Interview with Shun-Luoi Fong (and a giveaway of his work!)
MDR: Tell us a bit about how you became a photographer.
Shun-Luoi: My father always had his old Minolta camera with, using it to record our family’s life, vacations, and portraits. So, from a young age, I was very familiar with photography, especially being in front of the lens. However, it wasn’t until after I graduated from college, and was spending long hours in front of the computer as a web developer, that I discovered my love for getting behind the lens and creating images. Photography became my creative outlet, and provided opportunities to engage with people and communicate my experiences of the world.
It was during a year living in Thailand, spent teaching English and taking many photographs, that my vision for my photography came into focus. I realized I wanted to visually tell the stories of other peoples, cultures, and countries around the world, and considered the possibility that my calling in life was to make my “dent in the universe” as a visual storyteller. After my time in Thailand, I sat for a while on the fence between web development and photography, afraid to take the risk and leap into photography. However, after much thought and prayer, I finally accepted the fact that I was called to be a photographer in early 2010. It was then that I committed to pursuing photography, specifically humanitarian and travel work, full time.
MDR: What is humanitarian photography?
Shun-Luoi: People often think of difficult social issues, natural disasters, and third world countries as the focus of humanitarian work, and for good reason. However, I take a broader view of humanitarian work that can include work involving all people, places, and cultures. I view this work as an opportunity (and challenge) to explore beyond the obvious to see and communicate the beauty, dignity and stories of all people and their unique world, while also remaining aware of and sensitive to the circumstances, both good and bad, in which they may live. I am aware of a responsibility to create images that make a significant and lasting impact, both for those whose pictures I am taking as well as for those viewing the images. Those people and stories can include the difficult issues of the day, but it can also include issues that aren’t quite as obvious. All people have needs, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Therefore, when I create images that minister to people, especially by affirming their dignity and giving them a voice, I am fulfilling my calling as a humanitarian photographer.
MDR: What is it about humanitarian photography that you most love?
Shun-Luoi: The prophet Isaiah said, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” The prayer of Saint Francis says in part, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.” Humanitarian photography allows me to live these words, making (hopefully) a significant, lasting difference in the lives of people around the world through the visual telling of their stories. And ultimately it allows me to bring glory to our Creator by living out my calling to minister to others through my work. It doesn’t get much better than that.
MDR: Tell us about one experience as a photographer that has had a deep impact on you.
Shun-Luoi: I often preach to myself, and other creatives, the importance of failure in growing as artists; indeed, as people. And so it was in a moment of failure that I experienced one of my most impacting moments as a photographer. I was working in Haiti after the earthquake and was taken with a group to a local hospital to learn more about the damage they experienced, as well as the ways they were continuing to minister to the needs of the Haitian people. Much of the hospital was damaged, so they were placing many people in tents. It was into one of these tents that they took me and instructed me to quickly take images and then get out. I did as I was instructed, snapping a few photos and then leaving. They then took me to another room and instructed me to do the same. As I was taking a photo of a man lying on his bed, a nurse approached me and said very seriously, “I don’t mind if you are in here to take photos, but please ask each person for their permission before you take the image.” I was immediately convicted in that moment that I had failed to live and work according to the values I espoused as a person and photographer. I had failed to honor and affirm the dignity of those whose photos I was creating. I had failed in my responsibility to ensure that I was giving to the people, and not just taking from them or exploiting them for the sake of an image.
It is true that it can be a difficult balance between honoring my responsibilities to my clients, and honoring my responsibilities to those whose images I would capture. However, those responsibilities aren’t mutually exclusive, and I learned in that experience that I must never dishonor my photographic subjects for the sake of getting an image.
MDR: What excites you the most about moving to Thailand, especially as it relates to your photography?
Shun-Luoi: It is difficult to list just one thing that I am excited about, so I don’t think I’ll try. I’ll list a few things that I am super stoked about!
- experiencing the adventure of living overseas with my wife and children
- seeing my wife and children experience other cultures and hopefully learn a second language
- having more opportunities to hear and tell the stories of Thailand and the surrounding region
- having more opportunities to serve non-profits/ngo’s that are doing amazing work in Thailand and the surrounding region
- pursuing some personal projects in SE Asia that I have been thinking about for a while
- Thai food. Mmmm…my waistline is about to grow!
- warm weather – I’m a self-professed cold weather wimp
MDR: The end.
Yes, I am seriously ending the interview that way. I’m officially taking off the hat of “interviewer” and putting back on the hat of plain old Dawn. I mean, how do I wrap up an interview with my own husband? Saying something like, “thank you so much for giving me some of your time,” seems a bit formal when my interviewee sees me the first thing in the morning, knows my faults, and … well, has lived the good and bad of life with me as his wife for the past 5 1/2 years. Hence, “the end.” However, I will say that I am grateful that Shun-Luoi took the time to allow me to interview him. I hope the interview shed some light on the area of humanitarian photography (and Shun-Luoi’s heart for it) for you.
It only seems right to wrap this up with a giveaway of Shun-Luoi’s work … Merry Christmas from the Fongs! One winner will be randomly chosen to receive a 8×10 print of their choice (out of the 2 shown below, both taken in Thailand). To enter, please leave a comment telling us what one of your favorite holiday traditions is. The opportunity to enter the drawing for the print ends at 4 pm (MST) on Sunday, December 23rd, and the winner will be announced that evening.
Thanks in advance to all who enter! I look forward to hearing about your holiday traditions … and to giving away some of Shun-Luoi’s work!