This is part of an on-going series of interviews by Yinsey Wang with East Asian voices around the globe. The series aims to introduce perspectives from different walks of life.
Canada-based Julius Ding’s work inspires emotive and astounding wonder when interacted with. A masterful bewitcher of light, Ding composes visual prose in his dynamic style of photography. Drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources, Ding’s unique ability to absorb and synergise his ideas with his subjects is obvious throughout his pieces. Extraordinarily modest given the depth and beauty of his work, he shares his story and his advice with Nee Hao Magazine’s Yinsey Wang.
How did you get started with photography? What does it mean to you?
Some people come to their passion in life early. I came to it by a more complex route. When I was a teenager, I was interested in creative arts, but did not have the opportunity to pursue that path. My parents encouraged me to study business, which I did, in both China and the UK. But it didn’t really satisfy me.
When I came to Canada, I worked in computer sales and I hated it. I really needed to find a creative outlet, so I bought a camera, a Nikon D90, and started to take pictures. I really loved it, and I learned so fast, 2 months later, I traded it in for a D700, the least expensive full-frame camera body.
My friends encouraged me, so I began to make a serious study of photography in my own time, and I took some photography courses at Ryerson University just to make sure I was on the right path. But mostly, I consider myself self-taught. I read a lot of books and spent a lot of time thinking and researching about photography.
In terms of what it means, it’s everything. Photography is my life: it’s how I spend most of my days, and it’s how I make my money.
What is the most challenging aspect of photography?
Expression. There are two parts to photography, the technical and the creative parts. You can have a lot of technical skills, but no creative vision. Alternately, you can have a great vision, but lack the technical skills to realize it. There are a lot of elements, and making them all work together can be very difficult.
Your work shows a masterful use of lighting. How did you develop such versatility?
A lot of it is training yourself to see, to notice light, in any situation, and then how to use that in photography. I’m a control freak in some ways. The fun part is that you get to experiment using different light sources to create something interesting and surreal. I love that.
First of all, I don’t understand “art.” I never studied art. Nobody taught me what art is, or what it is not. But when I see something beautiful, it inspires me to make “art.” I get my inspiration from beauty in all forms. And there are many artists whose work I love: Frida Kahlo, Avedon, Man Ray, Alexander McQueen, Kawabata Yasunari, Jurgen Teller, Hemmingway… it’s impossible to pick one. It’s the pieces and bits of everything that inspire me the most.
What was your most memorable shoot, and why?
I was trying to do a self-portrait. I spent a long time in deciding what to say, and how to say it. It was like a self-evaluation, which is difficult. I had to find one thing that represented me at that time. What kind of you are you? I stripped everything down – literally. I eliminated everything that was unnecessary. So I only used one light source, and I photographed myself naked. The reason it’s memorable is that in working through the process it was the first time I realized that maybe I could make art, not just pretty pictures.
What makes a good subject?
For me, individuality. I like to shoot unique looking people. It’s hard to find a “bad subject” in my opinion. The photographer can create any subject he wants, if he tries hard enough.
Tell us about your Perfect Strangers series.
These are a really personal series, really put together for myself. Some pictures I put there because they were my first beauty shots. Others were my first reportage pictures. Some pictures are telling stories, like the lovers on the bench or the marchers, or the runners. It’s like a little memory box.
Tell us a random fact about yourself?
Name someone that you would love to work with, living or dead.
Dante. He combined reality, imagination and religion and inspired the Renaissance in Europe. He basically created western literature. Just thinking of the idea of working with him is enjoyable torture, almost impossible but full of possibilities.
Any words for aspiring photographers?
Shoot non-stop with your brain and your heart. That’s the only thing you need to do and work constantly at it.
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