Interview: Brian Vu

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The work of California native, now Brooklyn-based Brian Vu is a nimbly handled mix of heady psychedelia and stark minimalism. Even when drenched in sunlight, his photographs manage to retain an unnerving quality that is all the more captivating for the spectator, thanks to a combination of striking faces, disquieting atmospheres and mesmerising colours.

Vu employs and widens his vision in the creation of equally memorable collages, where his perspective seems almost to be made augmented and more focussed by the different art medium – while maintaining its trademark features. You can find more of his work on his website.

I read you are originally from California, but you are now based in Brooklyn, NY. How did this change affect your work, if it did? For example, I find that some of your photographic work features vibrant colours, striking faces and a definite Cali vibe (such as your series Teams), while other pictures seem more toned down, restrained.
It’s been completely opposite. I’ve been living in California for all of my life until just this year. It feels awesome being in New York. I believe it’s a nice change of pace that affects my work ethic and the outcome of my photography and collage work. I use to be able to work at my own pace when living in the suburbs of Cali, but being here feels like time travels twice as fast.
When it comes to my photographic work and it’s aesthetic (I explained this to a friend the other day), I just love contrast and mystery. Whether it’d be in color photography or black and white, it’s always been something that excites me.

In No Thing, there’s a strong focus on details. The subjects, however, are varied: natural and artificial, human and animal. What do all the photographs have in common?
The No Thing photos don’t have anything in common. Since I usually photograph portraits, I needed a section to drop everything else. No thing really means nothing at all.

Two of your photographs represent the American flag: in one picture (that appears in Pretty Puke), the flag is black and white (instead of its usual blue, red and white); in the other (included in No Thing), it’s torn and only a small shred resists clinging on the pole. Is the American flag something iconic for you?
My intent was to show a different side of the stars and stripes. With the revival of American pride, RW&B, and the election… it’s important to have images that make people question our country surfacing the internet.

Looking at your series No Bad Days, I was struck by its psychedelia and seemingly esoteric references; it also made me think of some movies by Kenneth Anger. What are your inspirations? Do they differ whether you are dealing with photography or collage?
It took me a year to release this collage series, it was my first color collage series. I was originally going to strictly create black and white collages, but I began working more with color. I took a color theory class in college and I really thought about how certain colors evoke different feelings.
My main inspirations are religion, the afterlife, and the human relationships with others and themselves.

Collage and photography: which came first? Was there a natural evolution? Do they compenetrate each other, in your artistic vision?
Photography’s first. It was more of a sudden happening. My first collages began because I needed to create an album cover for my friend and I didn’t have any time to photograph anything.
I believe that my photography and collage express similar ideas and aesthetics.

Are you going to explore other artistic media?
I’d eventually want to start creating music videos.

What does your equipment consist of?
My photography consists of a couple canon cameras, scissors, rubber cement, and old books.

Would you choose a picture of yours and tell us what went on ‘behind the scenes’?
This photo was shot for HAZZ clothing. I had ten minutes to shoot my BFF Lindsay in five outfits because we were in a rush to go out to dinner with friends. We were so short on time that we shot on the parking lot where we parked the car. The color of the sky that day was so vibrant, it was changing all sorts of weird colors every two minutes.

Who are some photographers you particularly admire? And is there a characteristic of their work you would like to steal?
The work of Synchrodogs and Reng Hang is my favorite right now. They have a distinct way of making images so disquieting yet so beautiful at the same time. I’d like to evoke a similar reaction in my own work.

What about your future projects?
I don’t really have anything planned for the future right now to be honest… I’ve just been trying to create as much work as I can. However, I would like to find myself a corgi puppy eventually. I’d be really happy.



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