Natural Light Workshop with Scott Frances / by Jean Bai

These last few weeks have been incredibly busy. I took the last two weeks off in April to focus on preparing for a photo workshop - editing previous work, revamping my website, sorting through personal work, and writing a personal statement. Then, there were two full day shoots the week leading up to the workshop, which lasted from May 5th-9th. Natural light shots from the workshop are below.

The biggest piece of advice I got from Scott Frances, the instructor, was to never take anything for granted. I never have and I never will.

About a year after I set my mind to photographing architecture and interiors, I shot three projects that all landed on the homepage of Dwell earlier this year. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of a year with the opportunities given by the designers who believed a young photographer could be entrusted with their projects. It happened because I’m always thinking after a shoot about what I could’ve done differently to solve a problem on set. It happened because I’m perhaps the harshest critic of my own work and I’m okay with that - it’s the only way I know to improve.

I’m forever grateful to my clients who’ve provided me so much work when I was just starting out and know that there will never be a job I take for granted. I’m also forever grateful for my mentor, Benny Chan, who seems to know the exact advice I need to know each step along the way. I was just a kid without a clue when he took me on as an assistant, but he patiently gave me foundation I needed for this job.

It’s been exactly a year and a half since I embarked on this journey and it felt like the right time to really delve into these questions Scott gave us prior to the workshop. I wanted to share it in this blog and maybe look back on it one day when I really need to know why I went against what everyone has said to me in the past (“Why would you want quit your job to be a photographer? How will you make money?”) and somewhat recently (“You should stick to photographing interiors”).

1.      Why did or would you become a professional photographer?

Up until college, I felt my life had been dedicated to academics, though my favorite past-time had been watching old films – noir, escapism, and anything on the AFI top 100 list. My interest in photography started there. I loved the cinematography in films like Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, and Sunrise: Song of Two Humans, and was drawn to great performances as well.

At the beginning of college, I started exploring film and became convinced that I’d end up working in the film industry in some way – I took on internships at a film production studio and film marketing firm, joined the school newspaper as a video journalist, and took as many film and theater classes that I could as a non-film school student. At the highest levels of film, I could see art, but the climb up was a long one and I wasn’t ready to commit to it.

After my Freshman year, I backpacked alone through Europe for a month. I saved up money all summer working at a coffee shop and knew that I had to buy a camera to make sure I would never forget the places and experiences I had, even when I grew old. There wasn’t much else to do travelling on my own, so I took perhaps 2,000 photos and fell in love with the process.

I picked it photography quickly and had a knack for finding good angles and finding quality light. I always loved shooting architecture, since (like photography) it’s a nice combination of analytical and creative work. I ended up enjoying photography more than film halfway through college and started to pursue that instead. Right out of college, I assisted architectural photographer Benny Chan in Los Angeles, before working a few years in the IT department at a top wealth management firm in Los Angeles.

One of my film professors, Barbara Boyle, taught me that to be successful in the film industry, you’d have to really want it and realize that there’s nothing else in the world that could make you as happy. I’ve still remembered this, since it’s just as true for photography as it is for film.

I finally pulled the trigger at the end of 2017 and dedicated myself to starting a business in photography when my work was selected to exhibit at gallery alongside the work of Erik Almas and RJ Muna. I realized that I had potential and if I never put my full effort into becoming a photographer, I’d truly regret it. I knew at that point that there wasn’t anything else that could make me happier.

2.      What are your artistic goals?

Get a book of brutalism published at some point.

3.      Who are the artists and thinkers that have most influenced you?

Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Picasso, Richard Avedon, Alexey Brodovitch, Lucien Herve, Ezra Stoller, Balthazar Korab, Tadao Ando.