Loda Choo: Photographer and Historian

May 4, 2020

Loda Choo is a curious and innovative photographer focused on a variety of different projects. From people to architecture to everyday objects, Choo has a keen eye for design and composition with an added artistic flair. She most recently exhibited her work and published a photobook focusing on her research about Korean Americans living in her adopted home, Austin, Texas.

 

Portrait of Loda Choo, courtesy by the artist

 

Where do you look for inspiration and who most inspires you? How do you handle lack of inspiration?

I am always curious about the world we are living in, and there are endless things to learn. While I am breathing, seeing, feeling, and thinking over and over again, I am very happy that I am able to see so many stories of people around me. I continually realize amazing things that I did not expect, and seek to find out more about what has been there in the world all along.

In my case, every day life is my inspiration. So I do not feel that the inspiration lacks, but often that the time to do everything lacks. Rather than saying I feel stressed over a lack of inspiration, I should say that I feel burdened whenever I ask myself the question, “can I be satisfied with my life on the day of my death?”

 

Portrait of Loda Choo, courtesy by the artist

 

What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years? Are there any new projects you would like to get involved in?  

In the next five years, I would like to continue to develop my ideas about the world. In the past three years, I have been thinking about how we see the world and about how our lives all fit together in this infinite world.

For example, I have studied time, how it is ‘spent’ by people, and how it is forever ‘passing by’. But is it really possible for us to utilize all our time productively when time is continuously flowing?

Up until now, I would say it is not. However, I am still not sure about that, I just continue to question it. Maybe I don’t have the right answers, and a pile of unsorted things that I created such as photographs, paintings, or writings would be all that remained. But my thinking will continue until I die, and this is all okay because this is how I choose to define my life. Basically, my projects are forever ongoing and unfinished.

 

Portrait of Loda Choo, courtesy by the artist

 

You explore a variety of different subjects and types of photography (portraits, architecture, still lifes), how do you prepare for these differently? What do you enjoy about capturing so many varying aspects of everyday life?

To tell you a little about my life, I received a Bachelor’s degree in architecture. After graduating, I was an editor of an architectural book in Seoul, South Korea. During this time, I started to have fun taking photos, but did not take it seriously, partly because I was so busy at work.

After getting married and relocating to Austin, I felt free from some of the burdens of my life. With more of my own free time I was able to begin studying photography. I took some classes at Austin Community College and got a certificate of professional photographic art. While studying there, I became more confident in my skills so I decided to start recording things around me with my camera.

Whenever people ask me “what type of photography do you do?” it is difficult for me to answer because I don’t choose to focus on one subject for my photos. I just choose things that I think are best suited to demonstrate my ideas or thinking at that time. Sometimes, black and white photography is the best option to convey the story. Other times still lifes and their intentionality are the best medium to convey my ideas. Then again, the simplicity of architecture itself can help convey my ideas at other times. From time to time, my friends will ask me to take a photo of them, and then I gladly stand in front of them with my camera because it is a very precious opportunity for me to be able to look into their lives through their face and body. This is one of the reasons I also do portraits.

 

Infinite Finity 1, courtesy by the artist

 

You have recently started posting some of your acrylic paintings on Instagram. What made you decide to start painting and how does it differ from taking photographs? 

My Instagram is my sketchbook. Showing my sketchbook to the public is my way of discussing and sharing my ideas with people. Posting the paintings is one part of my solution to feeling connected with other artists I admire.

Recently, as I mentioned above, I have been studying the concept of ‘time’. No matter how much I studied and thought about the subject, I was stuck and could not develop my ideas any further. So I tried writing down my ideas in the hopes of expanding my thinking. When writing was not enough, I tried painting. My brain was so full of the many ideas I wanted to develop that I felt like I didn’t have space to plan and take any photos at that stage, so I turned to painting to get a new perspective.

 

Infinite Finity 2, courtesy by the artist

 

What went into the publication of your book Looking Back Over the Past of Their Future and exhibition? Do you want to publish more photography books in the future?

I’ve written about the lives of Korean Americans in Austin, while taking photos of them. The president and vice-president of the Korean American Association of Greater Austin (KAAGA) wanted to exhibit the photos because they thought the photo series would be an important page in the book of Korean immigration history. So I was able to have an exhibition about the lives of Korean Americans in December 2019, and I decided to make a photo book to document all the information, including the writing I did for the purpose of recording their lives in America.

I donated one photo book to KAAGA and the other book to the Korean Consulate in Houston. Also, the president of KAAGA and I decided to donate all the exhibited photos and one photobook to Austin History Library. While they are currently closed due to COVID-19, we are planning to donate them after the crisis. I think recording and documenting is also very important, so I will definitely publish more books if I can.

 

Infinite Finity 3, courtesy by the artist

 

In times of crisis, how do you think the role of the artist (and specifically that of a documentary photographer) changes?

Every single day has its own stories and every moment is a historic one, in its own way. But if one single day is full of striking news like it is these days, the artist can have a superficial perception of things. In my opinion, artists should keep in mind that they are the ones who are trying to get to the bottom of stories, and therefore have a unique perspective as a visual storyteller. Artists can interpret the news and tell their own stories with their own personal visual language, as they usually do.

 

How We See the World 1, courtesy by the artist

 

Your project How We See the World is a unique and interesting take on travel and landscape photography. What inspired you to start it?

Sometimes I write poetry if that feels like the best language for me to express my ideas. Before taking the photos for this project, I wrote two poems. After that, I was still struggling to find a way to convey my ideas with a camera, which ended up being photos taken with a crystal ball. All things in the crystal ball are distorted and flipped over, and I think the ball can stand in for the eyes of people. I also tried taking some shots through the ball. After I finished taking the photos I realized that even small things like the crystal ball can be the perfect item to portray how we see the world. Through my pieces, I would also like to make people more aware of the natural bias they have when looking at art, or really anything. Below are the two poems I wrote to begin this project

 

How We See the World 2, courtesy by the artist

 

Don’t we readily admire the distortion?

When grabbing breathtakingly beautiful world

on our hands,

and standing there

on two legs.

 

And when

realizing that

the world we are holding on our two hands

might be reversed, flipped over,

and even crushed.

 

But also when

feeling that the distorted world

is still beautiful.

 

 

What Makes a Thousand Words?

All views in the world,

actually full of error,

are even.

 

One piece of the envy,

 

One piece of the hatred,

 

One piece of the crushed,

 

and one piece of the smudged.

 

The more I see the views

made of the pieces in good order,

the more it seems like that

the only thing that I see is the one that I draw.

 

How We See the World 3, courtesy by the artist

 

 

Looking Back Over the Past of Their Future photobook

 

You have documented many aspects of the people and city of Austin, TX. What have you taken away from this experience and why is it an important project to you?

I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Austin is my second home. I believe all things about me are affected by where I am, so naturally I got curious about the city and began taking photos of it. I always want to explore my surroundings, and for now and to me, it’s time to explore the city of Austin.

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