Junhan Foong – Welcome to My Nostalgia Machine

Documenting and understanding the human condition in its most unadulterated form is a means of self-expression for Junhan. Mundane moments are distilled into an honest, beautiful, and evocative frame – take a step into his nostalgia machine below.


 Say hello to Junhan:

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Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I’m currently based in Melbourne, Australia.


How would you describe your visual style?

This was actually a harder question to answer than I thought. From a visual standpoint, I’d like to think I shoot in a “documentary” style as I shoot candidly, i.e. what I see or what presents itself at the moment. However, there is also a deeper philosophy behind how I think each shot reflects what I am currently or have been thinking or feeling during that period. I think I am caught between a very strange space where I am both merely an observer (and therefore a documenter) of a particular moment and being the storyteller/artist of how I want the viewer to understand and feel what I am creating. It is a weird contradiction, which I have yet to fully understand, but I think that is the most accurate way of describing it with words at the moment.


How do you find your inspiration?

Just being outside and observing people doing what we consider “mundane” and “everyday” things. As I often go out shooting with no preconceived ideas of what I want, I just make sure I am always aware of my surroundings and that I am ready and in a good position when I see a moment I like. Essentially by shooting this way, you are not forcing a photo, but merely capturing the essence of a moment.


Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

Yes! In fact, I am just coming off a period of photographer’s block. I think it’s important to take it day by day and try not to be so critical of yourself (and by extension, your work). Also, occupying yourself with other stuff like spending time with friends and other hobbies really helps. I still shoot every now and then just to shake off the cobwebs, but less frequently than I used to, just to distance myself a little from forcing myself to create all the time. I think it is too easy to get caught up in your own thoughts, so it’s good to just distance yourself from your work every now and then, or it will get very stale for yourself, very fast. But just understanding that experiencing a block or a dip is completely natural and part of a much larger process in your development makes it easier to ride through. You can never stop growing, that’s for sure.


How has your background in architecture influenced your photography?

My initial foray into photography came through my appreciation of minimalist and Architectural-style photography I would see on the internet and in books while still undergoing my early years in Architecture school. There is so much interchangeable between photography and architectural space – use of scale, clean lines and composition, proportion, use of light and shadow.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE. 2015.

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Kuala Lumpur International Airport, KL, Malaysia. 2015.

However, as I started gaining more interest in how people interacted or played their role in everyday spaces, I started transitioning to a more human-centric approach in my photography. My interest in documenting and understanding the human condition became an ongoing constant, which fed into both my personal photography work and my projects while in Architecture school. I think I quite liked how the two fed into each other and came full circle in a way.

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Melbourne, Australia. 2015.

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Melbourne, Australia. 2015.

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Melbourne, Australia. 2015.

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Dubai, UAE. 2015.

You also create motion pictures – tell us more about that aspect of your artistry.

During my first semester of my Masters in Architecture I was fortunate enough to have tutors who pushed us to explore alternative methods of representation outside of the traditional line drawings and images we were almost hard-wired to do. During that time, I played around with very basic animations and then that pushed on with animating photographs and eventually a few experiments with short videos. I saw that as an extension of the photography work I was already doing – just in a more fluid dynamic format. The first (and only thus far) short film I have done was in collaboration with a friend for ‘Trailer Music’ – a classical music experience in which six short films were created and inspired by the music (rather than the music coming in as a component later in the process). As the only person with no background or film-making experience among the six, it was a very different animal to what I had initially imagined. I think after the experience of creating and producing a short film, I have a whole new perspective and appreciation for the art. I am not creating any motion pictures anymore, but I think I will get back to it at some point in the near future.


Tell us about your career.  How did you get into it?

I was always interested in creative arts growing up – I drew and painted quite a bit, was involved in music, and was interested in drama (to a certain extent). Sadly, I have kind of lost touch with all of those, and ironically, despite never being interested in photography, this is the one pursuit I can see myself sticking with for a very long time. During my early days in architecture school, I became quite dismayed at how personally challenging it was, both mentally and emotionally. As a result, I started to shoot with my iPhone (iPhone 4 at the time) to document what I was seeing and feeling, kind of like a visual diary. I found it to be the perfect medium to express myself, and like they say, the rest is history.

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Gerascophobia, or the persistent fear of growing up. Melbourne, Australia 2016.

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Joy. Melbourne, Australia 2016.

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What have you done?! ANARCHY. Melbourne, Australia 2016.

What types of photography do you do?

I usually shoot street photography because it is a way of expressing myself through complete strangers. I mainly shoot solo, so shooting this way allows me to shoot on the fly without worrying about getting in the way of another photographer’s shot. I am trying to open myself up to shooting and working with more people though. After shooting street for so long ,and moreso when you can’t control the variables, I think I would like to shoot a few more portraits and shots where I have more control, mainly as a refreshing change to what I have been doing all this while.

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Is there room for all of us? Melbourne, Australia 2016.

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Cheap Frills. Melbourne, Australia 2016.

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Morning light. Melbourne, Australia 2016.

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Photo of Jarrad Seng. Melbourne, Australia 2016.

Of the photos you’ve taken, which three are your favorites? 

I’ve chosen these three as my current favourites, in no particular order. They were also taken using three (somewhat) different methods, which makes it even more interesting, I think.

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I took this in 2014 while working in Malaysia for an Architecture firm during my semester out after completing my Bachelor’s degree. Back then, I was using a point and shoot, which was what I was using to create most of my work and documenting what I saw. I remember visiting this amazing brick and concrete office block during a weekend to get shots, and I saw this little girl swinging on this chair and the lighting was perfect. Everything was screaming for me to take the shot. I’m definitely glad that I did.

