Photographer Vivian Fu Explores Race, Gender, Sexuality — And Food: Lady Shooters

by Tara Wray

For the latest in our series on women photographers, Lady Shooters, Tara Wray interviews San Francisco-based photographer Vivian Fu.

Vivian Fu! Can you please tell me why you make pictures?

At the most honest and basic level, I’m interested in photography because I have a desire to document my life; it’s a way to keep a diary, but also it’s a reminder that I have some agency or control. My introduction to photography was through family photographs that my dad took, which always felt like they skipped or glossed over so much, and that compelled me to take my own pictures.

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05 AmeliaDolls

Can you share a specific defining moment in your life related to photography?

It’s hard to pick one defining moment, but I’ve got three that I can think of. First was going on a road trip to the Salton Sea with my dad, the first time I was handed a camera of my own to make my own pictures. Second was in college, where I made personal work and presented projects and series in critique, although never sharing what I made outside of assignments. A professor encouraged me, telling me that there was strength and validity in that work. The third was meeting my partner Tim.

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In the series Me and Tim, you were not afraid to lay bare your most intimate self. Where did you find the courage to do that, and how did you convince Tim to be a part of it as well?

I think photographing myself in this manner is more telling of my own self-obsession than of my own bravery. I’m more curious about what something I’m experiencing looks like instead of thinking about how I am laying myself bare, which is perhaps why it doesn’t feel like I need to summon the courage to do it.

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Have you always primarily shot film? What is it about film that you prefer?

Our family photographs were made with film, and because of our familiarity with it within this context, it can now feel a bit romantic. Film tends to be believed as the truth (as we are so aware of digital manipulation) and it also references an idealized version of the day to day, implications that I exploit and harness within my own photography which deals with the romanticization of the Everyday.

I think about the works of Nikki S. Lee and Nobuyoshi Araki, and how we read into their works simply through their inclusion of occasional time stamps, which is a common feature of 35mm film cameras. In Lee’s Projects, her use of timestamps lends some veracity to her self-portraits as identities that are not her own, and Araki’s deliberate misuse and misdating on photographs jumbles up the chronology of his life. My own interest in film (and time stamps) lies somewhere close to this, as well as a mode of investigating vernacular photography. Additionally, film is how I learned photography and shooting it has become a force of habit.


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In light of the divisive political climate in America, do you feel like photography can be helpful in bringing about change? Now that the Everyday is anything but, do you feel as though your work may shift in some way?

I absolutely feel that art can be helpful in bringing about change. I think it can be actual and real social and political change, but I think it can also be a space of comfort and solace for those wanting moments of peace as well, and to me it’s important that there’s space for both. I believe this to be true in the current American political landscape, but I believe it to be true everyday as well.

My work has been shifting for quite some time now, and although it still falls within the umbrella category of the everyday, my everyday has changed as a result of getting older, growing up, friends moving away, becoming more quiet and domestic. With regards to what’s happening in the United States right now, I am more critical of what my work actually does for anybody else but me, but I’m not sure how my work will shift.

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You recently mentioned that photographing food is your primary interest now. On the surface, that seems like a departure from the topics of race, sexuality, and gender that you address in much of your work, especially in “Me and Tim.” What draws you to food as a subject?

Food can be an exploration of those topics, just in a different way. Food is romantic, sensory, social, and place-setting. I like the idea of feasts as celebratory and indulgent, and how that ties in with my larger body of work. Food is visually exuberant, tying in with my other photographs which are lush, fleshy, and ecstatic. To me I don’t see it as a departure, I see it as being directly related.

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What are you working on now?

Working on my photography, as always. I’m trying some new things out, including a getting a Pentax 67 which forces me to slow down a bit and gives me the option to get closer to my subjects; scanning images from a recent trip to Taiwan to see family, and updating my website!

All photos courtesy Vivian Fu

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