Kuo-Chiao Lin: Moving from Street Photography into Portraiture

All images and text by Kuo-Chiao Lin. Used with Permission.

I’m Kuo-Chiao Lin, a Taipei native, a New Yorker at heart, and a vagabond wandering back and forth over New York City, Tokyo, Montreal, and Taipei. I’m an official Fujifilm X-Photographer who, to all genres of photography and visual stories, applies street photography as a method, a way to accept randomness/chaos and react to what’s happening around. I shoot exclusively with the Fujifilm X Series for it strikes a balance between functionality, image quality, and ergonomic simplicity. I believe in minimal equipment (X-Pro2 paired with the ultimate F2 compact WR lens: XF23/35mm) and lighting setup (natural light or Nissin i60A only).

Previously, I was a Hatch Series artist and commissioned by FHM Taiwan for editorial assignments. Beyond my photographic involvement, I’m on Sofar Sounds as a city manager of Taipei. I also hold an M.A. degree from NYU Linguistics, currently in a contract position as a college admissions counselor in Kang Chiao International School.

Why did you get into photography?

I didn’t start shooting until 2015 when I came up with this conclusion about the meaning of life. We’re all going to die, and on the day you’re dying, inevitably you will think through all your memories, popping up like a slideshow, like a movie. That’s the only thing you’ve got, in the end—this movie. Imagine you’re watching this movie. You don’t want it to be boring. You want it to be meaningful, inspiring. So you have to live a life that can inspire people. And from that moment on, I realized that you don’t have to accomplish something that society thinks is remarkable, that other people define as great. You can just start with the people around you, to observe how other people live, to understand their situations. Through other people, you can have more experiences—we all have different backgrounds. I like to get to know people from other places, other cultures, and imagine what their lives are like. One way to do that is by taking photos and making observations, and that’s a way to start trying to understand other people.

What photographers are your biggest influences?

Over the years I’ve been influenced by many photographers in both technical and aesthetic aspects. Major influences include Patrick La Roque on storytelling, Eric Kim on shooting styles, and Rinzi Ruiz on manipulation of lights and shadows, and Jonas Rask on composition.

How long have you been shooting?

I started shooting in the spring of 2015 when I was still in New York City.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

Since I shoot mostly street, it has become the reflection of my inner soul, which strives to escape from missing New York. Yet photography also turned out to be a mirror through which I envisioned what I would have missed in New York. It combined these two ambivalent emotional forces into a single frame. It became my shrink who would never be tired of my consult with them every time the hiraeth for New York hit me off guard. It cleanses and eases my mind, helping me to find the beauty hidden in the common, plain, and somewhat dull cityscapes of Taipei.

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?

I think I’m both, depending on what I’m shooting and in what kind of mood I’m shooting. Most of the time my work lies somewhere in between due to my philosophy of shooting.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

Usually a picture comes across my mind and I simply try to create that picture via technicality in responding to the actual shooting conditions. Or, someone’s work draws my attention and I try to reduplicate that image but ends up creating an image with an entirely distinct style out of experiments.

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

I usually start the process of importing and generating previews in Capture One Pro 10 and then do 2 runs of selection. If I just came back from a vacation in another city this normally leaves me with a selection of 30-100 images to develop, depending on the length of the vacation. I then apply self-designed presets to all images and do local adjustments to each image until I’m satisfied with the overall look. However, I don’t insist consistency in the overall look as I believe each image deserves their own distinct treatment based on the mood in which I’m shooting at the moment. I don’t really enjoy post-processing that much so in general each image will only receive a fast 2-minute treatment for tonal contrast, noise reduction, cropping, and maybe color editing.

Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.

I don’t work on projects because it makes my mind rigid to new opportunities if I have a predetermined concept before I go out and shoot. I only discover common threads and themes after compiling thousands of images. For example, I have a portfolio consisting of images I’ve made of people in transit during my trips.

What made you want to get into your genre?

Although I shoot mostly street, I don’t really think I fit in with any genre as I take street photography to be a method that can apply to all genres of photography. Basically, I shoot anything I feel like shooting.

Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.

My photographic development wouldn’t have been possible if it was for the camera system I used: the Fujifilm X Series. Since I started as a pure street photographer back then, and a particularly confrontational one at that, shooting with a DSLR would have broken the implicit interaction between the subjects and myself, as I would have worried about the subjects being offended. Both the DSLR-like X-T1 and the black, box-like appearance of the X-Pro2, paired with the XF23/35mmF2 R WR, were serious enough to engage strangers in my implicit photographic conversations without being too huge in size to intimidate them. They struck the interactive balance for first encounters for street photographers. I’ve sold the X-T1 over a year ago, and the camera that I carry most frequently for now is the X100F (as it is even lighter and discreet) unless there’s some serious assignment for which I will call up the X-Pro2.

What motivates you to shoot?

With the cameras in my hand, I’ve gained a new appreciation of my hometown and its people. I see things differently and more clearly, and to some extent, that makes me temporarily forget the sad fact that I was thousands of miles away from the city that never sleeps, the city where my heart truly belongs. And I hoped keep shooting would keep making up for my lost time in New York.

Find out more about Kuo-Chiao Lin and his photography in his website, Fujifilm X profile, and Instagram.