Every time Kevin Nguyen has tagged us in his photos or submitted to the Photo Contest on Instagram, we have always been drawn to his images. We thought we would reach out and talk with him about a recent photo project he was working on where he photographed a pair of Pittsburgh musicians.
Q: Tell us a bit about you. What got you interested in photography?
A: I got interested in cinematography and filmmaking first, actually. I majored in Film at Temple and then went to Los Angeles to work for four years after graduating. During that time working, I had less time to work on passion films but still wanted to have some sort of creative outlet. Some friends of mine were already photographers and artists and the photographs they were making inspired me. I traded in my 5D Mark III for a smaller everyday carry-around camera: the Fujifilm X-T3. And I carried that thing with me everywhere. I loved capturing moments on the fly and getting lost on random walks looking for a new chance encounter or something to catch my eye. Photography opened up new ways for me to express and communicate my art. I switched from digital to film after a friend showed me how fun shooting a 35mm film camera could be. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve been shooting mostly film for my personal work ever since.
Q: Do you usually take photos of people or was this photo shoot out of your comfort zone?
A: I get a lot of practice taking my wife and friends’ portraits. Most of my work is also editorial or made on walks in the street, so it’s usually a lot of photos of people in their environment. I try to go for a more natural and honest representation of a subject, so for example, during this shoot, I let Jesse and Joziah (The two brothers who make up Sound Council) get comfortable, play music, play around, express themselves however they wanted, while I just moved around them and shot when it felt right.
Q: What about this shoot did you find was the most challenging? What did you enjoy most about it?
A: It was late October and very cloudy. Not ideal light overall. But that’s what ISO 800 film is for. I enjoyed that the session was really laid back and that we all had good rapport, being that we’re good friends. We trusted each other to do our best, work with what we had, and have fun. Those are the best shoots.
Q: We liked the various locations and how the musicians are posed in the photos. How much direction did you give the musicians? Did you think of potential locations ahead of time? If so, what made you choose these?
A: I give them suggestions and they try it out and tell me how it feels. I frame up the shot and I let them know if it’s working. It’s very collaborative. Location and light are both important to me, but the portrait is only going to be as good as we both make it. For locations, we drove to a nearby park with a general idea that there’d be a lot of colors with the changing leaves, but for the most part, we just walked around until we found a scene with good textures and light. That’s pretty much what makes a good location for me.
Q: What type of film did you use? And what camera were you using?
A: For this shoot, I shot three rolls of film in three cameras. I loaded up Portra 400, pushed one stop, in my Nikon F3, Lomo 800 in a Mamiya 645, and one endangered roll of Fuji Pro400H in a Ciroflex TLR camera from the 1940s.
Q: Do you think you will continue to do photo shoots like this? If so, what do you think you would change about the process if anything?
A: The spontaneous walkaround is usually how I frame my shoots, but typically with fewer cameras. I only shot with that many to offer more variety to the brothers. It’s better to think less about the gear and just stay in the moment with who you’re working with. My portrait sessions on film usually last until I run through a full 36 exposure roll, but surprisingly we finished all three rolls in about three hours, a credit to Jesse and Joziah making it a breeze. I really enjoy working with musicians and artists in particular because they’re so expressive in who they are and how they choose to be seen. I think it’s so special to take someone’s portrait over the span of a few hours, have them try a couple looks, and get to know them better. In the end, we’re making something better than portraits. We’re telling the world who they are.
You can view more of Kevin's work on his website https://www.kevwin.