Fresh + Creative - Dorothy Hong

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Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Poe

"Kat-cha", a crisp sound with a bit of lingering aftereffect, it is a sound all too familiar to photographers around the world.  Never mind the change in format, the adaptation of new technologies and replacement of old.  The sound of the shutter is that of a miniature time machine, a frozen moment in time where light glanced off an object, inanimate or not.  Hence, the self-described nickname to professional photographers, the lightstalkers.  In Freshness' continuing series, Fresh & Creative, we visited one such artist, Dorothy Hong, in New York City.

As PDN's 30 Emerging Photographers in 2007 and one of the official photographer for Nike in New York City, Hong is quite identifiable, since she's usually the petite photographer logging around a massive bag of camera gears.  A factor, she is the first to admit, that there will be shots she can't capture, like a recent brawl during Fashion's Night Out in SoHo.  Stature aside, however, Hong makes up with her focus and keen awareness.  If you have the opportunity to shadow her during assignment, you will immediately realize her attention range goes beyond the subjects themselves, but the image as a whole, almost like a freeze frame on a 35mm film.  Perhaps it was her 4-year stint, from 2003 to 2007, as Photo Coordinator at Fader Magazine. Or maybe because Hong belongs to that generation of photographer, the first to have truly ideal digital photography gears at their disposable yet well versed in analog methods. On this point was where our conversation started off...

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What are the advantages to a film camera, aside from the tangibility of film and paper?

I love film, always will. I feel like I was one of the last people to switch over to digital. One of the big things I miss of using film is the ease of the medium format camera. To use an RZ digitally you'd have to be tethered to a computer, need a digital tech, etc. With film i was able to run around with it hand held, as if it were 35mm. I miss the size of the medium format negative.

Probably the reason I loved film the most though was that there wasn't any manipulation in film, a c-print was true to what was shot in the camera. There was no messing around with it. The endless retouching, almost to a point where it doesn't look like a photo anymore didn't exist. The subject to camera to print was seamless, it was only truth, nothing altered, which could be frustrating and is far more difficult but when done correctly is endlessly beautiful, in a way I feel digital doesn't capture.

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Is there a preference for you? Or it depends on the assignment?

It does really depend on the assignment. 35mm digital is just so much more practical, easier to handle, lighter to carry, so for more reportage shooting, digital is by far preferable. With slower portrait shoots where you get a good block of time with the subject, when you don't have to shoot really quickly, using a film camera which requires a little more attention is really nice and a great change of pace. You learn a lot both ways.

We see you hauling a wide range of gears and lens to different project every time.  However, what would be your essential gears, the ones you take to on all occasions?

I use the Canon 5d Mark II, the Canon 50L lens and also the Canon 85L lens. I'll bring a wider zoom lens to cover my bases but really if I could only shoot with one lens it would be the 85L. The craftsmanship in that lens is phenomenal. It just takes these wildly beautiful photographs.

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Were you always interested in photography?  How did it all start and what was that very first photo you took?

I chose photography when I was picking colleges to apply for in high school. Knowing i didn't want to attend a typical liberal arts college and mess around in subjects I knew I had no interest in, I chose to go to art school, and  subsequently photography almost on a whim. Now thinking back it seems ridiculous the way I chose it, but I guess it was fate how it worked out. I honestly didn't really believe I would actually be a photographer, that maybe if i was lucky somehow end up just working in the field. I feel very lucky.

To be named as one of 30 Emerging Photographers by PDN was quite an accomplishment.  But sometimes, with recognition comes added pressure to achieve more.  Have you felt that since?

I don't think I really felt any added pressure, or if I did I welcomed it. I feel like photographers really thrive on competitiveness and this compelling motivation to do more, bigger, better. It's what drives them. I know that's how I felt and continue to feel.

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How would describe your approach to your shoot? Or better yet, your signature in your photos?

Natural light, ambient light, window light. I'm obsessed with sunlight and at all costs will not shoot with added lights. The keyword to all of my work is "natural" in terms of light, subject, environment, attitude.