Mike Ying is a Photographer originally from San Francisco, California and is currently in the UK attending the University of Arts London for his MA. Mike is also a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and has spent most of his photographic career in Tokyo.
How do you feel about your multi-cultural background ? Does it affect you?
It definitely affects me, but in certain ways more than others. When I am in London or Tokyo, being American definitely changes how I work with the team. But when I am in America, being Chinese/Filipino doesn’t affect how I work or the pictures I take. I think it’s more of a personality change, and how I collaborate. I think being American allows me to be a little bit more open to people.
Would you say your background is a benefit while working in other countries?
Definitely! I really try to put an emphasis on humor and collaborative spirit that I have inherited growing up in California. It is always a delicate balance of cultural expectations but in the end we’re all trying to make great work. I just do my best to make sure we have a good time during that process.
How has working with the Rebalance team benefitted you?
The work of the other photographers has been inspiring and it’s great that the team values individual identity. We’re not trying to be anyone but ourselves, and showing off our unique personalities through photography. And I am also learning so much about China (which is so embarrassing because my dad is from China). We’re really a unique band of artists but also friends.
Rebalance team has an ethos that embodies individuality, why do you think that is important?
I think no matter what industry or art a person is into, it’s important to recognize how personal the things we create are. And I think it is our job to help create something personal and special, and to do that you need artists who aren’t afraid to express their individuality. No matter how vulnerable, new, or scary that might be!
What is the most important thing for you on a shoot?
That I try to get the best photos possible. Sometimes that means the photos aren’t going to be how you wanted them or thought they would turn out to be, and that is OK. Just to be flexible and to experiment so it comes out the best way. On the inside thought I might be screaming and want to jump through a wall, but somehow I keep it together.
What are some of the differences and similarities of being a dancer and photographer?
Actually think it’s pretty similar, especially working with fashion models. It’s just a different kind of performance, and I think being a dancer helped me coach models who aren’t used to modelling yet. But in fashion, there is a different aesthetic, and I think I needed to adjust to working slower and more thought out. If anything I can just spin on my head for an hour to entertain the team while we are on break!
(Also dance could be a special way to relax when shooting)
Has Covid-19 had any effect on your shooting?
It did, I had to really change my current projects to fit what I could do in quarantine. I had switched back to film this year, the Covid forced me to get better at developing film, and I had to change my style a bit because I couldn’t shoot models. But in a lot of ways, I think it was really good for me. I started shooting in a way I did before fashion, and now I can focus on still life, abstracts, and everyday life. In the end I started making photos I really liked, so even though it has been hard on everyone, my photography didn’t suffer at all, it just changed.
And what is your most impressive shooting experience during the quarantine?
I don’t know if it is impressive, but it’s really funny. I had this idea to light my hand on fire using hand sanitizer, and then shoot it at sunset. I watched online that if you light the gel on fire on your hand, it doesn’t hurt. So I tried it with my girlfriend and I started screaming LOL. So I shot some matches instead and it came out ok
Before shooting fashion, what kind of photography did you shoot?
In my twenties I really only did street photography. I was really inspired by the old shooters like Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Doisneau. But I’ve actually been shooting since I was 15, and during that time it was just whatever was around me. I think Covid really forced me to go back to this type of photography, but I think all the experience in fashion really changed how I shoot.
You started shooting professionally in Japan, was that an important thing for you?
Yes, definitely. I love Tokyo so much, I could just walk outside and start taking photos. It wasn’t like that in San Francisco. And the fashion and art culture was so unique, I think it had a big impact on me. Although the fashion industry was so new to me, it didn’t matter. I got to work in a studio and really get better.
Do you also have any influences of Chinese culture, as you have some family from Guangzhou?
I didn’t really feel it at all before because I didn’t spend much time with my Chinese family. I only really see my Dad and sometimes my Grandma these days, but now it’s funny, all the influences of Chinese culture are happening now because of the MA course. Even though I’m not culturally very Chinese, I’m connected to Chinese culture through fashion photography which is cool. Also I like to pretend I understand Chinese while Arui and Binger are talking, I just nod like I understand haha.