Foreword 003: Alexander Tan
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” — Chris McCandless
Leave school. Move to a new city. Do freelance photography full-time. Figure out the rest as you go. Do you do it? At 20 years old, Alex Tan just did. Before he transitioned to Chicago, I would see Alex from time to time around Columbus, and he was always working on something. I reached out to Alex to do this mini-interview because he already has some wisdom to share and the courage to earn a whole lot more.
If you go to the front page of the Little City Love website, the first photo features Alex holding a card that reads, "Everything you can imagine is real" -- and that's exactly the card to represent Alex. Don't believe me, just watch.
When we've talked in the past, I've gotten the impression that you're very thoughtful and intentional about your photography -- what is your philosophy as a photographer? What makes a good photo?
Every time I make a photograph, I want the viewer to see things the way I do. I want photos to make people feel the same way I do as well. It’s a purely emotional art for me. A good photo is one that tells a story to its fullest potential. It doesn’t always have to be the most technically sound or aesthetically pleasing photograph. The photos are nice and they’re trendy, but if they don’t make you feel something then I would consider it much less valuable.
What's your favorite photo that you've taken?
This (above) is my favorite photograph that I’ve ever taken. It’s kind of crazy because a lot of my editing style is dependent on clean colors, but this one is a black and white. I’ve also been known to create a lot of anonymous portraits so this fits in that way. I love photographs where a subject is present but their face is hidden. It makes you think a little bit harder about the photograph. It’s way less about about how the subject looks and what is actually going on in the moment. It removes the ability to place immediate judgment based on the figure and how he/she looks.
What do you find to be unfair?
There are a lot of things that are unfair. The most bizarre concept to me is that we don’t get to choose what level of privilege we’re born into, if that makes sense. Like, how is it fair that somebody like me is able to travel and take photographs and do the things I want in comfortability while others are hoping for clean water and food every single day. I don’t understand how and why there is such extreme disparity in the world and how it’s not even a choice for most people. I hope the world gets better and less distant in this.
Can you share 3 Instagram accounts you admire?
3 of my favorite Instagram accounts are:
@evantsheehan - Evan is one of my best friends and is quite honestly one of the best photographers I’ve ever seen. He uses minimal spaces unlike anyone else. He’s kind, encouraging, and works incredibly hard. Evan uses his close friends as subjects as opposed to always using models and people that are considered “attractive”. It’s an amazing reflection of who he is as a person and tells a lot about his character.
@cschoonover - Chris Schoonover is always pushing the boundaries on creative and conceptual portrait work. From his subjects, to spaces, to edits, Chris has a style that is uniquely his.
@chriscreature - Chris Hainey is a photographer based out of Los Angeles that is much like Chris Schoonover. His images are unbelievable sharp and bold in color. His concepts are always pushing creative boundaries as well.