Andrew Kung Makes Simple Yet Timelessly Beautiful Photos

“If you look at any of my mood boards or inspiration boards, I’m referencing films by Wong Kar Wai, Edward Yang, 1900s fashion photography, and even contemporary documentary photography…” says photographer Andrew Kung in an interview with The Phobographer. “I work and take inspiration across genres as they all have an influence in each image I construct.” Looking at Andrew’s work is akin to exploring the complex tasting notes of a fine bourbon. And, as he states, his work draws on various influences and marinates to become something truly special.

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Andrew received a short feature on The Phobographer years ago as part of our inclusivity and diversity efforts. His works has all the lineaments you’d want to stare at in a good photobook. There are classic tones, familiar but beautiful compositions, water, colors, mise en scene, and depth. What’s more, Andrew has his own feelings on his photos. Part of this is critical to his thinking about how to approach Instagram and his website as different platforms. But no matter what, you’re in for a treat with his work.

The Essential Camera Gear of Andrew Kung

“My workhorse is the Fuji GFX 50s for more of my demanding shoots; I recently bought a Ricoh GR IIIx for more casual, personal photos. On days where I feel like shooting film, I’ll take out my Pentax 67 and some Portra 400. These three cameras all have different use cases but they all push me to create and experiment more often.”

Phobographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography.

Andrew Kung: I first started making pictures my senior year of college while I was in business school – I used only an iPhone and remember exploring different scenic spots in San Francisco, my hometown. It wasn’t until I worked in Silicon Valley that I met a close friend who was a commercial model; I started taking more portraits of him during lunch breaks and after work and he introduced me to the business of photography. I became more curious about photography as a profession and as a result, moved to NYC through my company and decided to become a full-time photographer after making a bigger body of work and meeting more people in the industry. It has now been 6 years since my career transition and I haven’t looked back since.

Phobographer: You’re a portrait and people photographer who finds a way to balance grace, simplicity, and tender moments in a frame. What made you get into shooting people like this? Tell us about your influences.

Andrew Kung: I’ve always been drawn to both visual and narrative explorations of intimacy and tenderness, from Asian cinema references to more narrative photographers like Larry Sultan; the types of storytelling that move me, coupled with the colors and light that bring forth these emotions, really inspire how I make my images. I’ve always been fascinated by intimate conversations, relationships, stories and try to find different visual expressions that reinforce the narrative that I’m attempting to express. Ultimately, I hope to convey an emotional understanding of a story no matter how simple or complex.

Phobographer: Your work has a classic Norman Rockwell, painterly type look to it. Some photos feel like I’m staring at the movie American Beauty (without Kevin Spacey), while other images look like other 90s films. Do you keep these influences in mind as references when you shoot and create?

Andrew Kung: In my creative process, I’m always referencing different mediums, whether it be paintings, films, or other styles of photography. I’m looking outside of the genres I’m familiar with to see how other types of artists communicate their visual language and style. If you look at any of my mood boards or inspiration boards, I’m referencing films by Wong Kar Wai, Edward Yang, 1900s fashion photography, and even contemporary documentary photography. I work and take inspiration across genres as they all have an influence in each image I construct.

Phobographer: When you create, do you feel like you are making the image making process more about the person in the frame or yourself? Do you channel yourself in the images or are you making a space for folks to be themselves?

Andrew Kung: I always have a narrative I want to construct in each image and in each body of work, but it’s a very collaborative experience. I never want to just insert subjects into a frame and into my own narrative, but rather I try and engage with them about the topic/theme to figure out what their experience is like relative to the image I’m trying to create. Oftentimes, these themes circle around ideas about Asian American identity, masculinity, belonging, and visibility. I find that this process is much more fulfilling and adds a layer of depth and nuance that is often communicated through the subject in the image.

Phobographer: How did the pandemic treat you as a creative?

Andrew Kung: The pandemic forced me to slow down as a creative. Instead of constantly thinking about the next shoot, the next production, I was focusing more on studying the craft of photography, looking at different inspirations, and creating new narratives in my work. It helped me become even more intentional and allowed me to have more space for reflection and introspection. I came out feeling more assured in what I want to say and how I want to say it.

Phobographer: Your website showcases color and your Instagram showcases more black and white photos. Do you feel there’s a reason for the clear delineation? Surely folks interact with websites differently than social media.

Andrew Kung: I think about my social media and my website slightly differently; with my website, I want to show my favorite, best work – and sometimes that’s only 15 images. I treat this almost as an art gallery or an experience that someone has, keeping in mind that people are only on websites for a couple minutes. With social media, it’s a broader showcase of my work and allows for a more continuous engagement with my images, so I’m posting and publishing a wider net of images.

Phobographer: How do you feel you’re changing as a creative?

Andrew Kung: As a creative right now, I’m making a lot of work that is more personal – finding ways to include myself in my images and thinking deeply about my own identity, masculinity, and belonging. While my previous work was also personal, I always accounted for broader narratives surrounding the Asian American experience. The new series I’m working on really looks at my own experience and at my own relationship with my subjects.

About Andrew Kung

Andrew Kung is a Brooklyn based photographer working across genres to explore themes of Asian American identity, visibility, and belonging. Through an intimate and considered gaze, he investigates how Asian American life is viewed and represented.

Andrew’s work has been featured on Dazed, iD, Vogue, Artsy, AnOther, NOWNESS, CNN, NBC, and The New York Times and he has worked with selected clients such as Glossier, The New Yorker, L’Officiel, Paper Magazine, Beats by Dre, and HBO.

Outside of making images, Andrew has spoken on ABC Live and has guest lectured at various universities, from School of Visual Arts (SVA) to Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Prior to his photography journey, he attended UC Berkeley’s business school and worked in Silicon Valley at LinkedIn.

Be sure to follow Andrew Kung at his website and Instagram page. All images used with permission. Want to be featured? Click here to see how.

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