Our Conversation With Photographer, Henry Hwu
What inspired you to start photography? Can you describe that "moment" when you knew that photography was something you wanted to pursue as a career? It’s hard to point out a specific moment in time that made me decide that photography was something I wanted to pursue. Over time, it’s something that I’ve fallen more and more in love with. The whole process inspires me so much, whether it’s an idea for a photograph that comes to mind, traveling to a specific location, or capturing and being able to express my imagination and perspective through a photograph.
Are you a full-time photographer? At the moment, no. However, it’s definitely a question I get asked often. I’m currently working in the airline industry as my full-time job as a manager for baggage operations in Vancouver. Although being able to support myself with photography full-time would be a dream come true, I really want to ensure a proper balance between what I have to shoot, with what I want to shoot.
I know you’re based out of Vancouver; how is the creative scene out there? How does it compare to the USA? The creative scene in Vancouver is definitely progressing. There’s a lot of local talent here though, without a doubt. I have to give it to Toronto though, they’re absolutely putting their city on the map. Although I’m not in Vancouver all the time, there’s a consistency with the creative scene in all the cities I’ve been in. It’s the passion and hunger, the drive, that is so important not to lose. It’s easy to be comfortable with your work, your position, but it’s difficult to keep yourself challenged and looking for ways to keep growing.
What is your most memorable photo or photoshoot? Damn, that’s a hard choice. One that comes to mind is the photo I took of Drake. I wasn’t actually granted permission to shoot his performance, so that photo wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t had to the urge to pull my camera out during his set. Having worked with Reebok on many projects since 2016, I connected with Future’s tour photographer, Ant, who let me use an extra pass to get some photos of Future. After his set, I was hiding out in the stands with my telephoto lens, trying to snipe out a few shots, while at the same time, avoiding his security and the event staff. I managed to get around 35 photos before being told to put my camera away, and ended up with some of my favorite concert photos I’ve ever taken. And Drake posting that same photograph, slapping a Instagram filter on it, and not tagging me...that’s another story.
Looking through your Instagram feed, I can see that you love to incorporate the location with your subject. Do you like to put your focus on the subject or on the location itself? I’m really glad you mentioned this. The three big aspects I always look to incorporate into my photos are scale, composition, and color. I love to tell stories with my photos. I want to send the message that these places I’ve traveled to are real. It’s literally mind-blowing how vast, natural, and beautiful the world is. I want people to take away from my photographs that there’s a lot more to see outside where you live. That there’s so much you can learn about yourself, including a passion, which I’m grateful to have found through traveling.
Who is a photographer you really look up to and would say influences your style? As easy as that question may seem, it’s really tough to pinpoint one photographer that inspires and influences my style. When I first started sharing photos on Instagram, all I ever wanted and sought after was the validation from others. I wanted to achieve the style of others who succeeded, those who were doing the “right thing”, and those who seemed to be living the “good life”. I can assure you now, that going by that only limits you to how far that person has gone. It voids any self-goals, and in turn, switches instant gratification into long-term disappointment. I found my own style by shooting everything - subjects I haven’t tried, situations I’ve never been in, and learning to fail. Going back to that subject however, I’m inspired by things I see and hear every day, whether it be through photographers I follow on social media, to music, to hearing stories from others.
I see you shooting concerts often, with artists like Drake and Joey Bada$$, what made you get into this field? I’ve always been a huge fan of hip-hop, and when I started to be more serious with photography, it’s what I loved to photograph the most. It’s the coolest feeling seeing someone you spent so much time listening to their music, on stage doing what they love, for people who appreciate their art. Being able to capture those specific moments are everything to me. Hoping this will speak into existence, I would love to go on tour with an artist this year. It’s been on my bucket list since I picked up a camera.
A lot of your photos seem to be taken on rooftops and dangerous locations. Would you consider yourself a daredevil photographer? I wouldn’t. I’m 100% still scared of heights when I’m up there, but there’s a feeling I can’t quite describe. I’ve tried to stray away from the rooftop scene, but nothing beats having untouched views and perspectives of a city. But safety, always first.
On Logic’s latest album, “Everybody”, you were featured on the album cover art, how did that come about? Yes! I’m holding the flag behind one of the pillars haha. I’ve included a section in my photo book talking about our relationship and how it developed over the years. Long story short, I got a call from Logic about four months prior to the release of his album, “Everybody.” I hadn’t caught up with him for a while, so he asked how I was doing and what I’ve been up to. When he asked me if he could have my permission to be painted on his upcoming album cover, I instantly said yes. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but because it was going to be painted by Sam Spratt, the artist behind all of Logic’s album artwork, I knew it was going to be legendary. It wasn’t until he released the cover to his album that I got to see the final product, and man, was I ever impressed.
Where would you like to see your photography career in 5 years? As long as I’m actively creating, and I’m happy while doing it, that’s all I can really ask for. I’d love to see myself continue traveling and always pursuing new goals. Not staying comfortable, as well as learning as much as I can.
What advice do you have for a photographer who’s just starting? Work for a cause, not for applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Although connections are extremely important, always make sure you’re staying true to who you are. Have a portfolio; it’s so important to be organized and have your work in one place. Equipment costs can steer you away from pursuing a passion, but it shouldn’t. Ever. The most expensive camera means nothing when you haven’t done the research to fully master a less expensive alternative. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and most importantly, capture what makes YOU happy.