Kat Tang

Interview by Hoi Nguyen

Hoi Nguyen: So tell me about one of the projects you did – the tilt shift project. What was your inspiration behind it?

Kat Tang: While visiting the Met in New York, I was inspired by a photograph done by Naoki Honjo. It was like seeing little plastic figures on a field and I wanted to be able to replicate that in my own art. I remember that was about two years ago. I went home and tried all sorts of things on photoshop and failed, then tucked that idea away to collect dust. But then an opportunity arose for me to give it another try when Sharon Harper explained the “perspectives” segment of my VES 141r class.

HN: So what exactly is tilt shift?

KT: Tilt shift usually involves using a tilt shift lens, but the same effect can be achieved via photoshop by playing with blurs and colors. Tilt shift has the ability to take something that is large, such as a building, and make it look as small as a toy – which I thought was pretty awesome. I wanted to see how far I could convincingly stretch the imagination and really use the power of perspective.

HN: What were you hoping to achieve with this project?

KT: My goal for this project was not to make a political statement or anything heavy like that. Although I suppose you can read into photographs whatever you will – but rather it was to create something enjoyable for the viewer. Personally the project kind of reminds me of playing with little hot wheels cars or figurines in a world as detailed as my imagination. But again, I mostly want people to flip though my book with a smile.

HN: So this chess image, which is your first image, is really interesting. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

KT: This image was taken inside an MIT building. I was actually in the building because I spotted a construction site down below and wanted a better angle to shoot from. It was crazy luck that I came across these life-size chess pieces and obviously I couldn’t resist. The play on perspective in this image is quite fun: since the chess pieces are life-sized, the chair in this image appears to be miniature; all the while the viewer imagines the chess pieces to be of a regular small size as well. This first picture really places people into the, what I think, is the humorous way that tilt shift can play with your expectations.

HN: Any takeaway points from this project?

KT: Oh definitely. While working on this project, I realized that tilt-shift photography is not just about the editing techniques on Photoshop, but also about the image capturing itself. Finding the right shot, composition, and framing was a challenge. At first I thought I just had to take some pictures of places and then make them look cool on Photoshop, but after the first few trials I realized that finding an interesting subject would have to be the first order of business. The rest would fall into place after that.

HN: So I also wanted to ask you about this other project you have – this tree collage. What is the inspiration behind this one?

KT: So my original concept was to recreate a Chinese scroll, you know, the ones that have trees with winding branches, clouds, and so on. I don’t see this project as a study on Chinese culture or heritage but more as a study of my own identity. I didn’t base this image off of an actual Chinese scroll painting but rather how I thought a Chinese scroll painting might look like. In the end I might have veered a bit off my original intentions!

HN: What do you want the viewer to see in this image?

KT: I think I want the viewer to appreciate the nuances of how things flow into each other, to see how fluidity can come from rigidity. There are these boxes that look like pixels, my friend called them boxels and I kind of see them like that, but at the same time the tree is very unconfined by the boxels and has a much more fluid life of its own. I guess to compare this to my tilt shift project I would say it also has a lot to do with perspective in that this image is composed of varying angles and shots of a bunch of different trees. Put together with the sky as the background it has an interesting effect of shifting perspectives. You can either see the whole image as either being from the side, or something you’re looking at from underneath, and each individual boxel has a perspective of its own.

HN: So you really seem to be interested in this whole perspective idea. Why is that?

KT: You noticed! I haven’t really thought about this, but maybe it has something to do with my concentration. Coming from a social anthropology background, I guess if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is no absolute “objective” position in life. We all see our “objective” stance in relation to the connections around us so that each person’s objective position, and therefore their perspective, is different. I think I like to play around with that idea in my own work and I’m very interested in hearing all the different feedback on my work – people notice and deduce things I never even thought of! It’s fascinating.

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