Honolulu native and recent graduate of NYU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in the Photography & Imaging Department program, Natalie Fong, talks about finding herself through photography and Christianity inspite of the pressures from social media + fashion industry.
Words: Geremy Campos | Photography: Natalie Fong | Producer: Carrie Shuler | Wardrobe Stylist: Rance China | Hair & Make-Up Artist: Natasha Abe | Model: Eva Jade at Premier Models
I have a lot of empathy for creative millenials. Unlike generations before them, millenials are under tremendous amounts of pressure to be a valued member of society IRL and online. You must be academic and able to offer a diversified set of skills to the world (creative or technical) while also displaying a “proper” personal brand that’s easily understood on social platforms. And then there’s the added pressure of being competitive with your peers:
How do they have so many followers?
Did I post this at the wrong time? I only got 120 likes!
Can I post this? Does this work with my feed?
That added layer of “transparency” we’re facing on social media is almost like a litmus test for creative superiority; You don’t need to be the best or first to execute an idea, you just need the most likes. Whether or not that type of transparency is authentic can only be discovered when you come face-to-face with your @InsertIGFamousPerson’sName. Thankfully, Natalie Fong s as real as it gets.
After sitting down with Natalie in a buzzing cafe near her then-dorm, I was quite shocked by the laser like focus she has for fashion photography and her Christian faith; two things that she says are not mutually exclusive and give her a sense of grounding within the chaos of New York. It takes us a bit of time to get into what she wants to accomplish as an artist, but if you’ve been keeping tabs on Fong for the last several years you’ll come to learn that her work is continually growing past her humble beginnings in Hawai’i.
SIL_Y: When did you find photography?
Natalie: I was like any other kid in middle school who wanted pictures of myself and my friends on our little point and shoot cameras. I wouldn’t consider that photography by any means, but that’s where I first found a camera and tried to understand what to do with it. It wasn’t until college where I started to refine what it meant to be a photographer/artist. Within these past two or three years of experimenting…that’s really where I found or where I’ve begun to find out that means to me.
SIL_Y: Did growing up in Hawai’i have any influence on how you approach photography?
Natalie: Definitely. I’m used to shooting with natural light. The sun is the ultimate light source. There’s no way to replicate it in the way I’m used to seeing light. I always prefer to shoot outside even if it’s 20 degrees.
SIL_Y: What motivates you to create?
Natalie: I don’t like the contrived idea of beauty. That’s something I feel like the current players in the art world are trying to push against. I find myself becoming more enveloped in it but I do see beauty in a lot of things especially because of my faith. I’m a Christian and I see every single person that God has created exactly the way they were supposed to be. Being able to photograph someone is a privilege to me. I feel like I'm getting to document this art piece that someone else made.
SIL_Y: Because your faith is a huge part of your personal life, what does that mean for your work in photography/art?
Natalie: I don’t want my faith to just exist in my personal life. I think that’s something I’m still trying to understand because that’s only within my years in college that I’ve truly began to understand what it means to be a christian. It’s informed the way I see life. It has to affect my art. It is the reason why I choose to photograph some things and not others.
My first year in New York was lonely. I became so focused on all the opportunities that I could see around me and I just got sucked into my work. It became my first priority which I personally think was my downfall. Because I didn’t have a community to love or support me. I realized how empty it is to seek self-glory.
I see a lack of Christian artists working in fashion. It’s not a prerequisite of me working with someone. The problem is that people either back down or back out of their faith in this industry…no one seems to really be sticking to their guns. To me, I think that if your faith is important to you then people need to know about it.
My faith is subtle within my work, but it definitely is there.
“You should be creating work because you want to and because you love it. Not for the approval of others.”
Natalie: I started gaining a lot of followers my freshman year when I was creating conceptual art. And it was an encouraging atmosphere at that time. I constantly received encouragement that allowed me to continue doing what I was doing. However when I started to feel my body of work shifting in another direction, I wouldn't say it was hostility, but I felt a lack of the same response because my work was changing. It’s a weird dichotomy where they like what you're doing but they want you to stay that way forever. That was a hard barrier that I had to climb over because at the time I was very affected by the way people saw my work online and if i wasn't getting that constant approval I felt that i was doing my work was good. You should be creating work because you want to and because you love it not for the approval of others.
SIL_Y: Lastly, what's next for you?
Natalie: Right now, I’m just trying to finish school. I try not to see it as the rest of my life before me. that’s overwhelming. i take things a day or week at a time. it helps me to sort through myself.
SIL_Y: Any words of advice for aspiring artists?
Natalie: Create work for the sake of understanding yourself.
Find Natalie Fong online at her Website and Instagram.
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