Follow your heart, be yourself. — It’s really difficult for photo artists to know what they really want in the first place because there are so many beautiful and rooted styles out there, but don’t stop looking for what you really want and chase after it.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucas Xu.
Fengzhao (Lucas) Xu is making his debut in the U.S with his innovative photography exhibit from July 15th -29th at 1350 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA. Experimenting with multiple approaches, techniques, software, and artistic practices, Xu shares his passion for understanding cultures has taken him into communities, where he has immersed himself in their stories and documented their lives. We would love to set up an interview with you and Lucas to discuss further.
He aims to continue new and ongoing exhibitions with a focus on creating new opportunities for artists while building community awareness. Beginning his photography journey by capturing people on the streets, Lucas has developed a distinctive approach to his craft, perceiving the world through his own eyes.
Lucas’ work reflects his deep reverence for the world and the people who inhabit it. With every click of his camera, he captures moments that resonate with the viewer, evoking emotion and inspiring curiosity. Through his lens, he offers a glimpse into the rich and diverse tapestry of humanity, inviting us to share in his journey of discovery.
For Lucas photography is not just light and geometry; the photos to him, sing their own melodies. He hopes his expression is clear and precise, yet also with a subtle sense of confusion.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was raised in the city of Ningbo, situated along the southeastern coast of China. During my formative years, both society and my family were undergoing significant development. As my parents pursued opportunities in distant cities, I spent much of my childhood under the nurturing care of my grandmother. It was through her guidance that I learned to keenly observe the world and my surroundings through my own eyes.
Accompanied by my grandmother, I frequented public spaces where we would spend entire afternoons, immersing ourselves in the vibrant tapestry of the streets. It was during these moments that my curiosity ignited, propelling me to seek out captivating scenes and moments to capture through the lens of my camera. This early affinity for street photography became the foundation of my photographic journey.
Driven by an enduring fascination with individuals, I developed a strong inclination to engage in meaningful conversations with others as I progressed through my schooling. At the age of 18, I embarked on a new chapter, pursuing my college education in the United States. This desire to experience the country firsthand had taken root within me from an early age, nurtured by my exposure to American literature and films.
As I look back on nearly a decade spent in this foreign land, I am reminded of the significance of dreams and the determination of a young spirit. From the streets of Ningbo to the shores of America, my photographic journey serves as a testament to the resilience and unwavering pursuit of passion that shapes our lives.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I first went to college, I studied psychology. At that time, I observed various people around me losing their original intentions and aspirations due to emotional breakdowns and the influence of external factors. During my undergraduate studies, I thought that it would be meaningful if I had the opportunity to save these lost souls. However, after studying psychology for four years, I gradually realized that there are many things that bring despair and suffering. Whether from the perspective of a counselor or a psychological researcher, I can only provide remedies after all of these things have happened. As a result, I found myself falling into a state of extreme anxiety.
Throughout my life, photography, or rather, imagery, has been a way for me to engage with the world. I gradually realized that certain things may need to be explained in a more direct and visible manner. So, after graduating from psychology, I pursued photography and discovered that it might be the true path for me to understand the world and present it to others. I feel that psychology tends to focus more on the “aftermath,” whereas visual arts can transcend the limitations of time and space, existing between people. Perhaps this metaphor may sound a bit exaggerated, but I consider myself somewhat akin to the idea of “abandoning medicine for literature,” using art to influence more people who need to be influenced.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
During my childhood, there existed a cabinet that held a trove of negatives captured by my parents and grandparents. I would often spend considerable time engrossed in the exploration of those negatives, enjoying the playful journey they offered. However, on one fateful day, an accident occurred, and I unintentionally severed and destroyed a negative. In response, my parents presented me with a film camera as a gift for my seventh birthday. It was through this camera that I gradually grasped the significance of each negative and the profound meaning they held for the creator. As I grew older, photography became an integral part of my life, providing me with a sanctuary to observe the world and reflect on my own self, offering a respite from the clamor of everyday life. Photography, for me, transcends the confines of a mere career; it intertwines seamlessly with the tapestry of my existence. It is not a mere vocation, but an inseparable fragment of my being. My formative years, with a camera as my companion, laid the foundation upon which my true self blossomed.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently immersed in the ethereal project called Rye Above the Sea, where I embark on a journey of artistic metamorphosis. For years, I faithfully captured the essence of life through the lens of tradition, steeped in the documentary style. However, the winds of change swept me away when I ventured to the City of Angels, Los Angeles, last year.
The genesis of this endeavor dates back two years, within the comforting embrace of my hometown. Having resided in the States for nearly a decade, I became acutely aware of an elusive sense of belonging that continually eluded my grasp. Yet, upon returning to my place of origin, I found myself suspended in a surreal realm, a profound limbo of cultural identity. Thus, Rye Above the Sea materialized as an introspective manifestation, a mirror reflecting my very essence.
