In Conversation with Mary Kang
Mary Kang is an independent photographer based in New York City. Born in South Korea, Mary’s personal documentary work focuses on “floating identity” and culture.
When Mary Kang discovered an interest in photography as a college student, she was also taking a course on Asian American history. It was then that she felt there was a lack of stories about Asian communities in the media.
“There are so many nuanced details that are not being told in the mainstream media [so] when I first started taking interest in photojournalism, I felt a passion to work on that,” said Mary, who has been working for years on a long-term project about Nepalese-Bhutanese immigrants in the U.S.
Though Mary was an advertising major, she was drawn to photography because for her it combined several elements of advertising into one profession: a form of communication where you learn about people, demographics, and culture, which is then used to sell an idea.
More than that, though, Mary says she’s attracted to photography for the connectivity it provides, both in interaction with subjects and when sharing pictures with viewers.
“It helps me to remember that everyone is unique, just like the leaves of trees have their own stories.”
Mary mirrored this sentiment of unity while selecting photos for Everyday Everywhere — her first curatorial experience.
“It was hard to condense everything in seven days, but I wanted to show that light can seep through, even in utter darkness…we still have to work together, we still have to somehow unite,” said Mary.
One image she selected shows men in wheelchairs competing in a race in Douma, Syria. “You can see that they are injured, but you can also read a glimpse of resilience and strength.”
“Syrians have told me they are tired of being portrayed only as victims in the media — that it’s very two-dimensional. It’s important that we do not re-victimize them in the media. I wanted to make sure that in this single post I had the chance to say something about Syrians, that they would be well represented as much as possible.”
She ended her curation with an image from Everyday Black America of a woman wearing a “Love” necklace whose caption resonated with her. Mary said it was the perfect image to highlight her message of showing light in darkness.
“I know that love prevails. I know it sounds very idealistic, but not blindly, I know there are so many heavy situations [too]. It’s important to acknowledge the darkness of course, but it’s also important to show the presence of light.”
Poring over thousands upon thousands of images during her curation, Mary said it really made her feel that the world is so big and that we really need to listen to each other.
“After the election, we really realized that we’re so divided because of our biases — we only want to report what we want to hear. We tend to think that we are truth holders, but we have to be more like truth seekers,” said Mary, echoing what she heard at a journalism symposium earlier this year.
Social media, she says, helps fill that gap. “Even though things are slowly changing, [and] improving in the newsroom, it’s good to see through social media [that] people in the community [are] showing and telling their own stories.”
Mary recalls a story of a local female fixer, Alicia Fernández, working along the Mexico-U.S. border, who was frustrated with outside, disingenuous journalists who lacked empathy and sensitivity. “She felt she shouldn’t adjust herself as a fixer to fake someone else’s perspective. So, she became a journalist herself,” explained Mary.
Discussing traditional versus non-traditional approaches to journalism, Mary mentions an iconic, historical photograph taken by an outsider that was extremely powerful: Eugene Smith’s image of a mother bathing her daughter, who was severely affected by Minamata disease. The photo was so impactful that it urged governments to take more direct actions.
Though Mary adds that the image was posed to illustrate the personal effects of the terrible incident, it shows what traditional media can accomplish by raising awareness of human rights issues around the world.
“I find it worth striving to work on advocating unity through photos that give visual context about ourselves. We all have different human conditions and backgrounds, but one thing I know is that everyone is deserving of love and respect. And I hope that through photography that kind of unity can be shown more and more.”