William Truong is a San Francisco based photographer with a focus on fine art, landscape, architecture and still life. Here, he describes his decisive moment with photography and reveals the frustrating but inspiring disparity between what we can imagine and what we can produce at any given time—
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
WT: I’ve always felt a strong need to create things, and to express myself visually. As a child, I would spend most of my time drawing—it was the one activity that I could do for hours on end without getting bored. I knew all along that I wanted to be involved with art in some way. It was just a matter of finding the right form.
I was actually introduced to photography early in my career while I was working as a designer. There were many projects that didn’t necessarily have a budget for licensing images, so I would have to go out and take my own photos to use in the layouts. My passion for photography eventually grew from this. It got to a point where making images motivated me more than anything else I’ve ever tried. Once I realized this, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. It hasn’t been the easiest path to take, but it has definitely been the most fulfilling.
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations? How about now—any sources of creativity you discovered recently that give you that jolt of "beginner's" passion?
WT: I think painters and filmmakers were my biggest inspiration at the beginning. With painting, everything is created from a blank canvas, so you have to be deliberate with all of your choices ranging from composition, light, color and subject matter.
This makes it a great medium for learning the fundamentals of photography. I spent a lot of time looking at the work of painters that I admired, trying to understand the techniques and qualities that made their work so engaging. One of my favorite artists is Edward Hopper. I came across his "Nighthawks" painting at a very young age, and for some reason it really resonated with me at that time. I have been a fan of his ever since.
As for film, I think of it as an extension of photography, but since it is a moving picture with dialogue and sound, you’re able to establish a stronger narrative and emotional context. I believe the ambition of many photographers is to capture all the cinematic qualities of film and distill it into a single frame. Of course, this is not an easy thing to accomplish!
And lately, I began revisiting some of the museums and galleries in my area. I haven’t been to them in quite a while, but now I feel like I can view the artwork with a much greater appreciation—especially for all the finer details. There really is an added dimension to seeing your favorite works on a larger scale and in person. It’s an experience that can’t be replicated online or in a book!
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said, "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
It’s not a specific moment, but the feeling that there is still a lot to learn is definitely something that is prevalent for me, especially when it comes to photography. I think it stems from the fact that I’m constantly trying to improve by working towards a better version of myself.
I learned a long time ago that there is always going to be a disparity between what I’m producing at the moment, and the vision that I have in my mind. It’s really an elusive and constantly evolving target that changes as I progress. Having this mindset has never allowed me to feel complacent.
I believe this is something that many artists have to deal with at all levels—even if you are a master of your craft. By the time you’re able to produce what you envisioned, your mind has already moved on to the next stage. Humility is definitely important in this regard. It opens your mind to the possibility of learning something new, and enables you to do so at a faster pace.
—William Truong, interviewed by behindthefra.me