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“…I tried to find ways to cope with heartbreak and trauma,” Toronto-based photographer Hao Nguyen tells us. Hao is the winner for the healing category for the 2021 All Out Photography Awards. “Since it was difficult to express it on my own, I wanted to visualize healing through others…” The 2021 All Out Photography Awards offered a platform for photographers to express the issues confronted by the LGBTQ community. Just shy of 2,000 images were summited, and a range of industry experts selected the best of the bunch. Hao Nguyen is a Chinese-Vietnamese photographer. His take on the subject matter offered a sense of unity and came with a dose of creativity that any artist can enjoy. We caught up with Nguyen to see how life has been since receiving this fantastic recognition for his work.
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“I don’t know about considering my work being the best. It feels nice to be seen, though.”— Hao Nguyen
Hao Nguyen Shares His Gateway Into Photography
Before photographers start receiving awards for their work, there tends to be a journey that comes before them. For Toronto-based Nguyen, his life in photography began after facing adversity in high school. “After losing the visual arts award in my final year of high school, my interest shifted from illustration to photography,” he tells The Phoblographer. He adds, “I was given a Canon Powershot Pro 1 as a graduation gift. From there, I only wanted to take photos of anyone I came across.”
Fast-forwarding to the present moment, we were curious to learn what Nguyen’s inspiration was for submitting his work to the All Out Photo Award. He explained, “my photographer friends, they kept being persistent with words of encouragement. I never entered contests, usually due to not knowing about them until past the deadline.”
Hao Nguyen on Healing
The Healing category for the award was met with a range of images focusing on the topic. Nguyen’s work was his attempt at coping with the heartbreak and grief he was experiencing at that time. “Since it was difficult to express it on my own, I wanted to visualize healing through others (my queer friends.).”
At this point, we take the conversation deeper and things get a little more personal. We asked Nguyen to share details about his relationship with the word healing and how photography has helped the process. Opening up, he shared, “light can be so powerful. Just being able to look at a photo can evoke many feelings. There was a moment during the pandemic when I had intrusive thoughts in my head, but then I was going through folders of my archive work and realized how much joy photography had brought me.”
On Winning the Award
Winning an award means one thing: people deem your photography to be the best. That’s a great feeling for any photographer. We asked Nguyen how it felt for him. Modestly, he replied, “I don’t know about considering my work being the best. It feels nice to be seen, though.”
Clearly not one to blow his own trumpet, we shift the conversation to real-life experience and how it influences the photos we make. In terms of Nguyen’s photographic journey, he told us, “meeting people and wanting to explore places outside of my comfort zone continually influences my work.” He adds, “both share perspectives and have helped me understand how the world functions and understand what we can do to make things better for others and ourselves.”
Other Interests and Long Term Goals
At his core, Nguyen gets the most out of photography when he is photographing people. But when he doesn’t fix his lens on humanity, he’s happy to direct it elsewhere. “When I’m not taking photos of people, I enjoy capturing still life randoms, wherever I decide to go.”
Nguyen doesn’t express desires to be rich (most photographers aren’t): his goals are more minimal. When asked what he would like to achieve with photography in the future, he told us, “to be able to feed myself and live a bit more comfortably from photography.”
Nguyen certainly has a bright future in the photo industry. And while he may not be a man of many words, his photographs certainly do the talking. For him, photography is about actively fighting against injustices around the world. It’s clear he sees photography as a tool, not only to drive change, but to heal the wounds that tend to be unavoidable throughout life.
It was a pleasure speaking with him and learning more about his thoughts on the world and photography. In closing, we asked him what his focus was for the immediate future. Keeping it brief and to the point, he answered, “staying passionate.”
All images by Hao Nguyen. Used with permission.