Marie Nguyen

Vietnam to California, photographer Marie Nguyen tells us of the contrasting places and the process of adjusting to a culture that has been woven into her own. 

Words & Art Direction: Annie Nguyen | Photography: Marie Nguyen

Marie Nguyen is a 25-year old Los Angeles based, but Vietnam born, photographer. A recent graduate of Art Center College of Design, she has been working professionally as a tech at a major retailer. In her spare time, she works on personal shoots for various fashion brands. For Since I Left You, we collaborated with her on doing a shoot of an interpretation of nature alongside city. For this shoot, we were able to incorporate partnerships we have with brands globally. The result is a juxtaposition is that both she and the Since I Left You team can relate to. Below is our conversation with Marie where she talks childhood, process and future goals.

SIL_Y: Instead of the "Tell us a bit about yourself" I would like to ask, what was it like moving here at the age that you did? How was it growing up? What are some of the challenges and obstacles you've had to overcome? Are there things that you notice that are different today?

Marie: My family and I lived at my grandparents’ house for awhile when we moved here and fortunately for 12-year-old me this meant living in San Gabriel/Alhambra area; an area densely populated by asians; which lead to an easy transition and minimal cultural shock. I couldn’t form sentences let alone understand what people were saying to me because my English vocabulary level was of a 2-year-old, but thanks to many many hours in front of the TV watching Teen Titans and WBKids, I somehow managed to make English-speaking friends and asian-accepted grades by the time high school came around.

I’d say the biggest obstacles I had to overcome was juggling between learning a new language and adapting to a new culture in a short amount of time while still maintaining my native tongue and traditions with my parents (see just reading that sentence alone is exhausting.) There were a lot of “this is how they do it here” vs “do we want to do it that way” talks in the household when I was growing up. Fast forward 12 years, we’ve managed to take on new traditions and kept our native traditions but with an American twist. So if you ever come to my family’s Thanksgiving, don’t expect turkey and stuffings, be prepared for spinning duck and baguettes. And we celebrate the New Year twice a year, one in Jan and another around late Jan/February.

In the past few years, I’ve caught myself wanting to learn more things about Vietnam, something I never thought I’d say! I mainly blame Anthony Bourdain for this. You see, I had drown myself in everything American ever since I came here, plus I was a bratty kid always favoring new things, Vietnam was the last thing on my mind. But living in LA, a city so rich in diversity, I get to meet and work with people from all over the world and the way they talk about their homeland, their roots made me want to revisit and learn more about my own.

SIL_Y: Also, how has this experience of moving here influenced your work? What motivated you to choose photography as your medium? What made you so certain that this would be it?

Marie: Having to juggle between being American or being Vietnamese made me realize that whatever I am or whatever my style may be, I shouldn’t always only create work purely only in that style but instead be open to new styles, new techniques and incorporate that into my work. This is something I used to be hesitant about because I thought that by creating work in another style meant that body of work isn’t me, it isn’t authentic, and I’m copying someone else’s work or technique. But I’ve come to learn that I can be inspired by another artist’s work or technique, incorporate those elements in my work and by nature the result of that work will be different because it is me that’s creating the work and I’ve added my own twist to it. Just like my spinning duck Thanksgiving dinner.

To be honest, my photography career started because of a late class registration back in high school. I originally wanted to be a designer but the only spot left on the yearbook team was the photographer position so I took it, fell in love with it, went to college for it, and here we are!

SIL_Y: Did you always know you would pursue photography? How did you get started with photography?

Marie: No I did not actually. How I got started with photography was actually due to a late class registration back at my junior year of high school. I originally wanted the design position on my school's Yearbook team but because I had registered late, the only thing left was the photographer position. So there I was a tiny little junior in high school with an expensive DSLR in my hands and I guess I never really put it down.

“I’d say the biggest obstacles I had to overcome was juggling between learning a new language and adapting to a new culture in a short amount of time while still maintaining my native tongue and traditions with my parents (see just reading that sentence alone is exhausting.”)

SIL_Y: Would you say that photography has shaped the way in which you approach a project, your career and outlook on life?

Marie: No I wouldn't say that photography alone has done all that. Though it was through photography that I was introduced to a bigger world of other creativity, of design, of strategic thinking, etc and the combination of all that have shaped the way I approach a project, career, and outlook on life.

SIL_Y: What is your creative process like?

Marie: I usually look around on the web or books/magazines etc for inspirations, concept some ideas, pull images for mood board to demonstrate what I'm imagining to my team and then I let the project evolve from there. I used to follow my mood board very strictly on shoots but I've learned that can harm the creative process at times. Nowadays, I set the grounds and I just let it be what it wants to be.

SIL_Y: As someone who has graduated not so long ago, do you have any advice for individuals who want to pursue a career in photography?

Marie: Don't get so caught up on the newest, most expensive photo equipment. You don't have to have the latest Canon Mark whatever to produce beautiful work. It's all about your eyes and how you perceive the world, not the censor size.


Styling by Charisma Tory

Hair & Makeup by Jeannie Hill

Model is Katherine LaPrell

Special thanks to BNKR, Issademar, our friends for all your help and support

Find Marie Nguyen online at her website and Instagram.

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