The color blue is often associated with calmness, melancholy, and introspection. At Ivy Nguyen's recent exhibition alongside ceramist Chris Giang and illustrator Kaela Han, her works are anonymous portraits that represent those feelings. The show appropriately titled "Blue" has been two years in the making and is running now through to November 23 at B4BEL4B Gallery in Oakland, California.
Hi Ivy, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
Thank you! My name is Ivy Nguyen, and I'm based in San Francisco. I started taking pictures by covering sports games for my high school's newspaper, but my photos have taken a complete 180 since then. I express myself through photography, clothes, knitting, and printmaking.
Art is both a social and isolated experience for me. At times I'm working alone, but I get to share the results with others, whether that's reminiscing about the memory in a photo or gifting a sweater that I made.
Can you tell us about your upcoming exhibition?
It's called Blue, and it's a group exhibition with my photos, Chris Giang's ceramics, and Kaela Han's illustrations. It's an unexpected pairing of media, but we were able to find common themes in our work. We also collaborated on some work with waves and the color blue in mind.
We just had the opening night, and I'm so happy with how everything turned out!
You describe the exhibition as "a direct reference to the literary meaning of calmness, melancholy, and introspection," and the works featured as "anonymous portraits that represent those feelings." Can you elaborate on what that means to you?
There'a a calm and sad feeling in my photos. I don't think I intentionally shot them that way; that feeling just subconsciously came out.
As for the anonymity, modeling for friends and brands—showing my face—has led me to turn the other way in my own work. Rather than showing a face’s beauty, which can be subjective, I ask my subjects to face away from me or use distance, objects, and weather to obscure their faces. This anonymity allows me to focus on layers of color and light, depth and framing.
What made you decide to specifically shoot on film? How does it complement your vision?
Sharp realism isn't always my style, so I appreciate the sometimes unreal color depth and inexplicable feeling that film provides. Because there are many steps in the shooting, developing, and scanning process, there are also many points where happy accidents can occur. I don't need everything to be 100 percent in my control.
What does your analogue photography kit look like?
I always carry either my Leica M6 with the 35 mm Summicron or my Contax T2 with the 38 mm Sonnar. The T2 is currently broken, so I'm waiting to repair it whenever I can get to Japan. It's a bit weird, but I didn't touch the M6 until a year after I bought it, and now it's my trusted daily carry.
Do you have a favorite photo from the exhibition? Is there a story behind it?
The black and white series! It was my first time developing and scanning my own film, so there were spills, scratches, dust, water spots, and overdevelopment, but I learned a lot and I love how those mistakes physically manifested in the photos.
I also have a lot of memories attached to them. I took them in Chicago, and I jumped into Lake Michigan after taking the one of the boys playing in the water. I went on a scavenger hunt through Santa Cruz and Berkeley to get the secondhand equipment to develop and scan at home with my friend Xavier. It was my favorite day in 2020.
How do you achieve the dreamy and surreal results in your photographs?
It's a mixture of accidents, errors, and editing. When I'm walking, I'm always looking around, and I just get a gut feeling when I think something is worth shooting. I don't think I can truly explain the dreaminess or teach someone how to replicate it.
How does it feel partaking in an exhibition that has been in the works for so long?
Now that it's done, I feel so relieved and proud. It feels like a part of me that was previously intangible is now out in the physical world. It makes me want to keep making things. I just didn't expect to do so much measuring, and levelling and drilling!
Where do you see yourself and your work in 10 years?
I've done a lot of open-air shoots working within the constraints (and beauty) of natural lighting. In the future, I'm interested in experimenting more with studio shooting, artificial lighting, and planned concepts. I just want to keep shooting as much as I can, and be prolific enough to produce more intentional bodies of work, whether that's a zine, book, or a solo exhibition. I hope in 10 years I can look back at the pictures I made and think about each memory and friend within them.
Is there anything else that you'd like to share?
At the opening night, my friend Nolan said my photos felt like noise music or shoegaze or ambient pop, which is a comparison that I hadn't heard before. It felt very fitting, particularly in comparison to "You never were" by Tim Hecker, "Sometimes" by my bloody valentine, and "Pollen" by Ecco2k.
If you're interested in seeing Ivy's photos in Blue for yourself, make sure to head over to B4BEL4B Gallery in Oakland, California now through November 23.
To keep up with her and her work, make sure to check out her Instagram.