For Chona Kasinger, photography is a means to reminisce on the past and look forward to the future. With her camera, she is able to go to places out of her comfort zone (like a yo-yo convention!) and find solace in quiet moments that she would have otherwise forgotten. In this interview, she opens up about how her journey as a professional photographer started, shooting on film in today's digital world, and a playlist that complements her work.
Hello, Chona! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Chona and I’m a New York and Seattle-based photographer. I live in Brooklyn presently, but was born in the Philippines and moved to the suburbs of Seattle when I was 10. I went to college in Tacoma, took an internship at Rolling Stone magazine near the end of college, and have been bouncing back and forth across the country ever since.
How did you get started with photography?
I played in bands in high school and eventually landed on the other side of the stage to photograph gigs during my freshman year at college. My first SLR was a Nikon D50 — a Christmas present from my parents when I was 16 or 17. I worked at a camera store the summer out of high school, so I had access to lots of information and tools early on. I started posting on Flickr, which eventually gained the attention of a couple of editors and it all snowballed from there.
What made you pursue photography?
My passion for music was the impetus for my foray into photography. I started bringing my camera along to the shows I was allowed to, and when I hit barriers with credentials and access at bigger venues I figured out how to get in touch with the right people to open those gates.
How would you define photography?
When you break down the word photography in etymological terms, you’re writing with light.
I think there’s something really poetic about that — carving light into darkness. At its core, I think photography is very simple. What’s incredible is all the different ways you can run with it. Take for example the recent Prager sister collaboration in NYT Magazine, a mind-bending combo of photography and painting.
Tell us about your experience with Lomography Color Negative 100. How did your love affair with the film start?
I first came across Lomo Color Negative 100 on deep discount at the Urban Outfitters on the Ave in Seattle — quite close to my apartment at the time — around six years ago. I loved the vibrant colors (especially when shooting with flash) and raided their sale stash, as well as a bunch of other UO stores in the area. This stockpile lasted me for a couple years! Lomo 100 is super versatile and really makes any kind of scenario pop. The personal shooting I do is usually outdoors, so 100 is perfect. If I’m indoors, I usually have the flash enabled.
Why do you still shoot on film?
I love the way shooting on film forces me to slow down. I’m a pretty rapid-fire shooter — something that’s a relic of the whole first three songs no flash thing, I imagine. I love the quality I’m able to achieve on my little Olympus point-and-shoot and Lomo 100, along with the discrete nature of the setup. No one is going to stop me and ask questions about why I’m taking a picture when I’m shooting on my DLX. A camera like the Nikon D4 definitely raises eyebrows.
I travel a lot for work, and when I’m not on the job I love to keep things super light and leave my work gear at home base. Cameras like my Yashica T4 and Contax T2 are pocket-sized and deliver excellent quality. I love the time capsule nature of shooting film, too. I typically take a batch of rolls all at once to my favorite spot in the Seattle area, Kenmore Camera, and I’m always taken back to the immediate moment I snapped the frames.
It could be the personal and off the cuff nature of what I shoot when I’m not “working” (like my dogs, my boyfriend, the places we go together), the tangible and instantly nostalgic vibe of analogue or both; but there seems to be a very special feel when compared to the polished aesthetic of digital.
As a professional photographer, what’s the most important thing that you’ve learned throughout your career?
The importance of shooting personal work. During slow weeks, being a freelance photographer can feel like being a pinball just waiting for a trigger, like an art director to launch you flip flip and ding dinging into the world. My job has definitely taken me places I never would have otherwise gone (like a gun convention in Las Vegas or Windsor Castle around a royal wedding), but it’s important to realize you don’t have to wait for those calls to go out and shoot. I use cameras as something of an entry point to different worlds, like this yo-yo convention I photographed earlier this year in Seattle that got picked up by WIRED. Follow your folly!
What are your other interests? How do these pursuits complement to your photography?
I’ve developed a love of baking — an oddly therapeutic thing I do when I’m on deadline and working late nights at home. Though I photograph live music a lot less these days, it remains an integral source of inspiration to me. I love movies (FilmStruck is a godsend), reading, walking my dogs, hiking and video games. I am a big fan of arcades — Ms Pacman, Burgertime, Tapper and Timber are some of my favorites. Seattle has a host of excellent arcades like Add-a-Ball, The Ice Box and Dorky’s on the south end. I don’t see my penchant for arcade games as anything complementary to what I do, but a round or two of Street Fighter and ice cold Rainier does wonders for decompression at the end of a long shoot day.
If you were to create a mixtape to describe your photography style, what songs or genres would you feature?
I find myself listening to a lot of shoegaze and drone-y music while editing, but when I’m shooting in an environment where it makes sense to have music on, I tend to gravitate toward upbeat genres like Brit-pop. XTC, Orange Juice, Blur, Stone Roses are usually in the mix. Rap Caviar is great too.
OK Computer is forever my in-transit/travel music.
Who are the artists that you look up to?
I love William Eggleston of course, Martin Parr, Alex Prager, Daniel Arnold. David Lynch is one of my perennial favorites, as well as Stanley Kubrick.
If you could take a photograph of a famous person, fictional or not, who would it be?
Nick Cave, David Lynch, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Bjork, Rod Serling — I’m such a huge Twilight Zone fan.
Describe a typical day for Chona Kasinger. When not taking photographs, how do you spend your time?
It depends on what city I’m in, but my day always starts out with coffee. If I’m in Seattle, I’ll take my dog out for a walk, listen to music and tend to my inbox. When I’m in Seattle, which is three hours behind, my inbox is usually overflowing by the time I wake up.
In New York, it’s pretty similar sans dog, but with way more bagels and jaywalking. I love to take long walks to empty out my brain for a minute and clear up some room for ideas — this is a pastime I like to call “gathering empirical data”.
I think a lot of people have this illusion that being photographer means you’re out shooting 99% of the time. For me, this is definitely not the case. When not shooting, my time is spent going through contracts, researching, pitching, negotiating, marketing, taking meetings, pre-production, et cetera. I’ve never had an agent and do everything myself.
What keeps you inspired?
Music, movies, travel, friends, turbulent weather, large bodies of water, long aimless walks on grey days. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved cruising the magazine section of Barnes and Noble for inspiration.
I get to meet and spend time with a lot of different kinds of people in what I do (chefs, musicians, politicians, athletes, doctors, etc), so that is a constant source of inspiration.
Also, there’s no discounting the fact that every day in a place like New York City feels like free admission to the craziest museum of all time.
What’s next for Chona Kasinger?
Oh man, I never know! I’m a pretty whimsical person and I definitely picked the right line of work to indulge that. I’m planning a trip back to the Philippines (I haven’t been back since I was 13) to work on a music adjacent series. I’m also scheming trips to Mexico City, Cuba, and Berlin.
The nature of what I shoot seems to shift drastically on a weekly basis — it definitely keeps me on my toes and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you for letting us into your world, Chona!