Nana Chen is a Taipei-born artist and photographer who grew up in Argentina, Chile, the US and Taiwan. Her work has been featured and reviewed in The Observer Magazine (London), Gallery & Studio (New York), Marie Claire (Paris and New York) and others. A classically trained violinist and painter, Nana's passions include architecture, interiors and classical piano. When not on assignment, she takes portraits and teaches photography. Nana currently divides her time between Vietnam, Thailand and Europe.

1/ FULL NAME: Nana Chen

2/ WHERE ARE YOU FROM? Taipei, Taiwan 

3/ HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN VIETNAM AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE? I came to Saigon on assignment in May 2008 but didn’t move here until 2010. 

4/ WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START PHOTOGRAPHY? I started taking pictures at thirteen, after secretly subscribing to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I had decided two years before that I was going to be a fashion designer, so by then I had a sewing machine. After making some clothes on the weekends, I’d get my brother and cousins to model them and we’d do a fashion shoot using a bed sheet as my backdrop. Later, in my 20’s I was drawn to portraiture and photojournalism.

 

5/ WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN YOUR WORK? External elements and internal emotions/thoughts: The external can be a conversation, my surroundings, a situation, something funny or something strange that I’m witnessing, whereas the internal inspirations tend to come from a situation or emotion I’m coming to grips with. The latter usually results in personal art projects such as the Chungking Mansions, Discarded, Taiwan vs China, etc. 

6/ WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU SEE IN A FRAME THAT OTHERS DON’T? I think we all see the same things. It is our focus or attraction that is different. I’m attracted to certain situations, expressions, colours, textures, and lines. I’ve been told I place an element of quirkiness in pictures. It’s often not a conscious decision. Perhaps this is to create a balance. 

7/ WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SUBJECT? AND WHY? I don’t have a favourite subject, really, but I seem to focus on people, art documentary, reportage and interiors.

 

8/ WHICH PHOTOGRAPH MAKES YOU CRY? AND WHY? I cry so easily it’s inconvenient. The Peruvian Boy by William Albert Allard is one of the first that comes to mind.

 

9/ WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PHOTOGRAPHERS? Some of my wonderful mentors in photojournalism: Eli Reed (Magnum), Chien-Chi Chang (Magnum), Jack Picone (World Press Photo Award). Then some of the more artistic ones like Sarah Moon as well as some Danish and Swedish photographers. There is an endless list of stunning work out there by lesser known emerging photographers as well.

 

10/ WHAT DO YOU LOVE AND HATE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB? I love special moments that are not necessarily caught on camera and the inspiring people you meet along the way. I also love it when people open up and share their stories as we work together to make an image. Hate is a strong word. I have annoyances: A subject once emailed me demanding free pictures early morning on New Years Day. This was after I’d already given her two batches of free pictures as a gesture of goodwill. She wanted more and was not exactly polite. I told her I would never go into her shop and ask for free dresses. I think she got the idea. We are bound by terms and conditions just as with any job. Our clients are the magazines, newspapers, brands, not the subjects, so legally we may not be able to release the pictures until after publication. Luckily, most people are very understanding and appreciative.

 

11/ WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE JOURNEY? Going for long summer walks in the deep English countryside with my partner while the blackberries and birds are out. I love the long summer light.

 

12/ WHAT IS YOUR MOST MARKED CHARACTERISTIC? An old friend told me once: Genuine.

 

13/ WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE IF YOU WERE NOT A PHOTOGRAPHER? A classical pianist, an opera singer, or something to do with music, drama, costumes, imagination.

 

14/ WHAT BAG DO YOU CARRY AT WORK AND WHEN YOU ARE NOT AT WORK? I work from home when I’m not on assignment, so I choose my bags according to mood. I use my Ipa-Nima vintage bag with the beautiful antique brass turnlocks as my everyday bag. I love and know it inside out. I love the earth tones and the soft leather. On special occasions, like a vernissage or an event I use the Ipa-Nima woven wristlet - Kariana Bag. It’s such a clever combination of design and function. I can concentrate on the event and know my valuables are tucked away safely and beautifully.

 

15/ HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT IPA-NIMA? I stepped into the magical shop on Pasteur in 2008 and kept on returning. I found the creator Christina Yu’s story inspiring and intriguing. Of course, I then did a magazine story on her to learn more.

 

16/ WHAT IS THE QUALITY THAT YOU LIKE MOST IN A PERSON? Can I list two? Kindness and honesty.

 

17/ WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU THE HAPPIEST? I was eight in Buenos Aires. I had a best friend, drank yerba mate, spoke Spanish, walked on cobblestone streets, carried a fountain pen and played in an empty lot behind my parents’ restaurant where gauchos camped. They were the first men I liked seeing scarves on-draped.

 

18/ IF YOU COULD CHOOSE WHAT TO COME BACK AS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?  A small bulletproof bird that lives forever as an eight-year-old.

 

19/WHICH TALENT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE? Thinking in numbers. Only so architecture, carpentry, patternmaking and perhaps flying a plane would be possible.

 

20/ WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO? Start by being honest to yourself.

 

WEBSITE: www.nanachen.com

SAIGON: +84 (0)122 886 2896

BANGKOK: +66 (0)871077192

FB: www.facebook.com/nanachenphotography

TWITTER: @nanachenphoto

INSTAGRAM: #nanachenphoto

BLOG: nanachenphoto.blogspot.com