JC Epong is a Chicago-based photographer whose work captures the essence of humanity. He reminds us of diversity and struggle through his unique eye for individuality. To fully appreciate the significance of his photographs, you must visit his Instagram (@undocumentarian) and/or Facebook site to read the anecdotes he couples with each shot. Alternatively, visit his website.
“JC Epong is a non-award winning, awkward introvert blessed with a face only suitable for radio yet despite all these tragic qualities he’s extremely inquisitive and opinionated. A human being with zero talent in anything, thank goodness he found photography as a medium to express his most innermost thoughts. He is a freelance photographer with a passion for social documentary storytelling. He constantly travels around the country pursuing stories about the Human Spirit. He calls Chicago and LA his base when he’s not on the road.”
Interview with the artist
What kind of camera do you use?
I only use analogue/film cameras. Not saying that it’s superior to digital cameras, they are NOT, and I won’t engage in the Film VS. Digital debate. I just like the way old film cameras makes me shoot. It makes me a much more thoughtful photographer, it slows me down, the whole act of photography has become like a ritual or a performance between two collaborators. I mainly shoot with an old beaten up Pentax 6×7 camera and my backup camera is the Mamiya RB67, they are both medium format film cameras. I also shoot with 2 cameras that are well over 50 years old, the Rolleiflex 2″ 1/4 box camera and the discreet Leica M4 35mm film camera. And occasionally I like to shoot with my wooden pinhole camera, no bells & whistles – just wood, a ‘pin’ hole and my film of choice.
Do you edit your photos?
I scan all my negatives using a Flatbed Scanner to give me a digital file, I then use Adobe Lightroom 4 for archiving and minor editing. I do edit my pictures, but never beyond a simple contrast, curves, sharpening adjustment, sometimes I crop if necessary. I don’t use Photoshop, I have nothing against it. It’s just that for the kind of pictures I produce it is not necessary. Less time in front of the computer, more time being out in the world is a part of my Modus Operandi.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get inspired by the people I meet throughout my daily life. I try to meet people from all walks of life and I find inspiration every time someone is generous enough to share their thoughts, frustrations and inspirations with me.
Everyone has a story to tell if only we are patient enough to listen to them. And I use those stories as my fuel to keep on creating.
What is the purpose of photography for you?
From a personal perspective, I use photography to know more about life and to help me undo all my assumptions about it.
From an external motive, I can’t really speak in how it affect other people when they view my work, but I hope to one day inspire them enough to act and create a tangible positive difference in their life and/or their community. That would be my ultimate goal. And hopefully in my lifetime, I get to do that.
What are the main themes of your work?
My work is centered on capturing people’s joys and struggles. I also aim to document various kinds of social inequality pervading in my part of the world.
How has your experience as a photographer evolved over time?
In my current progression, I have a much greater intent in creating a cohesive series of work that tells stories more concisely and efficiently than before. I also now have a greater motivation to use the work I produce as a form of advocacy, or some sort of an awareness campaign.
And in my current workflow, I spend way more time – doing research, corresponding with my subjects, journalists, social workers, etc., than the actual part of taking a photograph.
What have you discovered about the Human Spirit?
That it’s resilient. And the quality of one’s spirit is defined by how much a person can take a hit and for how long does it take for that person to bounce back and keep on living.
And that – we have more similarities, than differences. We all live with the objective of being happy; Our lives are all different and yet the same.
What is your favourite photograph that you have ever taken?
I don’t have one, and that is a sincere answer. I can’t point out a work/photograph that I must say I am totally content with. It’s not about me being overly critical of my own work, it’s just that, I feel like my work is not yet where I wanted it to be.
Do you think your upbringing in the Philippines has had an influence on your art?
As human beings we are greatly influenced by our own upbringing and childhood conditioning, so I am certain it has had an influence on the kind of work I want to produce. I grew up poor in a third-world country, that’s why documenting poverty and social inequality has always been important to me.
But I must say, I am more influenced by my experiences as an adult while living in the US. From there I really got intimate with my own personal struggles and feeling of isolation. And I also have become more aware of other people’s daily struggle as well.
What are you currently working on?
I’m studying more about the plight of immigrants living here in the United States, becoming more involved in that circle. With the intention of creating an honest reportage of individual stories on how different immigrants adapt, thrive and survive in this country.
I am also documenting the lives of people who calls the ‘Street’ their home. From the homeless veterans to the mentally-ill, and the constant travellers in-between. Hoping to seek answers of – why & how they end up where they are currently.
If you would like to have your very own JC Epong photograph, contact the artist directly at firstname.lastname@example.org