Photographer Godfather’s son turns to smartphones
Juan Sea ( ), 34, is a new kind of professional artist.
His smartphone photography began as a hobby three years ago and has since become a sustainable career.
Today, Juan lectures and holds workshops at universities across Taiwan. He also runs a small gallery in Beitou District and shows his work at exhibitions overseas.
In January, he released his debut photo book “Happiness in A Courtyard ( ),” featuring Instagram images of Taipei and Japan and was approached by South Korea’s LG Mobile to become a company spokesman — an offer he declined.
“I didn’t expect the response to be as positive as this. It might be that I’m doing the right thing at the right moment,” Juan said.
“So far, though, the very best response has been from my father.”
A Photographer’s Son
Juan is the only child of Taiwan’s best-known humanist photographer, Juan I-jong ( ).
Throughout J uan Sea’s childhood, his father was an international-level photographer, celebrated for black- and- white photographs documenting disappearing rural villages and Taipei as a city in transformation. Across the Strait, he was hailed as the godfather of Chinese photography.
Back at home in Xindian, his life was disciplined and ascetic. He urged his son not to take up a career in photography.
“Because of him, I knew that not all artists had a romantic existence. Some were like my father, who worked like a laborer and did not hold parties,” Juan said.
Each day, his father woke at 4 a.m. After completing household chores, he headed to a park with his camera, then returned for a day in the darkroom or to write.
“I believe my father felt that art photography is a difficult industry,” Juan said.
“He didn’t want me to do what he did because he was concerned about the pressure. He did not want me to have a difficult life.”
‘Interested in sharing’
In university, Juan took a series of black and white photographs in the humanist style and showed them to his father.
“At the time I was just interested in sharing something with him, but he very sternly told me, ‘This will not do,’” Juan said.
“He was very serious about photography and I wasn’t as serious. That was true. But I was a bit hurt and I stopped taking photos.”
Ten years went by, during which Juan tried out career after career. After graduating with a degree in social work, he went into sales — at an insurance company, then an Apple store, a design firm and a furniture company.
In 2012, he opened an
Ins- tagram account on a whim and began to take photos. He collected them for a year and painstakingly selected the best to show his father. The older Juan offered a very different response than expected.
“He made some suggestions but said the photos weren’t bad,” Juan said.
“I felt encouraged and kept going. After a year and a half, a publisher asked me to release a book.”
Today, Juan roams the streets with a 130-gram iPhone 6. Many things catch his eye and he mentally edits out people and build- ings to perfect a frame that could crystallize a feeling, usually something bright.
“My photography started off being about recording things that are interesting or humorous. That hasn’t changed,” Juan said.
Sometimes he brings a traditional camera; he has been learning darkroom techniques.
“I think the important thing for a photographer is not really the camera itself, but the thought that goes behind its use,” Juan said.
“But it was the smartphone that has made me see that a photographer is, after all, who I want to be.”
(Left) This photo shows pedestrians walking past an advertisement at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in Taipei in 2012. (Right) This photo shows children with special needs striking a pose before a popular tourist attraction in Japan in 2014. The image is featured in Juan Sea’s debut collection “Happiness in a Courtyard ( ).”