Getting to know: Juan Sea

By Tan Lee Kuen (writer and photographer/Malaysia)

Although photography runs in his family, Juan Sea only became a photographer late in his 30s, starting with an iPhone

Juan Sea never intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, famed Taiwanese photographer Juan I Jong. It was only in his 30s that he started using his iPhone to capture his daily impressions as he cycled to and from work, displaying a natural knack for the medium and imbuing it with his own unique sense of humour. Juan Sea is now a full-time photographer with two photobooks under his belt and is widely exhibited in Taiwan and China.

You were a salesman for 14 years, why did you make the switch to become a photographer?
I was 34 when I published my first photobook. The book had a good response so I thought maybe I could be more serious about this. It was then that I realised that I want to be a photographer for my whole life. I live in an artistic family and my dad has a big influence on me. My dad told me, to be an artist, you have to be passionate and that it is very hard to make a living and to make a masterpiece. When I showed him my work, after one year of shooting, he said, it was ok, good. I think he’s a master, so I’m happy with his approval. So I keep going.

What do you like to photograph?
My work always show some kind of reality but it is also slightly strange and out of the ordinary. When I’m out on the street I’m always looking around and looking for moments. Some moments keep going, some are still. It is also about atmosphere. For every person, I want to see their personality and beauty. When people ask me to take beautiful photos of them, I say maybe I cannot, but I can show their personality, their human side.

You always look for humour in your photography.
I like to make people laugh. I want to take photos to share with other people, things that are humourous and funny that I see in my daily life.

You started off with using the iPhone to make your photographs. With so much iPhone photography, how do you make your work stand out?
Instagram has many good photographs, but as a good photographer, you need to show your personality in your work. For my work, it is very important to show humour. Street photography can be hard, but after the initial wow, what do you want to tell or say? It’s not important to say whether it is street photography or not. It is to show daily life. Good photography has to touch people.

Your father is Juan I Jong, a famous photographer in Taiwan. What lessons have you learnt from him about photography?
My dad never taught me photography, and I never wanted to learn from him. But he is my dad and I am always influenced by him and all his books on Magnum photographers. But he was the last one to know I was taking photographs. His work is serious and deep, and I’m humourous. It’s totally different. I want to say many things to my father. He tells me to be serious, but I’m not. We use photography to know each other more. He is the most important person for me. He is my idol.

What projects are you working on now?
Kyoto Elevator – I want to do a zine and experiment with it. I went to Kyoto four times in two years. Every time I am in Kyoto, it is like taking an elevator, going up and down, so the work is about the urban and the old city mixed – old and new.

And “Some I Know, Some I Don’t” is a series of portraits of people that I meet in my daily life. It could be someone I met for a short time, or friends or people I’ve known for a long time. I have more than 300 people in the series already. When I reach one thousand portraits, maybe then I can have a solo exhibition.

Tan Lee Kuen

She is a writer and photographer from Malaysia. She is also the founder of Asia PaperCamera, an online project celebrating photography in Asia with stories and interviews.

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