may not be interested in me as a person, they just want somebody to take good photographs for them, and so it contains only what I feel to be my best work, and without much background of the images themselves. My Flickr, on the other hand, is very personal and very open: it’s used by my friends and online acquaintances, and has also been a wonderful place to meet new friends.
Amanda: How have you used the Web to grow your audience?
Tommy: Flickr has been key in this regard, too. People who have never heard of me might stumble across my work and mention it in their blog, spreading the word even further.
Amanda: Are most of your followers and commenters on Flickr people you know or random people you met while sharing your work on the Web?
Tommy: Mostly the latter, many of whom have become people I know and whose work I also admire.
Amanda: And besides photography, what are you into?
Tommy: Other than team sports, there’s very little that I’m not into. I devour books, films and music, and I love to cook, to eat, to drink, to dance. I love to be outdoors and indoors, I love the country and the city. All these things would be almost meaningless, though, if I did not have friends and family to share them with. And what is wonderful about photography is that I can incorporate it into every one of these.
Amanda: And besides Flickr, what sites are really important for you?
Tommy: YouTube, certainly, I think it is invaluable, and one of the most important cultural creations of my lifetime. Likewise Wikipedia. Comment Is Free is the Guardian’s politics and news blog where I spend a lot of time. Other than that, not very much, though: I used to spend a huge amount of time on the internet, and only quite recently did I realize that it was taking a great deal away from my enjoyment of life. Now, I try to limit myself. Instead of wasting an afternoon chatting to friends on Facebook, I’ll arrange to meet with them and spend some real, quality time together.
Amanda: Leave us with some of your top favorite young photographers on Flickr we can check out.
Tommy:
Graeme Nicol – www.flickr.com/slavers – Frank O’Hara once remarked that, other than his own, he didn’t really like poetry unless it was so good it forced him to admire it. I feel more or less the same about photography, and Graeme’s is one of those streams that insists on being admired. I was lucky enough to discover it during my first week on Flickr, and it has been among my favourites ever since.
Lavi – www.flickr.com/mayastar – My admiration for Lavi’s work is seemingly endless: her ability to make the ordinary utterly extraordinary never ceases to amaze me.
Markus Bollingmo – www.flickr.com/sipho84 – a wonderful talent, his work is just so human.

Image used in this post are all from Tommy’s Flickr feed here.
-Amanda Mooney
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