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Meet Josephine Choe

Today we’d like to introduce you to Josephine Choe.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My journey with photography technically started as a sophomore in high school. But my experiences with composition, color, and aesthetic began as a little girl.

Before buying me a camera, my mom bought me Crayola crayons, a 200-count glitter pen set, colored pencils, pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, acrylic paints, oil paints, and just about everything else one uses to draw. She knew I loved creating, and she loved letting me create, even designating a room for me in our house to draw on the walls. Gradually, I started to explore and try other mediums, like ceramics, welding, and even lithography. But playing with photography became a favorite and stood out to me from the others.

A jarring medium that plays with perception, photography impacts people in ways that may often be unreachable through other art forms. My experimentation in taking photographs is informed by the fact that humans usually digest the world visually. Just like I would with any other tool or medium of visual art, I try to approach photography in a playful yet inquisitive, sophisticated way. I have found that I enjoy manipulating images to create surreal, ethereal photographs, which adds an element of guessing.

In tenth grade, I started organizing fashion shoots with my friends just for fun and shooting short music videos. At the same time, I began to investigate how technology plays a role in producing art. My first big experience with this idea was when I went to an engineering program over one summer. I learned how to fly a drone and map missions to identify invasive plant species at a college in Massachusetts (like Japanese Knotweed and European Buckthorn) to collect data. It was there that I realized the beauty of aerial photography, and how the combination of art and tech leads to more creative outlets. I knew that I would eventually fly a drone for a future project I considered fitting.

After the news of the Parkland school shooting, I felt compelled to gather my friends and create a photograph as a political outcry. I arranged seventeen of my peers to lie in the formation of a peace sign and draped them in orange cloth to represent the orange color of the gun violence movement. My friend owned a drone and helped me make my ideas for this piece a reality. We captured the peace sign overhead and named it “Enough is Enough.” Looking back, this project kind of changed me. Before, I organized shoots purely for fun or to take aesthetically pleasing images (which is still something I love to do). But “Enough” made me realize how much more I love photography as a tool for expressing my spirited activism.

While I still have much to learn, I see photography only as another extension of my creative being. As a freshman at Columbia, I am excited for the road ahead. This year, I hope to experiment further with photography, perhaps with more moving images and utilizing space through installation. At the moment, I can see myself becoming some sort of creative director in design. But honestly, this thought can change by tomorrow morning, and I think that’s the most exciting part.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I am so fortunate to have so many people I love shower me with seemingly endless support to pursue my artistic endeavors. But I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard at times to juggle my school, creative, and personal lives. I think time is a major issue. Like, not having enough time and time management. Maintaining a busy schedule and the pressure of trying to do well in school unquestionably got and still gets in the way of my creative process. It is especially unfortunate when I have to limit my time with art to do other things. Or, when I decide I am done with something and later get frustrated, saying, “I wish I had more time with it.” But then again, this is not a struggle I went through and continue to go through alone. Because I know all of my peers endure similar hardships, I feel that nothing should hold me back to push forward. It’s crucial to make time for what one loves doing most.

Also, the balancing act of staying healthy mentally and producing art can be tough. At times, showing my artwork to others makes me feel shy, judged, too exposed, anxious, etcetera, and it really gets to me. Often, I have to remind myself to put myself first, take care of myself, and stay positive. Vulnerability is scary, but it is also an incredibly beautiful thing. Art needs to be shared, which is why I continue expressing and sharing myself through my art pieces despite any negative thoughts. Art is the most powerful way to communicate and connect with others, and it’s for something much bigger than me.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Even though everyone calls me Joey, my mom named me Josephine after Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women.” I think my mom always sought to give me resources so that I could forge my own path. Looking back, the room she provided for me in which I would paint all over the four walls was amazing. I guess it makes sense that I am a very visual, kinesthetic learner. She gave me the freedom and courage to do anything I wanted. And, I can’t remember a single time she ever got mad at me for creating art (there were definitely times she got mad at me, but for other reasons). I really owe it all to my mom, or at least a grand deal. I mean, I don’t know where I would be today without her.

Following the engineering program, my friend and I decided to propose the idea of building a “MakerSpace” laboratory at our high school. I think I was so passionate about doing this because my mom has always supported me with tools and space to no limit. I was fortunate to have avoided the “digital divide” that creates an ever-growing gap in technical proficiency for disadvantaged students, widening socioeconomic disparities. We presented on “MakerSpaces” to our principal and administrators, explaining why they are so important: they would provide access to modern techniques, tools, and design thinking to our school of over 3,000 socioeconomically diverse students. Our former school is now transforming its older science facilities into modern laboratories equipped with technology such as laser cutters and 3D printers so that students can share ideas, be hands-on, and create whatever they want.

The way I approach and produce art now is similar to how I approached the Parkland and “MakerSpace” projects. I like combining and connecting divergent interests for something greater. For social activism. I hope that through the intersection of my passions, I can connect with audiences and galavant change as much as I learn and then help educate others. I love learning new skills, immediately incorporating them into my creative process, and then somehow giving someone else a way to find their own voice. Maybe a way to articulate what they had trouble expressing before. To do what they want their way, even if it doesn’t connect to art at all (which I highly doubt). And isn’t that art? Or artistic? I’m not necessarily outcome-based, and it may not always go well, but that’s okay. What matters most for me is the process, and that it’s never static (which is good, because I tend to get bored pretty quickly).

I also love opportunities of meeting and collaborating with people who come from diverse backgrounds and offer unique perspectives. As an Asian-American woman, I think it is so cool to be able to share my experiences and generate a critical dissonance with individuals who either have similar or completely different backgrounds and identities. I find that I can be quite shy in most other situations, but through art, my hesitation in talking to someone new kind of wisps away into smiles and gratitude that I can get to know them.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
A few years ago, I remembered seeing some of David Hockney’s iPad drawings on display at the Getty for the first time, and I was like, “He’s right.” I think that it’s safe to say that the art industry will grow and expand at any point in time. But specifically for this day and age, art will continue to evolve with technology. They need each other.

How they need each other is the debate happening right now. I find that there are many positive qualities of adapting tech into art, but it has a ways to go. Perhaps the art world will have to involve more interactive elements like augmented reality to keep up with the times. I don’t really know. All I know is that artists can’t see tech as the opposite anymore. For example, with smartphone cameras, everyone has a higher potential to take better photos. iPhoneography. And besides iPads and smartphones, who knows? It’s crazy to think that I might be a part of a future so near with mediums for art that don’t exist right now. 3D printing may become old news.

Moreover, social media raises many questions because it both connects us and disconnects us from one another. Yes, it’s more accessible and easy to use. Instagram pages serve as brilliant virtual art galleries. I mean, social media democratizes it all. Artists are free to curate and sell their art however they want. And it is exciting that museums and galleries gain more exposure online. But if it’s all online, will people still go anymore? When walking around an exhibit, seeing something unexpected typically moves me. I feel like if people are only exposed to the art on their screens, they are less likely to explore anything beyond their own box, taste, personal beliefs, etcetera, which worries me. Art engages, informs, and challenges us, with much more meaning and impact in person. I hope people can continue to be educated and empathize through physically interacting with art.

Technology is consuming the way people connect with others, and art is all about connection. How will art keep up? The more I think about this question, the vaguer my answer becomes. I recognize that there are many dangers, at least potentially, for the art community, and that there are also many things to look forward to. Art is expanding and opening up!

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