Jarod Lew是一名美籍華裔攝影師，擅長捕捉亞裔族群在美國生活的縮影，他的作品大多聚焦在少數民族以及身分認同等議題上；Jarod Lew的攝影風格寫實不造作，在饒富生活感的畫面中，總能扼要點出亞裔在美國可能要面臨到的焦慮跟孤立，目前他的攝影作品Please Take Off Your Shoes正於SFMOMA展出。
以下採訪Cacao mag簡稱C，Jarod Lew簡稱J
C：在你的作品《Please Take Off Your Shoes》裡，出現了許多在亞洲人家裡常會出現的靜物。你當時如何想到將兩者結合在攝影之中？更重要的是，你如何將美國郊區的元素融入在作品之中？
J：我稍微回溯一下，在《Please Take Off Your Shoes》之前，我在工作的高中肖像攝影工作室發現我媽媽與文森特．陳（Vincent Chin）曾經訂過婚，他是一位華裔美國製圖員，被兩名白人汽車工人殺害。而他的死也引發了1982年最大規模的亞裔美國民權運動。
J：《Please Take off Your Shoes》這個作品的動機，是我想要與中西部地區的其他亞裔美國人建立聯繫，產生共鳴。雖然照片中可能表現出了孤獨和疏離感，但拍攝的目的，是希望彼此有機會分享和討論這些孤獨和疏離感受的結果。
Jarod Lew is a Chinese American artist and photographer currently based in New Haven, Connecticut. His work explores themes of identity, community and displacement. One of his projects, Please Take Off Your Shoes was shortlisted for the Aperture Portfolio Prize in 2021, and is in a group exhibition at SFMOMA titled Kinship: Photography and Connection in 2023.
C: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? What led or inspired you into the area of photography?
Jarod Lew: I was born and raised in a fairly white suburban neighborhood in Metro Detroit, Michigan. After graduating high school, I attended Michigan State University and received a BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in Graphic Design in 2009. After I graduated, I had a difficult time landing a job as a graphic designer due to the economic climate in Michigan. Then randomly, the grandmother of my girlfriend at the time called me about a dream she had about me working at her high school portrait studio. She thought it was a good idea to hire me. I discovered my love for the medium at that studio. It felt so natural to use photography for my art practice even though I had never taken photography seriously before. And that’s when I began working on personal projects to understand the landscape I was in. The accidental nature of my run-in with photography will always feel like magic.
C: In “Please Take Off Your Shoes”, you capture a lot of still objects that are common in Asian households. How do you come up with the idea of combining people and objects together? Moreover, how do you successfully immerse yourself in the American style suburban environment with your own heritage?
Jarod Lew: To rewind a little bit, prior to Please Take Off Your Shoes, I discovered at the highschool portrait studio that my mom was engaged to Vincent Chin, who was a Chinese American draftsman that was killed by two white autoworkers. His death sparked the largest Asian American civil rights movement in 1982. Finding out my family’s connection to this history, shifted my perspective on the world and my own identity as Chinese American. This shift forced me to look for an Asian American community that I did not have growing up. I started reaching out to friends and strangers to collaborate on portraits. After creating 15-20 portraits and living with them in my studio, I realized that there was something missing in the series of images. They did not speak to the complexity of our experience.
I had this lightbulb moment where I was photographing my friend in her bedroom. The bedroom wall was decorated with American punk rock posters, images of European art, and high school award certificates. I suddenly felt like the most Asian thing in the room. Afterwards, while sitting in her parent’s living room surrounded by Chinese porcelain sculptures, Chinese wall decor, and family photographs from China, I felt like the least Asian thing in the room. In that moment, I realized that these feelings of alienation don’t just occur outside the comforts of our home but within it. There is no private or safe space that can defend us against the implications of racial difference. I realized that the objects we surround ourselves with tell a story of that alienation, especially within a photograph. In my future portrait sessions, I started to explore the relationships between the subjects and their personal possessions. This relationship better captured the nuances of the Asian American experiences I was missing before.
C: You mentioned in other articles that you find out about your mother’s engagement after you grown up. How will you describe the relationship between you and your family? From my personal experience, Asian parents often won’t tell their child their feelings or emotions. Do you think that tension between you and your family has an impact on your creative process?
Jarod Lew: I feel like my relationship to my parents is generally a supportive one. They would often share their feelings with me so perhaps my experience is a bit different. Yes, they withheld the Vincent Chin history from me, but that was necessary for my mother’s well-being. And the weight of her secret wouldn’t have been so heavy if I was somehow exposed to Asian American history in school. But the total absence of this knowledge throughout my education made my mother’s hidden past all the more shocking and unbelievable.
So, I wanted to more accurately attribute the tension between me and my parents to the erasure of this Asian American history. No matter how close I am with my parents, this relationship will always be affected by the history of how Asians were treated in the US regardless of how much we know or don’t know about it. My parents didn’t withhold their past because they didn’t want me to know. They did it so that they could better focus on their present lives, raising their children. My ignorance is not their fault but an effect of how race works in the US
C: I remember the first time living in the United States alone, the feeling of alienation and loneliness gripped all over me, and it actually took me so much time to adjust to the feeling of being alone. From your work I noticed that there is also a feeling of isolation and ironic humor in it. How will you describe the feeling of isolation in your works?
Jarod Lew: The impetus for Please Take off Your Shoes was my desire to connect with other Asian Americans in the midwest. While the photos might express loneliness and alienation, the photo shoots themselves were the result of being able to share those feelings with one another. When I think about the works collectively, I think about the paradox of feeling community and connection as a result of sharing our individual experiences of aloneness. You can feel less alone in that feeling, which can become the occasion to tackle the effects of intergenerational trauma and shame.
In many ways, making these images was a way to tear down the feelings of loneliness, intergenerational trauma, and shame that pervade domestic spaces–especially through humor. After bonding over our private feelings of shame, there is often laughter at the photoshoots. Humor mitigates any heavy feelings we might carry in the privacy of our homes. I think there’s a lot of subtle humor that can be found in these complicated homes. It doesn’t always have to be so serious!
C: There are a lot of different pages on social media that celebrate the rising of AAPI, and I think that’s an extremely helpful tool and platform to actually speak up for ourselves. What do you think about social media as a platform for our voices, and does the rising of social media impact your creative process? Moreover, what’s the biggest challenge or struggle that you face right now as an Asian American artist?
Jarod Lew: I think social media platforms are wonderful in expanding the accessibility of information from others that have similar/relatable experiences. For me, it helps unravel the grips of isolation and loneliness that you can often feel. Because of this accessibility, I am able to receive affirmation that the work is relatable from complete strangers! These platforms also help inspire new ideas for future works. I’m all for these ways of connecting and communicating. I think the biggest challenge for me as an Asian American artist is navigating and responding to ignorant/racist responses to ideas and works that deal with the Asian American experience. Luckily it feels like it’s becoming better. I’ve worked with some of the most generous and wonderful curators, writers, and academics in this system we call the art world.
C: What’s your future plans? Do you have any words or advice for recent graduates that might be interested in working in the photography or art related fields?
Jarod Lew:I’m working through some new projects right now. Excited to see where that goes and what new questions will come out of it. I would love to travel to make new work in Hong Kong and China. Perhaps that will happen sometime after I finish up at Yale. Oh no, the advice question! It feels so hard to give advice because we all get to where we want to go in different ways. Hmmm, what I try to remind myself everyday is- Don’t give up, obsess over your process and embrace rejection.