In addition to having talent and the ability to withstand rejection, in order to succeed as a working photographer you need to understand how to run a business. For Yiyu Chen, a native of a city in southwest China named Chengdu, this shouldn't be a problem. Yiyu was an Economics major at SUNY Binghamton when she woke up one day and decided taking pictures was a far better way to spend one's life compared to being a numbers cruncher.
Early on Yiyu identified with the thought process behind a character named George in a movie called ' The Art of Getting By', who sees the futility of many things in life. Just as George has to sort out what counts and what doesn't count in life and focus on things that truly matter, Yiyu found photography to be among the 'better things' to do - something worth investing one's life energies.
"Like most Chinese students, I grew up not knowing exactly what I wanted to do in life and what I wanted to study. It never crossed my mind I would become a photographer until one day when I realized my interests had to do with taking pictures."
Despite already having a full class load at SUNY Binghamton, which doesn't offer a BFA in Photography, she travelled 40-minutes by bus each way to another school in order to satisfy her thirst for all things photographic.
Looking at her pictures you would think she has been taking photographs for more than two years. You would also think she had a fine-art or design background, but that's not the case. Her sense of composition, form, and color comes naturally; she merely follows her instincts.
Having chosen photography as her direction in life she relied on Hans Gindlesberger - one of her trusted instructors, to help her organize a portfolio she can show when she began researching photography schools. (Even her parents, who were initially opposed to her career choice eventually conceded she had the talent and drive to succeed as a working photographer.)
After taking a tour of the photography department at New York's School of Visual Arts with the department chairperson - Katrin Eismann, she registered for a 1-year professional study program, which is tailored for students who do not have an arts background.
Yiyu's earliest photographs were shot on film in a bid to capture the rough-and-tumble look of her favorite Magnum documentary and editorial photographers. Some of the photographers and visual artists Yiyu finds visually exciting include Elliot Erwitt, who was one of the first photographers whose work caught her imagination, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose work she greatly respects.
Artists who she finds stimulating include Edward Hopper, and Magritte, whose visual influences can often be recognized when viewing Yiyu's work.
Something that has changed since Yiyu began taking classes at SVA is her elevated level of sophistication about lighting. Prior to enrolling at SVA Yiyu's experience with lighting was limited to available light and the occasional speedlight.
Working with a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV camera system, Yiyu now uses Profoto Acute 2 1200W/S Power Generators with Profoto Acute/D4 Lampheads and a selection of Profoto light shaping tools. Among her favorite go-to light-shaping tools are the Profoto RFi Softbox Octa 5' and the Profoto RFi Softbox Strip 4'.
The light she gets from these two Softboxes deliver the type of softness, low contrast, and fall-off she sees in her mind's eye when planning the pictures. They also enable her to create the moody, Magritte-like lighting she loves to integrate into her photographs.
Depending on her needs, Yiyu also uses Profoto Zoom Reflectors, various Profoto Umbrellas, and other size Softboxes. To better ensure the ability to move around freely while shooting without having to worry about tripping over sync cords Yiyu often uses a Profoto Air Remote TTL to trigger her flash system.
Upon graduating Yiyu Chen plans on taking on assignments for at least 2 years in the NYC in order to improve her style and technique.
After that she hopes to return to Chengdu where she plans on establishing a photo studio. Though the photography market is relatively small in the city she calls home, she plans on being among the creative business types that can turn things around.
To see more of Yiyu Chen's photography visit her Instagram page.
To learn more on the Masters in Digital Photography program visit SVA