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This was a more recent shot which I couldn’t believe I got. It is up there as one of my favourites because it was one of those moments which you anticipate would happen, and it did. I love the harsh lighting and reflection, the almost parallel vertical lines coming to a halt by the bright reflective curve, and most of all, the eye contact! Oh, and did I mention I shot this on an iPhone? I was going to grab lunch/takeaway from a Chinese restaurant I regularly frequent and I loved how the light was working with the plastic strips at the entrance. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera on me, so I pulled out my iPhone. Once my order was called, I took the shot, nice and close. This will always be one of my favourites because it is a great reminder that you can create something from the most mundane moment, and that creativity shouldn’t be limited by the gear you have.

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This was taken recently when I was really struggling at both a creative and personal level. I was stuck in a mindset where I really wasn’t enjoying what I was creating, and as a result, wasn’t really getting photos I liked. I spotted this old lady from afar in between her two friends, and I loved how the lighting worked in the scene and how she almost seemed to be ‘zoning out’ from whatever conversation they were having. Also, the deep dark shadows revealed just enough detail and highlighted the old lady (in the centre). I got up as close as I could and started to snap away and waited for some eye contact from her – thankfully I got it. This moment just reminded me why I love shooting street – you cannot force a scene since there are so many variables which you cannot control. You just have to make sure you are brave enough to make sure you are well positioned and close enough to take the shot. I have yet to release this on the interwebs (as of writing this), so here you go!

Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

There are so many talented creatives out there, it is almost impossible not to take notice. I think it’s even harder nowadays since you also have to play ‘the social media game’ – not only networking online, but in person too, something I still struggle with today. I think it’s just important to block out everything else and just keep working on understanding the limits of your gear, and try to improve on your own skills every day. When you work hard enough on something, I think the work will speak for itself.


What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?

Don’t get consumed by the ‘social media hype’ – I see too many people trying to replicate photographers they like, both in style and format, ‘just because.’ It is important to develop  your own voice and own style (both artistically and how you like to shoot). Also, don’t just dive into large, expensive gear and humongous glass way too early, just because you see others using it – I personally find it counter-intuitive (at least to how I shoot), as I think discreteness and ergonomics is more important. Buying expensive gear does not equate to being a good photographer.

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I took this one with a very basic point and shoot camera.

What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?

At the moment, I think it is myself. I can be too overly critical of myself, which leads to me holding back a little. I am currently searching for more photography and model friends (or like-minded people) who can create competition and help me push my boundaries a little.


What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?

  1. Learn to take photographs with your eyes – train your eyes to see potential in everything. It will also help in how you anticipate a shot which is about to happen when you have a camera in hand and have to put it into practice.
  2. If shooting street, don’t shoot with a long lens or with a zoom. Shooting with a long lens is difficult to control and often results in a very dead and ‘distant’ (literally) feel. It can work for certain situations, but often enough, it doesn’t feel like you are part of the scene and often that magic or soul is lost. Also big ‘no-no’ to zooms, as I personally feel it makes you a very lazy photographer. Learn to move in and gauge distance by moving your body.
  3. Really learn how to use your gear. This is probably one of the most important tips I can give. It is almost too easy to get lost in expensive gear and lenses with superb auto-focus and noise capabilities, which makes it super easy to shoot. Eventually, you will get bored and at some point, you have to question how big a role you had in creating your photograph, or was it the technology you had in your hands that did all the work? One way to really learn the ins and outs of a camera is by shooting film, or learning to shoot manually with your digital camera (if film is too inaccessible where you live). You will learn that while your failure rate will be way higher than usual, it will be much more rewarding in the long run.

What kind of gear do you have?

I’m currently shooting on a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 (an old camera by today’s standards, released in 2012) with a Leica-mount Voigtlander Color Skopar 25mm f4. This is my normal ‘go-to’ set up as it is super small and fits the camera well. I made the conscious effort to move on from auto-focus gear beginning this year as I was finding photography boring and not challenging enough – I wanted more in the process (manual focusing, learning to read light with my eyes and not a built in meter) and moved onto adapting old legacy camera glass onto my digital camera. I also have two old Minolta lenses (45mm f2 and 28mm f2.8) which I like to use (and can be picked up for dirt cheap) and a old-Russian Helios 44m-4 58mm f2, which I don’t use as often but will as I start to experiment more with portraits. Especially when shooting moving subjects on the street, manually focusing can be difficult but not impossible with practice. It also allows me to interchange between shooting digital and old analog film cameras pretty easily. I don’t have anything against shooting with more modern, auto-focus lenses, I just found that setting myself creative constraints brought out more in my photography – there is also an old-school rendering that you get from old lenses that you won’t find in more modern ones, which I personally find a bit too ‘sterile.’


What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Use natural lighting as much as you can. Nothing is more pleasing to the eye than how light falls on skin.


What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Shoot RAW for digital, and take it easy with the post-processing. Nothing is worse than a highly edited HDR image. Post-processing can really help save an image at times, but you also have to make sure you are critical with your own work so you aren’t uploading edited images which aren’t that interesting, just for the sake of it.


What has photography done for you as a person?  How has it changed you?

This is going to sound cliché, but when they say holding a camera up to your eye allows you to see the world differently, they aren’t joking. The simple mental shift that occurs in your brain when you have been shooting a while means you start to see a potential moment anywhere and everywhere. Something you would have taken for granted otherwise.


What’s one of your biggest fears?

Getting serious about my photography and killing my creative flow.


For anyone who wants to get in touch with Junhan, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile

Website: www.jhfoong.com

Instagram: @jhfxxng | @rip_junstagram


Junhan, thank you for the candid and poetic interview! 🙂

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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