This project breathes life into the intangible chasm that resides between the past and the present, simultaneously delving into the rift between reality and reverie. With a harmonious blend of vivid hues and somber monochromes, I aim to encapsulate the intricate cadence of my psychological pilgrimage. This nomadic existence, traversing diverse landscapes over the span of the past decade, always evokes a poignant dance between nostalgia and restlessness, lingering within my soul.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
During my graduate studies, I encountered several professors who had a profound impact on me, but the one who influenced my personal understanding of photography the most was Dawoud Bey. He was not only my graduate advisor but also the most significant mentor in my life during that period. One phrase he consistently shared with me was, “As a photographic artist, you need to unfold the world before your eyes. Every corner is a stage, and your photographs should be the best design and interpretation of that stage.” I believe that his influence on me extended beyond the technical aspects of photography and primarily focused on a deeper understanding and pursuit of photographic art. What he taught me was a hunger for imagery, an ongoing desire to search for something that truly belonged to me throughout the creative process.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
The inspiration for this series of works comes from my favorite short story, “The Catcher in the Rye.” This book evoked different feelings in me at different stages of my life, but I always remember the initial impact it had on me. Many people choose a path of corruption because of the various illusory and ephemeral things in the world. However, I have always aspired to be the watcher sitting on the edge of the cliff, hoping that more people can see hope and redemption emerging from the void. For me, there is a vast ocean between my hometown of Ningbo and the city I currently reside in, Los Angeles. How many people, like me, have crossed this vast ocean to seek their initial dreams? I still don’t know if all of this is real, but the only thing I can do is to persistently hold on to my original aspirations.
Similar to “The Catcher in the Rye,” where J.D. Salinger uses a highly imaginative stream of consciousness to depict the inner world of a sixteen-year-old boy, I also want to express the conflict between my ideals and reality through this series of works.
This series of works also incorporates many visual expressions and narrative techniques influenced by the films of director Wong Kar-wai, particularly “Happy Together.” It is a film that has had a significant impact on my photography career. When I watched this movie, I felt a strong resonance. This resonance stemmed from a deeper contemplation of the concept of “home” and the confusion and sadness that arise from constantly shifting identities under different cultural backgrounds.
In the opening sequence of “Happy Together,” I remember there is a segment with completely reversed footage, depicting the protagonist’s departure from Hong Kong. This visual experience was a profoundly mesmerizing experience for me as a viewer. In my own shooting process, I constantly strive to experiment with unconventional methods to portray my inner world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Over the past few years, I have embarked on a mission to disseminate the multifaceted realm of photography through a prominent Chinese social media platform. Recognizing the dearth of artistic awareness among the general populace in my native land, I aspired to extend a helping hand to those thirsting for knowledge, yet lacking the means to engage with the world of art. It fills me with immense gratification to witness the substantial growth of followers on my account, individuals whose unwavering passion for art permeates their very lives.
Simultaneously, I have dedicated myself to sharing my personal journey as a Chinese artist residing in the United States, with a particular focus on fostering a sense of solidarity within the Asian artist community. Within this community, a multitude of talented individuals pursue their artistic endeavors while grappling with a scarcity of opportunities to showcase their creations. In response, I initiated an enlightening program called “Artist Talk” last year. This platform provides a stage for Asian artists to converse with the public, offering insights into their artistic process, inspirations, and aspirations.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Follow your heart, be yourself.
It’s really difficult for photo artists to know what they really want in the first place because there are so many beautiful and rooted styles out there, but don’t stop looking for what you really want and chase after it.
This is very similar but also different from the first one. It took me a while to know what I really want and what I want my pictures to be like, but meanwhile I started to make pictures intuitively. That pushes me to jump out of the box.
No one is able to be on the top all of sudden, it always takes some time to think and practice.
Listen to different voices and learn from critique.
It is really important to share your works with others. My work has grown a lot since the day I went to grad school. I listened to different voices from my cohorts and professors, as well as critiques from them.
Don’t stop practicing.
As a photo artist, I have to keep making pictures to keep things running in my mind.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
As an Asian photo artist with a passion for empowering minority voices in the artistic realm, the movement I would strive to inspire is one that celebrates and amplifies the power of diversity in art. This movement would aim to create a more inclusive and equitable art community, where artists from all backgrounds, cultures, and identities are given equal opportunities and recognition.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would choose to have a private breakfast or lunch with the late Robert Frank, a revered and influential figure in the world of photography. Although he passed away a few years ago, his profound impact on the industry continues to resonate. My admiration for him stems from his journey as a foreign artist who ventured to the United States and crafted a remarkable narrative through his lens.
I hold great reverence for the way Robert Frank, as an immigrant, used his unique visual language to convey a poignant and captivating story about himself and his adopted homeland. In a country teeming with immigrants, he stood out by showcasing his deep understanding and connection with this land, portraying its beauty and complexities with an unparalleled authenticity.
It would be an honor to share a meal with Robert Frank, to listen attentively to his personal narrative, and to glean insights from his experiences as a foreign artist who fearlessly embraced the American cultural landscape. Though his physical presence may be absent, his artistic legacy lives on, reminding us of the power of storytelling through imagery and the enduring impact of an artist who defies boundaries.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I always update my project on my website, www.lucasxu.com, and my most used social media account is Instagram @lucasxuafff_, and my main Chinese social media is RED, which is PeaceMak1r
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Lucas Xu: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.