Photographer Interview: Thao Nguyen

Photographer Thao NguyenYou can view Thao Nguyen's photography online and follow her @thaophotography on Twitter.

Where are you from?
I was born and raised around Fort Worth, TX and now reside in Austin, TX.

How did you get started in photography - any "formal" training?
When I was in high school I picked up my brother's point and shoot and someone commented on how much they liked a few of my images. It basically took off after that. I graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in photojournalism and have interned and worked at various papers in Syracuse, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

What cameras or techniques do you use?
If I wasn't a photojournalist, I would probably use film a lot more. I love the way it looks, but having said that I have the Canon 5D, that is my ole faithful. I absolutely love that camera, it has never failed me and always produces great images.

Who are your mentors (in photography)?
I have two that I admire. The first being Larry Burrows. He was a photographer during the Vietnam war. I found his book while browsing a bookstore in London. Even though he was shooting a war, the way he saw colors and the way he saw life and composed it in a single image has always impressed me. The other photographer is Heidi Bradner. She came to speak to our class when I was studying abroad in London my Junior year of college. Seeing how passionate she was for her photo stories and the perseverance it took for her to complete her stories reminds me that sometimes, you just have to keep at it and eventually things will work itself out.

Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color? (this question is optional)
You know, I've heard many opinions on the matter of affirmative actions in relations to photography and internships. When I got my internships, my classmates never said it to my face, but I can almost guarantee that they all muttered, it's because you are an Asian woman that you got the spot. So because of that, I feel like I never got the respect of many of my colleagues because they doubted my skills and instead replaced it with my genetic make-up. Even in trying to bring forth some conversation about how it was not in my control and that the only reason they knew anything about me was because my name is written on my application. People still treated me as if I was taking something from them.

When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
Well, catch me in 5 years and hopefully I can reflect back and say that I had been working for 5 years! I graduated about a year and a half ago and had an internship for 5 months immediately after graduation in San Antonio. After that I was let out in the world to figure out everything for myself. Because of prior agreements to my parents I ended up back in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex for another year. During that time I struggled at trying to find a way to do what I really want to do. (Shoot features and stories about people.) The more practical approach took me to dabble a bit in portraits and wedding photography. I've since then moved to Austin at the beginning of this year and am still trying to decide how I want to run business. Its right now between the editorial weddings and creative portraits or its more of an audio slide show geared towards businesses and their websites. So basically in a 3 minute audio and photo presentation they would be able to show and tell their customer base what they could offer them. My journey now has led me to figure out how to run a successful business :)

What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
When I was a newspaper photographer, the assignments that brought me joy were the features. Those were the small slice of life that most often were about people and their lives. So whatever direction I end up, I want to be able to provide photos that bring joy and happiness or insight to the people who see them.

What's your dream photography project?
You know, even though I don't have any experience in the field yet, I would absolutely love to do NGO photo projects. I want to be able to photograph things that show others the state of humanity and how it is being helped. Such as a medical NGO trip to another country to help improve the life of the people there.

What are you shooting now?
Ah right now, I'm building the foundation to my future business. I'm still freelancing in the Austin area but trying to figure out how to best maximize my skills and turn that into some sort of career.

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