Phuong Vu is a mixture of oddities. Phuong rocks a short buzzcut, was expelled from 3 high schools in 3 years, and always full of stories from his cross country road trip and friends in hip hop and motorbike communities. To the general public, Phuong is known as the owner of Nirvana Streetwear store and photographer of fashion icon Plaaastic who produces weird, meticulously shot visuals. Matca sits down with Phuong to talk about the collaboration with a “public figure”, his inspirations for concepts as otherworldly and photo shoots as random as Phuong Vu himself.
Why don’t you want to be considered a photographer for a “celebrity” (Plaaastic)?
Because it’s creative effort from both. I and Nhi (Plaaastic’s real name) receive products from brand, we brainstorm, develop concepts, scout locations…together. It’s a collaboration and I want to be recognized for that other than somebody who just takes photo of Nhi. When I got to know her and start shooting her, I had no idea that she was famous. I first met her at a secondhand market in Dong Tac, we had nem chua ran together, she complained that there was no one to take her photos so I started working with her.
Why fashion photography, or do you consider your work fashion photography at all? I don’t see it as fashion photography. My photos are simply to put myself out there. I came to photography two years ago when my dancing tutor gave me a Canon 60D, saying “This camera will mean something to you”. It’s not that I actively choose to pursue photography.
I’m messy and intuitive, so I just take photos according to how I feel.
Can you share about how you work with your subjects/models, how to make them understand your concepts and perform?
I like taking photos of my friends and who I have known already. I used to receive commercial jobs in which I shot strangers and it did not feel “right”. When working with people who I don’t know, I will do things my way and they will do things their way, which does not fit.
For me photography is a tool of communication. I plan a concept and after that choose a model who fits the idea from my circle of friends. Because I have many hobbies like dancing and motorbikes, I have the chance to know people from different places. Or if I see anyone interesting looking on the street, I just run to them to make friends.
Are 35mm film and polaroids your favorite medium?
Not really. Maybe I shoot analog partly because I know little about Photoshop so I want my images to be “raw”. It doesn’t matter what camera, it is simply a tool suitable with the spirit of the photos and also the space in which I work. It’s just a tool.
What inspires you?
I seek inspiration for my photography from other things in life, not from other photographers.
I love traveling. Cinema greatly inspires me, for example David Fincher’s thinking or Mr. Robot series.
Hip hop dancing. I see dancing as a practice to improve my photography. If I’m stuck when taking photos, I will go dancing and when I come back, how I approach photography will change. I feel that my hobbies are quite compatible so I do different stuff so one thing can support another. Photography is about communication, space and moment, to bring myself out there. Hip hop is similar.
Phuong Vu is a freshman majoring in Photojournalism in Hanoi Academy of Theater and Cinema. Connect with Phuong via his personal Instagram and Nirvana streetwear shop.
Ones To Watch is a series of short interviews with promising young photographers of all practices in Vietnam. If you want to nominate someone or yourself to Ones To Watch, don’t hesitate to contact Matca via Facebook, hashtag #matcaotw or email@example.com .