Vivian Fu: Identity, Relationships, & the Power of Selfies

by Maddie Maschger

Vivian Fu is a San Francisco based, San Fernando Valley raised photographer pushing the limits, shattering boundaries, and taking names. She earned her B.A. in Fine Arts with an emphasis on photography at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012, and has since been creating an incredible body of work exploring identity, delving into her own experiences as an Asian American woman and working with her body and her relationships. For a recent graduate, the artist already has an impressive curriculum vitae with features in The Le Sigh, Redox Magazine, and Young Shot, among others, along with two self-published works, four group shows, and a solo exhibition.

Fu’s most intriguing series to date is “Me and Tim,” an ongoing series of photographs beginning in August 2011, documenting her relationship from the very beginning. She says, “This body of work is a love letter—photographs of words that I’m not eloquent enough to string together. They are not only my document of love for Tim, but they are also a document of my ownership of my body, identity, and sexuality as mine.”

Fu’s stunning photographs have an air of intricacy, every detail considered, every fleck of light. The work recalls that of Nan Goldin, empowering the snapshot to something much deeper, far more sincere, and far more considered. Without a doubt, Fu is one to watch.

I had the privilege of interviewing Vivian on her life and work as an artist. Read on!

Do you remember the first photograph you took?

I don’t really remember the first photo that I took, but the first pictures I do remember taking were these selfies with those polaroid izod cameras when I was maybe eight years old. I think I remember that I took some pictures of myself in our bathroom mirror too, which is something that I’m still obsessed with.

When did you start shooting?

My dad bought himself a new digital camera in 2003 and he passed down the camera he had been shooting with down to me. I don’t remember what kind of camera it was, but it was a pretty bad digital camera. I was maybe thirteen at the time and just took pictures of myself for myspace or pictures of my friends and places that I went, and I’d post the pictures to my livejournal. 

What inspired your body of work, ‘Me and Tim,’ and why do you think it is important?

The series of me and Tim sort of just happened very organically. A lot of the images I take are of people in my life and the situations and places that we find ourselves in, and when Tim became a part of my life I started to photograph him.

There were a lot of things that I had been thinking about and processing through for a while in regards to race, sexuality, gender, power relationships, and where all of that sort of intersects and how they relate to me and my experiences. I spent a lot of time unpacking people’s perceptions of Asian bodies and the way they are portrayed, which influence my interest in image making, especially in photographing myself. So although the series is about my relationship with Tim and the tenderness and tension between us, it’s also a reaction to all of the thoughts I’ve been processing through.

What would you say to combat the assumption that self-portraits are nothing but ‘selfies’? 

I would say that there’s nothing wrong with selfies!

Furthermore, do you think there is a power in self-portraits? In selfies?

There’s definitely power in imaging yourself. A lot of it gets written off as narcissism or self-absorption, but I think it’s really important for people to be able to really own their image. What’s great about self-portrayal is that when everybody does it, you get a real image of the diversity there is in the world, and I think that’s really powerful.

What influences you and keeps you going?

Life experiences and compulsion.

Do you have any mantras?

I have adopted one from my friend Patricia Alvarado, “live yr dreams.”

What advice do you have for women interested in pursuing or already pursuing art and image making?

Support each other.

To view more of Vivian’s work, visit her websiteAll images courtesy of

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