(Helen Spelled Backwards)
Neleh Sawsiengmongkol was born and raised in the Tidewater area of Virginia. Growing up as the daughter of two Filipino immigrant parents, becoming a "starving artist" could not be encouraged. Like most parents of first generation Asian Americans, they had hopes of their children having successful careers in medicine or engineering. Today, Neleh continues to challenge sociocultural pressures, as an "artographist" (artist + photographer), capturing images that create commonalities in a diverse world. Most recently, her talent has been recognized internationally as a nominee of the 2nd annual Photography Masters Cup. She currently resides in Virginia Beach, VA.
Do you have a particularly favorite (photo/ painting) you have created and why is it your favorite?
I have lots of favorites. One in mind is of this amazing 16 yr old b-boy doing an elbow freeze. To this day it looks surreal to me. Capturing signature freeze poses of breakers is on my list of favorite things to photograph. The breaker's passion to dance is so intense. When they nail their poses and spins it creates a synergistic moment between me and them in those few seconds resulting in what I feel is a collaborative art project.
What about photography captivated your interest?
It's being able to capture poignant moments to share with others and create images that are able to evoke the imagination of any individual.
What advice would you give to a person interested in becoming a professional photographer?
Don't give up.
How did you start doing photography? How did you start editing? What kind of editing software do you use?
First, I kidnapped my older brother's 110 camera when I was a kid. It made the coolest noise when you had to wind up for the next shot. I brought that thing everywhere. In high school, my first and only dark room experience was during my senior year through a Graphics Communication class. Once college started, I had to put photography and the arts on the back burner to figure out "What do I want to be when I grow up?" to assure my parents that I would have a secure financial future. 10 years later (and a bachelor's degree that I haven't put to use), I bought a Canon 20D, took some basic photography classes at the TCC Visual Arts Center to learn how to edit and it's been heaven since.
Tell us about your experiences getting started as a professional photographer.
It's been both frightening and exciting! I have to admit that one of the hardest things for me to do in this profession is putting a price on my work.
Do you prefer working with digital or film cameras? Why?
Digital. It's convenient.
Can you tell us about your technical process.(camera type/ photo editing programs/).
I use a Canon 20D. Although I have a collection of lenses, my favorites are prime lenses. I prefer to shoot in RAW and I am currently using Photoshop CS2.
Can you tell us about your creative process? How do you find the right subject? Location?
It's pretty cut and dry. When an idea comes to mind I visualize the exact image I want to create and make it happen. Also, I have awesome friends that I share my ideas with and they never hesitate to contact me when they find a cool shoot location or just anything that screams "Neleh is gonna looooove taking pictures of this!"
What are predominating concerns as an artist, and how do you express them?
Sometimes I think to myself, "There are so many photographers out there. Why should I even try?" then I slap myself silly and tell myself, "Shut up!" Having trust in your own work isn't always easy and I am thankful to have colleagues give me the constructive criticism I need.
What do you want to photograph that you've not yet shot?
If I tell you I'm going to have to kill you. I kid! There are so many things I haven't photographed yet so the list would be long. If I had to start the list tomorrow, it would be a more recent self-portrait. I'm pretty bad about being in front of cameras since I'm behind one most of the time.
Can you think of a particularly fun client or project that you've had?
My most recent gig was at a Mixed Martial Arts fight event. It was my first time shooting this type of event and I was so excited. I made it into a game. The more images I could capture of fists and feet hitting the body and facial expressions showing pain the more points I'd score. I get a high from knowing that I anticipated something big about to happen and I caught it in a photograph.
What about a really boring project that you did just to pay the rent?
I haven't had any yet.
What are your present works about? How would you describe your work?
I've been in a portraiture mood lately. It's been fascinating to capture the different expressions of individuals when you tell them to think about something like "Someone ate your last cookie and didn't ask you!" or "You've been very naughty!" In the past, I've mostly been shooting still life that when it comes to people I sometimes forget I have to talk.
I've never thought to describe my own work. I'm used to others doing it for me. Why start now? (insert laughter here) Seriously, I wouldn't know what to say because I am immersed in it.
What other interests do you have? (besides photography)
I've got lots but lately I've been trying to get high scores in Guitar Hero.
Do you have a guilty pleasure? (Watch a certain reality tv show, surf myspace, people watch?)
I ran a list in my head of things i enjoy doing and realized... why feel guilty about something pleasurable?
What artists have influenced you, and how?
Two names come to mind, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Milton Glaser; and actually any artist that I have had the pleasure of meeting, well-known or not. They all have given me the inspiration to celebrate what life gives you and to never stop doing what you love to do.
What advice would you give other artists just starting out?
Again… three words… DON'T GIVE UP!