We reached out to Vivian Fu after seeing her compelling photography on Tumblr. Her work struck us as nostalgic, intimate, and uncompromising.
As[I]Am: I really like your photography on Tumblr and in your “about” page, you state that your work largely revolves around your identity as an Asian American woman, and the ownership and portrayal of body. Could you talk a little bit about why you chose this as a focus? And how did you come to this point?
Vivian: I think that I’ve always been super aware of the type of connotations that Asian bodies have, even if Asian people don’t want those types of meanings to be projected onto them. I was eating french fries with two friends (fellow artists Larissa Pham and Elle Perez) when I was visiting the East Coast this January, and we were just talking about art and things that inform our work. And I sort of realized in that conversation that Asian bodies are so incredibly loaded. Asian bodies, particularly the bodies of Asian women, are almost always depicted as being for the visual and sexual consumption of others… I’m tired of dealing with those types of ideas that people have, and in some way, photography is my way of processing through all that.
As[I]Am: Yeah. I think one thing that is especially refreshing about your work, especially as an Asian American woman, is that I don’t often get the chance to see images of Asian women (or Asian American women, at that) that are not meant for the consumption of being “sexy” or someone else’s wish fulfillment.
Vivian: I think that’s what’s nice about this whole “selfie revolution” thing. People who aren’t normally given a large representation in the mainstream are able to represent themselves, and when everybody does it, you can really see the diversity there is.
As[I]Am: Especially with the “Portraits I” series, I noticed that there was body size diversity. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Vivian Fu: I didn’t really set out to photograph a diversity of bodies. All the people that I take pictures of are friends, and my friends are all different sizes!
As[I]Am: I suppose my observation is more telling of myself and my (or our) inundation with images of certain kinds of bodies, that even the bodies we see in the everyday seem refreshing in photography. I’d like to talk a little bit about your series “Me and Tim”–is that okay?
As[I]Am: What was your thought process behind this particular series, in terms of its concept and the actual shooting/setup of the photos?
Vivian: I didn’t start taking pictures of myself with Tim with the intention to start a series. So much of my work is really just about my documentation of myself, my life, and my relationships with other people. I started photographing Tim because he was a part of my life, and I ended up having all these images of us and of him that I thought worked as a series. There isn’t a lot of set up in most of my pictures, including images in the “Me and Tim” series. I will usually just have my camera around and I’ll just take pictures, or I’ll ask people to freeze while I go run and get my camera.
As[I]Am: Back in December, there was a hashtag called #NotYourAsianSidekick that brought Asian American feminist issues into the spotlight for the first time in a long time. One of the topics that was brought up was that of interracial dating–that Asian women face particular pressures from both Asian partners and non-Asian partners. Was this something that was your mind when deciding to put together “Me and Tim” online?
Vivian: Can you specify what you mean by “pressures from partners”?
As[I]Am: Certainly! In particular, Asian women are often accused by Asian men of “betraying their race” when they decide to date non-Asians. And on the other end, especially with the hashtag #DearWhiteBF, there are also some challenges when women of color date white men who may not relate to some firsthand experiences of racism and sexism.
Vivian: I haven’t had to deal with Asian men telling me that I’m “betraying my race,” but I do recognize that that’s a large issue, especially just from reading commentary on articles that discuss issues that Asian women deal with. I just don’t have any personal experiences with that. I think that since I’m Asian and many of my friends are not, the type of racism and sexism that I experience is just different from what my friends from different backgrounds experience. I think that sometimes my friends can’t relate because they themselves don’t have personal firsthand experience with that specific type of racism/sexism, so in that way they can’t fully understand, but thankfully my partner and my friends are all really good at listening to me vent and making me feel supported. It’s true that they might not be able to relate, but I never feel like they are making light of my experiences either.
As[I]Am: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that’s important about your work that we haven’t discussed yet?
Vivian: Even though I do feel supported by my friends, it does get frustrating to not have a ton of people I can talk to who can relate to my experiences, and friendships in which we can bounce thoughts and ideas off of each other. This prompted me to start a photo series in which I meet up with other Asian women who have sort of experienced the same types of things that I have and take photographs of us together making some form of physical contact with each other. Of course the human experience is super vast and varied, so even though the women I’m meeting up with and I are all Asian women, our encounters and the way we feel about these encounters might not always be the same. It’s interesting to meet up and talk, and in the meetup, we’re creating a space between us in which all these issues pertaining to being an Asian American girl can be discussed.
As[I]Am: My final question was going to be “What can we expect from you next?” but it seems you’ve touched on that already.
Vivian: Work that is a bit more conceptual in terms of how I deal with issues I’m thinking about!
As[I]Am: Cool! Thanks so much for your time. We really, really appreciate it.
VIVIAN FU is a San Francisco based artist who was born in the San Fernando Valley. She studied at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned her B.A. in Fine Arts emphasizing in photography. Her work deals largely with her identity as an Asian American woman and her relationships with those around her. You can view more of her work on her website and Tumblr.