Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Taing.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
Growing up in North Carolina as a child to Cambodian refugee parents and usually being the only Asian kid in class, fitting in was something I was never really accustomed to. I spent most of my free time drawing, reading, and playing Nintendo with my little brother. Eventually, I got into writing and photography as hobbies, but pursuing either as a career never crossed my mind. In the first grade, I had a report that said I tended to daydream during classes a lot. So as far back as I can remember I’ve been a dreamer, drawn to stories and ideas. My mom found it amusing, yet I think she was also lost on how to get me to focus.
Then one night I was up late and caught the Spike Lee film Summer of Sam on TV. Its energy and creative voice hit me like a thunderbolt and I realized that movies weren’t just entertainment, they could really say something in incredibly innovative and striking ways. After that, I knew I had to spend my life telling stories. To my parent’s chagrin I went to film school at North Carolina School of the Arts, a conservatory with a great, very immersive program. After graduating, moving to Los Angeles seemed like the next logical step. Unfortunately for me, that was just a few months before the writer’s strike of 2008.
So I spent the next few years doing odd jobs and pondering what sort of career I wanted to take on. That was a very confusing and frustrating time, but I knew I wanted to be in this business. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or how to go about it, but things always seemed to circle back to photography. I knew that still photography was a job one could have on set, but it seemed like a pipe dream; it’s such a niche position and I had no contacts in that field. I was staring down the very real possibility of a boring desk job on the Fox lot when a sudden string of events lead me to having coffee with a working stills photographer, and that connection put me on my current road.
Please tell us about your art.
I’m a photographer. I’ve always loved light, the way it hits objects, changes colors, how it can make something shadowy or golden and never the same way twice. I love the way it can change a face, a perspective, a feeling, and how a frame can capture a moment and tell that story forever. I work mostly on movie sets, often in cramped stages or locations. It’s a challenge to work around and with the crew; you have to capture images that parallel the story and define the characters, all while trying to be as invisible as possible.
Another aspect of my work is that the stills photographer position is widely misunderstood. It’s often referred to as “BTS” (behind the scenes) when in reality “behind the scenes” content is very little of what we capture. Some think we’re on set just to match the coverage of the film camera. In reality, the images by the still photographer are incredibly important for the marketing or sale of a show and are used to create the posters, billboards, and key art. It’s the first image an audience will see so it has to capture their attention while representing the tone and character of the story. It isn’t easy and there some days I feel like I’m come up short and some days I feel like I’ve nailed it. But overcoming the challenges are incredibly rewarding.
Choosing a creative or artistic path comes with many financial challenges. Any advice for those struggling to focus on their artwork due to financial concerns?
Keep grinding, keep honing your craft. Diversify your hirable skills, and really learn the business side of things. I know that seems counter-intuitive to who we are as artists, but knowing how to effectively market yourself and get by when work is slow is incredibly important. More importantly, remember that it doesn’t have to come at the cost of your voice. Also, it’s surprisingly easy to slip into complacency. So stay active, stay positive, and surround yourself with like-minded artists to help get yourself through.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
You can find my work at miketaing.com, and connect with me on Instagram @mike_is_hungry.
Personal Photo – Miranda Maynard