How do you recognize a talent? How do you predict if someone in the photography industry will become a good professional when they are just starting? Is it the level of the aesthetics you see in someone’s work, a sense of perfect balance in their compositions, their speed of mastering technical aspects of certain art, or do you just feel it in your gut? It might be an amalgamation of all, but the young Mauritian Photographer Karen Pang sure has it all, and I feel privileged to have spotted her right at the start of her career and watched her growth throughout the years.
Karen Pang’s interest in photography sparked when she was around 15. She wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do with her life at the time, but knew that she wanted to be an image-maker. A camera helped a lot in expressing the visuals she had in her mind. She started experimenting with mobile and pocket cameras at first, but then moved to a DSLR when her passion grew bigger. She had no knowledge of photography techniques prior to that, but she strongly felt the need to express herself through the creation of images.
Karen got her first job at the age of 18, and yet she wasn’t entirely aware of her potential. But one thing she was certain about was that photography was the medium she wanted to explore. Being a very modest and discreet person who shied away from self-proclaimed statements, it took her a while to assert herself as a photographer to people. It was mainly because she had never studied it and was afraid to be frowned upon as a joke, especially given her young age. All these insecurities gradually disappeared when she decided to really pursue work in this field. Within a short time, Karen started receiving more requests from people who wanted to hire or collaborate with her, a big boost to her confidence.
When asked what inspires her, Karen says it always changes depending on her moods and depending on the projects she is working on:
Usually, it's the subjects that I photograph that inspire me during the shoot. I do, however, think that my vision and sensibility have changed a lot compared to when I started, since I feel that I have grown and matured.
In the beginning, Karen was mostly inspired by creating something rather than actually thinking about what she was creating:
When you first start, you just want to photograph anything and everything. You want to share it with others because you want people’s approval, and you kind of fall into a hype.
There was a lot of work done before she became the photographer she is now, and she wonders why she did the projects she did, only to realize that it was all part of her experimenting phase and learning process. Now, she is more conscious about what she wants to create. Karen takes more time for herself, does more research, and really tries to question herself before doing personal work and even before posting anything online. This kind of approach leads to a neat and clean portfolio she has created for herself. It mirrors the person she is; you can see the delicate minimalism in sensible visuals, calm yet striking color schemes, and endless stories behind every picture.
If it’s commercial work, I allow myself to give more credit to the client’s vision and think less about mine.
As is the case for every artist, sometimes, there is just no inspiration. Some find it useful to go out, meet people, experience new things to have new ideas, but some, like Karen, prefer to shut the world out and be on her own:
Sometimes, I buy art and photography books and magazines, or spend time researching and browsing online in search of inspiration. The Internet is a magical place. I often end up watching Japanese animations and films.
The majority of her work is fashion photography, but she doesn’t want to limit herself to a specific genre or style, so she tries not to think about fashion as a limited term. The reason why she went into fashion was because it allowed her to be more creative in the process, but meeting and working with people who had nothing to do with fashion was equally thrilling. She loves photographing people, and even when it's related to fashion, Karen tries to capture the uniqueness or personality of each subject regardless of the setting.
There is one series which she is very fond of, the portraits of Fabrice, a model with red hair whom she worked with. Karen finds redheads so unique and inspiring because of their freckles, and Fabrice was the first and only redhead she has ever photographed until today. His face felt like a natural work of art to her.
We all have something to say to our younger self, and when I asked Karen what she would have advised the Karen who was just starting photography, she had a honest answer and advice that we should all heed:
Less is more. Don’t compare yourself to others. Embrace imperfections. I used to spend a lot of time retouching photos, but now, the less time I spend on that, the better. I also wish I had the guts to say no to certain projects. I used to say yes to everything and never really took the time to develop my craft. When you become a photographer, you also tend to take a break from your camera when you go out or meet people most of the time. But that’s usually where all the magic happens. So definitely, take a camera with you, regardless of its type.
Karen is a huge advocate of natural light, and she also always tries to replicate that when shooting in studio. She is a big fan of Wes Anderson and claims that every frame of every movie he has done has inspired her to the core. Karen also finds inspirations in the works of photographers and artists such as Paul Jung, Ernesto Artillo, Julia Noni, and Quentin Jones, because of their strong senses of aesthetics.
Karen moved to Shanghai since last year to study Chinese language and still continues to work as a freelance photographer. For the time being, it’s fascinating to be in Asia and to explore this part of the world, to meet people, and to just take the time for herself to discover new surroundings.
Images used with permission of Karen Pang.