“Lets get awkward and make pictures about it” Interview with Tommy Kha

When checking out my colleagues web site on the homepage it reads  “Lets get awkward and make pictures about it” and I think that describes Tommy very well ! This Saturday despite the polar vortex weather I went to visit him in his new studio in Dumbo. He was excited to show me his space since he really hasn’t had a “real” studio for a while because he works mostly from his own life experiences. I asked him about his studio practice and he said “Well you know ,like over the winter break I travelled home to Memphis, spent some time there. Mediated. Smoked at the bar, had a drink, and during the day I go out and walk. I take everything in and then figure out what I need to do”.  That’s what is so great about Tommy’s work is that his life … this life of taking things in from everyday existence is filled with complex moments and awkward encounters.

Whats so great about Tommy’s work is that his life … this life of taking things in from everyday existence is filled with complex moments and awkward encounters. Tommy went to Memphis Collage of Art  which was more fine art based, and directly got into Yale for his Masters. When asked about how he got into photography, he exclaimed that the “story always changes”. It could have been when his sister asked him to do head shots for her modeling career. Or when his sisters boyfriend had a camera Tommy liked; so he got one too and then realized that he “liked” the guy. Whatever the story is he just liked taking pictures, a lot of bad pictures (which he claims he still does) but he just had to take them. He remembers taking a series of images in which he got all his friends naked, the accomplishment was that they actually didn’t mind him taking the nude pictures with him not so much the pictures themselves. And that’s what I enjoy about Tommy, that fearless way of approaching his subjects, there is no fear of making that “perfect” image its the experience and the nuances that count. He finds that sometimes the best images happen when you are not expecting them. Most of the time he has an idea, sets things up , the model, location, only to find that the best shot was the one that was unexpected.  We talked a lot about editing and sequencing while looking at his various series on his web page and some small images on his studio wall. Each individual image is strong enough to stand on its own yet the way his “gut” tells him to arrange them feels almost like a entering a lavish novel filled with antiheroes and shady bedrooms. Tommy uses appropriating videos as a strategy to talk about Asian male stereo types . Looking at the body and how the media can easily disregard the asian body especially the gay asian body. He addressed the issue of the lack of representation of the LGBT community in the media and how that even when there are represented there is a lack of diversity in race. It’s always white male that is standing in for roles that perhaps could be better represented, and that the characters could be more developed. The best asian representative is the guy from Walking Dead “Glen” who is a male Asian. His character in the show is  treated the same way as all the other characters he shoots a gun and that invalidates the Asian mystique. I asked him about how he felt about Jackie Chan.  Tommy said that “ it doesn’t work either, because it’s still seen more as comedy and although he may be a main character he is still marginalized by humor. He likes to insert himself in the videos and challenge these “roles” that are portrayed. As you can see in “How to Quit Me” 2013 he inserts himself into the movie “Brokeback Mountain”. How to Quit Me In one of his videos Tommy actually shoots a gun. This piece was right after the Sandy hook massacre and obviously him being from the south this was a big conversation in his home town of  Tennessee . “They are really about their gun laws and they want to keep their guns. I wanted to get bullets and they were sold out, so had to borrow some from a friend. It was the first time for me to shoot a gun and it was me just documenting it and what the experience brought to that. Just having this experience with them and hearing them say things that perhaps were not politically correct,just the state of things. Being from the South you have to have a thick skin, they are really open about racism” (quote from interview). Borrowed Bullets Not only does he like to insert himself in videos but Tommy likes to insert centerfolds into his new project that are Photo zines. These are a color copy pictures that are placed together that really aren’t “part of anything”. Re contextualizing the past photographs and a different practice of sequencing. (Please visit website for more info coming soon).His first one is called “Fathers and other Strangers” because we all know we have daddy issues.  He wanted to make sure I knew these were not black and white images because they are COLOR prints of his work. His obsession with color can be seen in each of his pieces. He loves color just in case you didn’t know!! When getting one of these zines he wants to have the centerfold not have to do with anything in the series of the zine, just an amazing disposable insert that can be taken out and placed on your wall.


There are a lot of things Tommy is working on but he can’t really say much, because, well….. its a secret. So make sure to check out his website for updates for more info on his work. www.tommykha.com