In Conversation With Tracy Yuan: Tommy Kwak

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You might have seen his works floating on Instagram, without knowing he is the artist. A series of lifeguard houses photos have generated large popularity online. New Jersey-based fine art photographer Tommy Kwak is currently exhibiting online with SWAP UP ART through February 7.

Kwak’s works are distinctively recognizable by the composition of the pictures, sophisticated usage of the angles, and manipulation of light, shadow and colours. 

Tommy Kwak

I don’t really have an agenda, other than to be in the moment and photograph what I see and work with my intuition

Tommy Kwak

As a photographer, Kwak travels the world, capturing scenes that are not as accessible to people, yet he never fails to connect his works emotionally with his viewers. When I first saw his photographs, looking at places and sceneries I had never seen before, I felt a sense of nostalgia and comfort. I hope you feel the same when viewing his collection here and get to know him better after reading the following interview. 

West Caicos, Turks and Caicos
Q: Please introduce yourself to the readers?

A: I’m a fine art photographer, working mostly in landscapes and nature, and am based in the NYC area.

Lifeguard tower 17th street (South Beach, Miami)
Q: Why photography and why mainly landscape photography? 

A: I really just enjoy being outside in nature whether near water, in the forest, or in the mountains. It’s calming and freeing at the same time. I started to explore the forests near my childhood home and started photography in high school, often shooting during my walks in the forest. It’s something that felt natural to me.

I later went to art school for graphic design and worked for several years as a designer and art director which I still freelance in. In 2006, I moved out to NYC and took up photography again by enrolling in a few continuing education classes at ICP, photographing mostly in the city. In 2008, I took my first trip to Iceland, and from there really started getting into landscape photography. 

Winter (Amagansett, NY)
Q: Please talk about your works. What is the process in making your art?

A: My work mainly involves hiking, exploring different areas I want to see like Faroe Islands, Iceland, or even the beaches near me in the NYC area. I don’t really have an agenda, other than to be in the moment and photograph what I see and work with my intuition. Before that, there is a lot of planning though with research on the area and scouting potential locations.

Some places leave an impression on me that drive the shooting and editing process toward a certain aesthetic… Iceland with its cool, blue tones… Faroe Islands and its vibrant greens… and Turks and Caicos with its vibrant, neon colors. Some of my photographs are “straight” photos like landscapes or seascapes, and for others like my “Chroma” series, I photograph using analog methods to alter the image.

For these types of images, I carry with me various tools and materials to photograph with in-camera to create color gradients, reflections, flares, and distortions. In addition to these materials, I carry with me my camera, lenses, tripod, and also a drone, so I am ready to use any of these tools for what inspires me at that moment.

Lifeguard Tower 12 (Huntington Beach, CA)
Q: What is the biggest joy that photography gives you?

A: Being outside, with no real purpose other than to be there, enjoying the surroundings, and following my eye.

Q: What do you want to translate to your audience/view/collector when making your art?

A: I’m not sure honestly. I don’t really think about this while photographing or editing. 

Q: What advice would you give collectors who are new to collecting photography?

A: I would say to go with your gut and collect artworks that you feel a connection with, and also that you will enjoy living with and looking at for a long time.

Fog (Faroe Islands)
Q: If you may, could you share your experience working with a luxury brand?

A: I was completely surprised to hear from Louis Vuitton recently. They had found my work online and liked my pink NYC skyline series, and asked me to create one of the lower Manhattan skyline for their Brookfield Place location near World Trade Center.

I had the general guidelines, but they gave me a lot of freedom to create something that I was happy with. I created several options, which I presented to them, and from there we worked together to narrow it down to the final image. Then we worked on different mounting and framing methods to ensure the best presentation within the store and its lighting setup. Overall, it was a very seamless and supportive process.

Lifeguard tower Lincoln road (South Beach, Miami)
Q: What are you doing next? And what, if anything, is planned beyond that?

A: Currently, I’m working on another Louis Vuitton commission, but this time for their store in Cologne, Germany. This was a similar project in which I created a skyline print.

The image is finished, but right now, I’m working with vendors in Germany to finalize the printing and framing. I am also just going through thousands of my unedited photos as I’ve been mostly hunkered down at home during the pandemic. When/if travel gets safer hopefully, I plan to travel to Greenland, maybe in the fall, to photograph the icebergs.

https://www.instagram.com/tommykwak/

©2021 Tommy Kwak all rights reserved

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