The MISSBISH Photography Workshop | Melanie Tjoeng
Photographer: Melanie Tjoeng
Location: I am based in Honolulu, Hawaii but have lived in so many different places. I grew up between Papua New Guinea and Australia for a big portion of my life, until I moved to Honolulu 12 years ago.
I took a hiatus last year and moved to New York to go back to school. Living in New York reinforced how much I loved living in Hawaii and how important being surrounded by nature is for me. I find it not only grounding but also inspiring. Hawaii is an intensely spiritual place, full of culture and life. I just feel as though I move well here, I work well here, and I live well here. It is home, it has my heart.
Style: If I was to summarize it in a few words, I would probably say nostalgic and dreamy. I’m also a very free shooter, I like things to be organic and unplanned. I developed this style from starting out as a documentary photographer, where the person behind the lens is a witness to their surroundings and photographs what he/she sees rather than planning a photograph or manipulating it in some way.
Equipment: If I am shooting digital, I shoot with a canon 5D mark iii and a 35mm lens. I also shoot film, using a Mamiya 7 ii and a variety of point and shoot 35mm film cameras. I don’t like to do too much post editing but I'll play with colors in Photoshop on digital images, that’s really about it.
How did you get into photography? Tell us about your first experience.
Most of my life, I have taken photographs. Even as a child I would carry around a disposable film camera just shooting the things I would see. It wasn’t until my friend, Ying Ang, who is an amazing documentary photographer, came to visit me in Hawaii that I really started to think about photography as not only a passion but maybe a career. She encouraged me and thought that I had a genuine talent, so in 2009, I went with Ying and a bunch of photographer friends to Perpignan, France to a photo festival called "Visa Pour L’image." It was there that I had a light bulb moment, I thought, "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." I've never looked back.
“Shoot from the heart. All the best photographs are made there."
Tell us the story behind one of the most memorable photos you’ve shot…
It’s always hard to choose one stand out moment or photograph but there was an image that I captured in Klong Toey, which is one of the largest slums of Bangkok, that has always been special to me. I went there for 2 weeks, learning from Jack Picone, who is an amazing documentary photographer. We were shooting in this particular area of the slum where we had gone to visit one of his friends. After leaving his house, we saw a bunch of kids just playing and jumping off this large concrete slab. I started shooting and took one of my favorite documentary photos to date, a moment of happiness and interaction.
Photography is all about capturing that moment. What’s the secret?
I find shooting somewhat of a spiritual experience. It's an intimate dance between you and the model. I need to have a connection with the person I am shooting with. I always shoot from my heart and a greater place that goes beyond myself, connecting to something bigger. I guess that is the artistic experience.
What is a constant source of inspiration for you as a photographer?
Everything. I am constantly inspired by imagery, music, sounds and words, the wind on my face in the morning when I go for a run, other artists who are incredibly talented, friends and their kindness, traveling to places unknown and places familiar. Seeing it all. Experiencing all of it.
Who has been a great influence or mentor to you and what did you learn from them that you still carry with you today?
Ying Ang. The woman who inspired me to pursue my dreams. She has a great eye, she makes beautiful works, writes beautiful words, and I am constantly inspired by her.
Tell us three photography tips.
1. Shoot from the heart. All the best photographs are made there.
2. Feelings first. Ask any artist - if you don’t feel it, you won’t get the shot, and your photograph won’t have any emotion.
3. Force yourself to learn how to use your camera properly.
Finish the sentence..
If I weren’t afraid I would… Run the Badwater ultramarthon race.
I wouldn't be where I am today if… it weren’t for my family.
I've been listening to… RÜFÜS DÜ SOL.
Kids these days… lack transparency and honesty.
I look and feel my best when… I’m happy and training, working on mind, body and soul.
When no one is looking I… Cry (because I am either moved by something or someone, or happy or saddened by something).
Traveling… will teach you more than any text book.
I respect… selflessness and generosity.