The Los Angeles perspective informs the vision of photographer Sean Maung whether he’s capturing images and identities on the corner of Beverly and Normandie or in the barbershops of Brooklyn.
L.A. is a sprawling crossroads of intersecting cultures, or as Maung describes his town of origin, a “cross pollination of race/ethnicity/sub-cultures/class.”
Being raised in the angelic city, and exploring its earthly extremities, prepares a creative eye to scour out and preserve the everyday wonder in any far-flung setting, no matter how mundane or extreme the place may be.
Sometimes Maung’s photos are blown up and staring down at you from an Eastside Sunset Boulevard billboard. Other times, his work is condensed and handheld in one of several zines he’s put out since 2010 ( Screw York City, Put That on Something, Fascinations, Peep Show, City of Angels, Initiations and, his latest, Chain Smoke: collect them all).
In whatever manner the photos are presented, their defining reality is that these are true-life people depicted in true-life pictures. Maung’s subjects may be standing consciously for their portraits, but no one in these photos is posing.
The Skeeve: You’ve described the camera as a tool for making connections with people and places, in effect as a conduit to worlds and experiences. What are some of your most valued experiences reached through the camera?
Sean Maung: I would say human connection. I think it’s getting harder and harder to be patient with someone you don’t know and take the time to talk and develop a connection.
The Skeeve: What are the steps to approaching a stranger from a world outside yours and asking to take their picture? In what ways can asking a stranger to take their picture go sour?
Sean Maung: It’s about being straightforward about what you want and recognizing the person you are talking to. People and their energies are powerful to me. I try and recognize the uniqueness of each person I approach and try and vibe with it. It has never really gotten sour when I approach someone with modesty, heart and positivity.
The Skeeve: What are some aspects you prefer on both sides: Improvisational shooting of life as it’s in motion vs. mindful pacing of a full-on corporate production?
Sean Maung: They both have their allure. When it’s improvisational , I just embrace all the energy of the environment and it’s nothing beyond that, but the environment and shooting. And for the person I’m shooting, I want to let them see that this photo is real, or beautiful, or powerful, and that’s why we spontaneously connected.
With the corporate shoot, it starts off a little unnatural because of the “production” and the “status,” but then it feels like a show, and everybody is watching you and the model shoot. And it has to be spontaneous and like a show to get that right picture.
The Skeeve: What led you to working with community-based organizations?
Sean Maung: Before I took pictures, I taught for community-based orginizations. I have taught adults for over 10 years. Still teach ESL to adults
The Skeeve: Branding and marketing are quick, rampant and ruthless in co-opting image and culture today. Do you take measures to thwart the forces of commodification?
Sean Maung: I believe it’s always going to be between originality and commodity. With all this technology and globalization, every little thing is a commodity that any person in any part of the world can take and absorb. Likewise there will always be groups of people that adhere to the originality and keep doing their thing. From Islam to punk, to buddhism to hip hop; there is too much power, beauty, expression for cultures not to be acknowledged, branded and re-interpreted.
All photos copyright Sean Maung