YAN YAN MAO

Interview by Natalie So


Butterflies

 

NS: So you seem to have three separate projects going on here. But let’s talk first about this tail-lights project, which seems to be playing a lot with geometries and kaleidoscopic effects. Can you tell me how this project was conceived and where you intend to go with it?

YYM: It was kind of an accident because I was taking photos for the Views Inverted project, and as I was walking along taking photos, I saw the tail ends and thought, “Oh, this is very interesting!”. At first I included the rest of the car, but Kent suggested that I cut the tail lights out, and I said, “That’s a good idea!”. Then I started playing with them and making compositions, and they were really interesting. It’s kind of funny. People are like, “tail lights?!” It was fun playing with them and making compositions. And I like the idea of making something ordinary that you see everyday but don’t notice into something shocking and more beautiful than it originally is. 

NS: The shapes that you make are kind of whimsical and playful. How do you go about discovering these new shapes and arrangements?

YMY: Well, for some, I did repetitions—just copying and pasting the objects and placing them, flipping them, or laying them on a grid. Other ones I shrunk and put on the same page together. I just experimented and chose what looked the most interesting to me. 

 

Nissan Altima Stars 2 v3

 

NS: What’s next step in the project? Do you think that it is a project you will continue?

YYM: I think I might—just because it’s interesting. It’s funny because now when I walk down the street I think, “That one’s really interesting. I should take a picture.” Although I’ve made a lot of compositions, I still haven’t used all the tail lights in my collection. If I feel inspired, I’ll make some more compositions. And tail lights are good because you can make a lot of things out of them. They make very weird wallpapers. 

NS: Is there anything else you want to add about this project in particular?

YYM: Yeah, one thing that I was thinking about is that you never really look at tail lights unless you’re in traffic. At that time you really don’t like seeing them because it’s just a sea of red, and it reminds you that you’re stuck waiting in traffic. But you see them in this context, and it’s just very beautiful and whimsical like you said. It’s a very contrasting perspective on tail lights. And it’s two words—did you know that? I thought it was one word, but Kent proved me wrong. 

NS: Do you have any other ideas that are similar to the tail lights project? Like using other objects to make designs? 

YYM: Not really—usually I just think of a photograph as its own object. This was the first time that I really messed with it. I usually don’t like to do too much with Photoshop because I like keeping the photograph as real as it is. But I no longer think of tail lights as photographs. I think of them individually as objects. Like you said, it’s more about graphic design than photography because the photographic process is very easy. I kneel, I take a picture, I cut it out; that’s it. Then it’s all just graphic design.

 

Views Inverted - Boston

 

NS: So besides the tail lights, you also have the Views Inverted project. What was your goal in doing this project? Did you want to change how people looked at cityscapes? What was your inspiration?

YYM: I always liked inversions. I actually started my “photographic” interest by taking inverted photos. I always wanted to do a project using inversions because I think a lot of the color relationships really surprise people. You don’t usually think about the negatives of colors, and actually sometimes it’s hard to correlate which ones are which. Originally the project wasn’t all landscape—some were close-ups, like of a house or a random thing on the street—but for consistency purposes I made most of them more landscape-ish. I like landscapes because a lot of times when the water is inverted, people don’t notice. They ask, “Why is the water so murky?” and I say, “because that’s not the color it’s supposed to be!” Especially for the city ones, it makes you think about where the horizon is because sometimes it’s very uncertain … because of highways, and the shape of the city is very strange.

 

Views Inverted - SF

 

NS: So this is kind of an exploration of color then. Is that related to how you photograph in general? 

YYM: It’s partly about color relationships, but it’s also about how I like photographing ordinary things and making them more interesting—kind of like the tail lights. The inversions are just cityscapes, which are not complicated, but when you invert them, they become more interesting. 

NS: Finally, there’s the Japanese tea room project. It seems so radically different from the rest of your projects. Can you talk a little about that?

YYM: I’m in the Harvard Chado Society, and I go to the Tea House on 5 Bryant Street every weekend because we have lessons. I like the aesthetics associated with Japanese Tea Ceremonies because they emphasize simplicity. Most of the objects are very simply made. They’re not extravagant or ostentatious. They’re very functional and practical. I began taking pictures in the Harvard Tea Room, but I wanted to show more than that – so when I went home to San Francisco for spring break last year, I went to several tea houses and tea gardens to take more photos, to enrich the experience. With the book that I made, I wanted to create a narrative that started with nature, from the outside, and then images of the tea house itself—so you’re walking into the tea house—and then the objects, as a part of the tea ceremony, and then nature again, when you’re leaving. So the book has a narrative sequence. The nature, the tea rooms, and the tea objects were very integral to that experience. Also I always like nature scenes—because it’s pretty. 

 

Four and a Half - Sei


NS: To conclude, is there anything you want to say about how the projects relate to each other? And how they express your vision as a photographer in general?

YYM: At first glance, it seems that they are all so different. But I think they all relate because I think of them as my viewpoint. They’re all things that I like to look at and that I can make a beautiful photograph out of even if they’re just things that are already there in my life. Another thing about these projects is that I see them as an evolution. First they starat out as just photos, and then photos with some effects, and then with the tail lights—I am disregarding the photograph and messing with the images. They’re my evolution of working. It proves to me that I can do different things with the medium of photography—not just take photos but I can also change them into graphic designs. 

 

Four and a Half - Wa
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