Photo and Interview by Cameron Davidson
An Interview with Amie Chou
How many years have you been in photography?
I picked up my first camera in 1996 but didn’t pursue photography as a career until recently. Since 2008 I have been assisting local photographers and last year took on fashion label Club Monaco as a client.
Who are your photographic or artistic influences?
Among my early influences were Margaret Bourke-White and Julius Shulman. Two of my favorite contemporary photographers are Tim Griffith and Michael Kenna because, although they shoot different subject matter, their imagery is always striking and elegant. I’ve always been tuned into the lines, angles, and the use of negative space in photographs–qualities that all of these photographers share in common and something I strive for in my own work.
Their work is timeless, captivating; their execution simple but bold. Simple is highly underrated and not easily executed. Industrial subjects; like architecture; make for challenging subject matter, Michael and Tim execute it superbly.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing photographers in the metropolitan DC area?
When I came here in 1998 I was contemplating a career in government – I think that statement says it all. When people think of Washington, D.C. they envision politicians, lawyers and lobbyists. The perception of DC not being a creative and hip city has the potential to limit the reach of its artistic community. If you’re trying to cast a wide net in order to market yourself as a photographer and you want to work beyond the beltway this can be challenging as D.C. doesn’t typically come up in the same conversation as New York or Los Angeles do. On the other hand that makes D.C. a growth market for creatives.
Can you define a specific “turning point” in your career?
I’m still in the early stages of (hopefully) a very long career but I’d say deciding to take the plunge and pursue my passion for photography full time was my first, true turning point. But just in case, check back with me in a few years!
What is your dream assignment?
My dream assignment would be traveling overseas to shoot modern public spaces such as museums and performing arts centers. I love photographing the museums around D.C., and I’ve also shot spaces in other parts of the U.S., but it would be a joy to travel and shoot architecture in other parts of the world that have a distinctly different aesthetic from North America.
What was your biggest mistake professionally?
During my “office” days I had an interview with the then photo director at The Washingtonian. After reviewing my portfolio he encouraged me to go to school and pursue a career in photography. I regret not taking his advice and having the guts to go for it sooner.
If you could go back in time and visit yourself, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself?
I’d tell myself to listen to my instincts and to just go for it! I knew for a while that a career change was necessary (and imminent) but I kept making excuses for one reason or another why I should continue on the path I was on.
What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing?
I read (a lot) online and I follow photographers I admire on social media that include, but aren’t limited to, architectural photographers. I don’t believe that we, as artists or creative professionals, should limit our interests to just our particular field of work–I draw inspiration from graphic design, illustration and other traditional art forms. I think it’s also important to relax and just have fun. I’m constantly snapping and sharing iPhone photos for fun and I recently picked up yoga as another type of outlet. I strongly feel that maintaining yourself physically and emotionally is vital to sustaining creativity.
What attracts you to architectural photography in an emotional way?
Simply put, I feel buildings are beautiful works of art and should be celebrated. I’m drawn to the sense of place created by architecture; the kind of atmosphere it creates and how people interact with it. Structures are built with people in mind which can evoke healing, remembrance, awe, joy and sadness. The ability of architecture to shape an experience by just inhabiting it excites me.
Where does this come from within you?
I love the variety of shapes and textures that I find in architecture. At first I only noticed those qualities in nature but over time I began discovering them in man-made structures.
What are you trying to convey emotionally with your photographs?
Do you consider yourself more of an artist or a craftsman?
I’d like to say I’m a craftsman with the heart of an artist. The artist in me needs freedom for self-expression and the craftsman takes prides and joy in the precision of the work. I think you need to find the balance between the two in order to be successful in this business.
Why do you think clients choose you?
So much of this business is about word of mouth and networking; we succeed on our reputations as much as our portfolios. I think clients hire me because of my work but also for my professionalism. The key to success is consistently ensuring clients love working with me just as much as they love my work.