"Brassai always said that a good portrait is a gift from the sitter to the photographer. I think it's the truth."
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snapshotsInsights from Amos Chan
Walker Evans, poetry, and photography
Walker Evans had an incredible understanding of what photography is. He wanted to be a writer, and I think he looked at photography in terms of literature and in terms of symbols. Photography is really about symbols. Words are nothing but scribbles that become symbols. These symbols conjure up ideas, memories, and images from abstractions. I think Evans saw photography that way. Each image was a symbol. His photography was like a poem, each image making an exclamation.
When I shoot a portrait I like to offer the subject a few words from the great French photographer Brassai. He had a wonderful approach to shooting portraits. Brassai always said that a good portrait is a gift from the sitter to the photographer. I think it's the truth. It makes the subject realize that a good portrait is really a gift to himself or herself as well.
Clients and shoots
I think the best of my clients are collaborators. A photo shoot is a give and take situation. We start with a general idea and then work on it until we come to a consensus. I am an applied, commercial photographer. I am not an art photographer. I am a problem solver. I solve other people's problems visually. I find as a commercial photographer there is only one purpose: to make things look good.
I try to do my best in that way.
Shooting the portrait of NBA coach Phil Jackson
He was a very nice man, very easy to work with. We were talking, and he asked me what I wanted him to do, so I asked him, "What's in your mind? What's really important to you?" Well, it turned out that his father had died recently. So I said, "Why don't you think about your father?" And then he did. He immediately went into a yoga salutation pose thinking about his father. So I took a couple of frames, and that was it. I said, "Phil, we got it."
The nicest compliment I was ever paid was when an art director compared me to the famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. He told me Yo-Yo Ma and I were both classicists. As a cellist, Yo-Yo Ma interprets the classics. He does not write the music. He interprets the music, like Bach or Mozart. That's how I consider myself. I interpret the classics in my own way.
With a camera in his hands, Amos Chan is a master at finding beauty, drama, or nobility in any subject. He gracefully combines the vision and style of an art photographer with the skill and dependability of a commercial photographer. He was born in mainland China and raised in Hong Kong and Boston, Massachusetts. His first photography job came when he was an undergraduate at Tufts. A few years later, Amos was studying for an M.F.A. at Yale, working on the estate of Walker Evans, and printing all of the material used in "First and Last," the definitive book on that great American photographer. Today, Amos's artwork is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Art, while his client list reads like the Fortune 500. In shooting for the likes of Johnson and Johnson, Citicorp, or MIT, Amos always brings lucid vision and stunning definition to whatever he shoots, whether it's as tiny as a microchip, as sensitive as a human face, or as grand as a monument. Offering remarkable experience and an ability to work in all format cameras, Amos Chan is one of the top photographers available today. He's ready to collaborate on any project.