It was a year ago that Khoa (Kyle) Pham was by the river in Willits and something more than his camera shutter went off. He immediately found a new purpose in using art to express how the world had influenced him.
The 22-year-old has followed an unpredictable storyline in his life that has moved him from Vietnam to America, only to return again to visit his homeland several times since then.
Riding the border of two different worlds, without either of them feeling completely at home, left Pham looking for a way to define who he is.
In the moment near the river, everything came together.
The emotional distance he had felt from both Vietnamese and American cultures, the high school years spent in photography class unconsciously learning concepts about framing and lighting, and personal reflection on his life story had collectively given him a distinct perspective on what it means to become someone. .
Not only that, but also how to capture the process of “becoming” through photographs.
“I don’t have a style or a range that I focus on. A lot of images are of what I do every day, “says Pham. The way he shoots is” more of an opening to becoming part of anything “.
On June 24 from 5pm to 7pm, Pham will hold her first art exhibition at the Triple S Camera in downtown Ukiah to reflect on her past 10 years in Mendocino County.
The collection of photographs that will be on display is incredibly personal to Pham and he believes that each photograph represents who he has become. The title of the collection, “Bringing It All Back Home”, is both related to his favorite Bob Dylan album and more seriously connected to an understanding of what it means to start over.
“I wanted to talk about life and the things I learned and the things that shaped my perspective,” says Pham. “It’s my story, up to this point.”
When Pham first arrived in America with his mother and siblings in 2012, he remembers an anxious desire to be a part of something and not feel like a stranger in a foreign place.
For many years, moving on with his life in America meant looking back to Vietnam and relying on the cultural values he was taught growing up. Since then, his perspective has become a mixture of Vietnamese tradition and American dreams.
Pham has visited Vietnam several times over the past three years, learning more about his roots and family.
Although most of the photographs featured in his upcoming art exhibit are snapshots of his life in Mendocino County, the mental lens through which he views them remains altered by his experiences in Vietnam.
“I was inspired by the lifestyle in Vietnam, where people deal with everything they have,” notes Pham.
In his career as a photographer, Pham has followed a similar pattern: settle for what you have.
Since she started taking photography seriously, she has only bought a $ 50 camera, using her iPhone or borrowed film cameras as a means of capturing her life as it passes.
“That’s why it’s an art show, because I’d paint if I could,” says Pham. “I’m just using this medium now.”
For him, it’s about the abstract history of the image, not even about the quality, sharpness or complexity of the subject. It’s about making yourself visible as the artist behind the lens and lending your personal vision to the shot.
There will be five different canvas prints, 16 × 24 in size, and numerous smaller images available for purchase at the “Bringing It Back Home” screening. There will also be an outdoor wine bar and live music to accompany the viewing.
Four days after his art show, Pham boards a plane to Vietnam.
He will spend the next six months in his home country, exploring the functional beauty of Vietnamese lifestyles, interviewing people from the north and south to understand the growing political tensions, and documenting his moments there with his camera.
“I feel like I’m starting over,” says Pham. He compares his he nerves of going back to Vietnam now to his feelings about him when he first moved to America. Pham adds: “It’s hard to believe this is now more of a home than Vietnam.”
To recognize the role Mendocino County has played in shaping its path to art, it is important for Pham that he show the community who he became while he was here.
Though the sense of being a stranger has faded, Pham still carries with him the curiosity and freedom that comes from not really belonging anywhere.
It is part of what makes his art unique, because his photographs are based on the understanding that life begins to change you even as the simple moments go by.
“People in photography always say you’re lucky,” says Pham, referring to the idea that a photographer’s best shot is purely influenced by chance. “But I think when you really let go and become part of something, it will come to you.”