I have been blessed and fortunate to have some wonderful artists take time to talk to me for the Samoa Arts Councils’ Observer Art Page. What emerges is real insight into the artistic mind, their passions and motivations as well as their worldviews.
Today we look into the lens of Samoan photographer Jordan P. Kwan, photographer of stunning wedding images, sexy Samoan men, commercial photographs and photographs depicting Samoan legends.
V.T – Tell me about your early career?
J.K My early photography career was mostly just shooting family and friends (pro bono LOL). It’s why I am grateful to them for their patience and general awesomeness that’s allowed me to develop my skills today. It’s been mostly trial and error, and even today I am still learning, still honing the craft, still trying to grow and outdo my own work and try and emulate the work of others that inspire me.
V.T. How did you learn your skills?
J.K. In terms of training I haven’t had any, at least any formal one anyway. But that’s the absolute beauty of the Internet, so much knowledge is accessible to the masses. I’ve spent so many hours of my life reading and watching online tutorials, learning from titans in the industry, trying to be a sponge and soak up a bit of their vast and intimidating knowledge.
V.T. What motivated and inspired you to become a photographer?
J.K. What got me into photography? I dunno? There’s a novelty in photographs that wasn’t lost on me when I was a kid. I used to pour over thick family albums from a bygone era, meticulously recorded and kept by mother dearest. The ones that left an impression on me were photos of my mother and aunties in their youth, which blew my mind because at a young age I couldn’t fathom a time when they weren’t already middle- aged grumpy women.
And it’s usually the mundane detail that I find most interesting, like in the background of a photo where you see the first sprouts of a mango tree that is today a monstrosity that casts a shadow over the backyard etc. Or else the clothing, the hairstyle, the semi-new house that is now old and decrepit (which I may or may not currently live in).
V.T. Can you support yourself as a photographer in Samoa? Is it a viable career path?
J.K. There is a real market for photography work in Samoa, not only in weddings but commercial work. I’ve been surprisingly busy these days, so much so that I have had to turn down great paid gigs due to the serious lack of hours in the day to get all the shooting and editing done, AND still have to tend to admin work like updating various social media accounts, my website, and also replying to emails etc.
But, with that said, I am mindful that technology is evolving, smart phones are starting to catch up to DSLR cameras, and people are making the gradual move from photography to videography -- why only capture still images, when you can capture moving images? So I feel like maybe photography might be a dying art. I dunno. Ask me again in another 20 years ha ha.
V.T. What are your bread and butter items as a photographer?
J.K. My commercial works is all about weddings and also commercial stuff for some of the large firms in Samoa. I spend so much time on my commercial work that my little side projects that I am passionate about are put on the back burner.
Weddings are my bread and butter. I am in Samoa until November and then I go back to Auckland. I have weekends every weekend and often on a Friday. It’s a lot of work. You take over 4,000 photos and you need to keep up with it all. I am trying to keep up with it. My delivery period 4-6 weeks and it may take longer of its an album which I get done in NZ.
People want them taken today and available tomorrow. I have to sit down and talk to my clients. They have to appreciate that 50% of the magic happens in the editing. I am trying to move away from Photoshop as I want people to be recognised for natural beauty and I focus lighting and colour. I like the challenge of taking photos of people in their natural beauty.
V.T. What about your personal passions as a photographer? Do you have personal imagery that you want to focus on?
J.K. I want to get involved with photographs like the ones I did of Zita Martel looking at our awesome local stories, our legends. We are starting to see less and less of an interest in our stories and more interest in stories from Greek legends. Zita is a contemporary figure and a lot of young girls will find value in these stories and images. It costs a lot to create these images but you want to do it well – you don’t want to skimp. Young people love the idea of a ‘kick as’ female figure in our history.
The gatekeepers of our knowledge are becoming to focused on what is wrong with our versions, as there are so many versions of one story. I want to garner stories before our stories go into the abyss. Oral history is inherently unreliable and no one owns a story or a legend. We don’t show pride in our own culture. I detest ……. Samoans who think culture is stagnant – no culture is stagnant.
I am also passionate about human rights, female rights and the LGBTQI community. I grew up in a house of women who would not take anything from anyone. Female issues – definitely I would like to explore LGBTQI rights – I am interested in exploring these - the women I grew up with are hard working and they are made to feel less because they are not married. In Samoa people’s level of success is seen by if you are married or not. This is not acceptable. That is why I like also living in Auckland as in Auckland I can be anonymous and people are more accepting.
VT. Many Samoan artists move overseas as they have greater freedom to explore their personal passions does this also apply to you?
J.K. I would like to do more work overseas. There I have the freedom to explore my identity and passions through my works. I am shocked by archaic and backward thinking people in Samoa who are my age (27) I genuinely expect young people to be more accepting and open minded.
I believe Samoa should be secular, not every one is Christian. People here want to ban certain religions – talking about gay rights how is there only one way to see this. We have no right to be offended by what people do in their private relationships. I don’t know if Samoa is ready for it but I want to elevate the conversation to not judge, and to love unconditionally.
(Dr. Vanya Taule’alo writes & edits the Observer Art Page for the Samoa Arts Council (SAC). Guided by SAC’s vision “to envisage a future where the Arts Sector is fully developed for the benefit of Samoa”, the page promotes all forms of art and promotes the arts in the Samoan community. For more information on SAC see samoaartscouncil.com and Samoa Arts)