Ohio Interviews: Photographer Vivian Fu

"Me and Tamaki, Brooklyn, January 2014" by Vivian Fu, from the series "Asian Girls"
“Me and Tamaki, Brooklyn, January 2014” by Vivian Fu, from the series “Asian Girls”

A lot of your work surrounds the idea of being a woman, specifically a woman of color. When did you first identify as a woman of color? Since then, how has that label affected your art?

I did not learn that phrase [Woman of Color] until two or three years ago. I think I have always been conscious about my “Asianess”…my background and how that has affected the types of interactions I have had in my life.

I went home recently and I went through these old diaries that I kept when I was around twelve. They are not a “Burn Book.” I wrote in it and I would pass it around to my friend, and my friend would read what I wrote. After that, they would respond with their shit. I found a few of them and I have a couple that I kept from middle school. Some of the stuff that I said was pretty upsetting. It was an internalization of Western ideas of beauty and exoticism…applying that to myself…it was weird.

I have always identified as a Woman of Color, I just didn’t know that that is what it was called. I did not have a ton of friends that were not white growing up. That was also kind of this thing that I did not have anyone to really talk about with. I am not always thinking about [my identity as a Woman of Color], I am not like [in a husky, exaggerated voice] “This picture is a representation of me as a Woman of Color.” It does not really matter if I say that, or if I self-identify that way. No matter what, that is how I will always be perceived by the world. I will always be “Vivian Fu: Asian Girl/Photographer.” It is not that I have a problem with that…it is just weird feeling like a niche.

One of my favorite works by you is your series, “Asian Girls.” Can you explain about your process in that series?

"Me and Jackie, Berkeley, October 2013" by Vivian Fu from the series "Asian Girls"
“Me and Jackie, Berkeley, October 2013” by Vivian Fu from the series “Asian Girls”

[My series, Asian Girls] is something that I think a lot about and go back and forth on. I started thinking about comparison and how it is easier for people to compare you to other people that look like you. In my case, that means other Asian women. Growing up, I went to a school that was really, really white. I went to a state school for college that was also really, really white. Whenever there would be another Asian girl around, there would always be comparison. Having that be something that happened often through my life…[I] held onto that. It was about that: being automatically compared, and some ways automatically pitted against each other…especially if you have common interests. I feel like I noticed it a lot when it came to other photographers that are Asian. I hear that comparison even though our works are not similar at all. I feel like the more that I think about [Asian Girls] and the more time I have sitting with it, it has evolved into being about a lot of things.

I interpret your work as having an overall theme of self-representation and re-claiming of identity. There has been a lot of talk recently in the media about “selfie” and Internet culture. Being a young woman, have these phenomena affected your work?

[The internet] is not this scary thing, although a lot of people think it is. I tell my parents, “I am going to New York” and they ask me who I am staying with. I tell them [in an embellished scary voice] “friends from the Internet.” [The Internet] has definitely influenced me. I have learned a lot of things through it. In college, I wanted to take gender studies but I couldn’t. I have learned a lot of things that I wanted to learn in school, but didn’t have the schedule to accommodate, through the Internet. It is because people are talking about their experiences, sharing thoughts. I think a lot of people want to talk about how the Internet is bad or how technology is separating us…if anything I feel like the Internet has helped me with those things. It has helped me better communicate [ideas] that I am thinking about and reach out to people that I would have never met.

I have a lot of feelings about selfies being shit on. I have a mentor, and we were talking about how the word “selfie” is even a patronizing word. It sounds like a child’s word. I think that selfies are good and important. I feel like the people that say that selfies are bad are people who probably do not feel the need to image themselves because they are already represented.

"Self Portrait with Flowers, Corona Heights," by Vivian Fu,  April 2014"
“Self Portrait with Flowers, Corona Heights,” by Vivian Fu, April 2014″

What advice do you have for other young women making art?

I think that it is important for [young female artists] to be true to themselves. Just because people are telling you to be quiet does not mean that you should be. Always revisit ideas that you have thought about before. Always ask questions.

–Interview by Emma May

Emma May is a first year student at Barnard College in New York. She likes comics, pop punk, and Haribo gummy bears.

Vivian Fu is a photographer living in the Bay Area.