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Friday, December 20, 2013

Howard Huang: The Photo Hit Man

Influenced by graphic novels and science-fiction movies, Howard Huang’s vibrant urban fashion and celebrity work is turning heads from here to China

This Article Features Photo Zoom

One of the images from Huang's 2012 Leila Shams Lookbook shoot.
DPP: What was it about photography that attracted you?

Huang: In my first basic photography classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, I discovered that the actual process of photography amazed me. It's like magic when you first see your image coming up in the developer in the darkroom. Though I've gone over to digital, that feeling of magic has never left me. Digital imaging technology has evolved to the point where we can now do it all better and faster, exerting much more control over each individual aspect of the finished work than we could in a traditional darkroom. I like to be able to produce the entire process from start to finish. I use digital manipulation and composite work to enhance my inner vision, but I rework an image in Photoshop in a way that the treatment isn't obvious.

DPP: How did your style evolve?

Huang: Since I came from a traditional darkroom background, this whole new computer graphic thing opened up brand-new possibilities for me. Even in the traditional wet darkroom, where I would spend hours developing and printing, I was drawn to alternative processes like cross-processing, cyanotypes and Polaroid transfers. While in college, I would experiment with different backgrounds and combine them with the model I photographed using Photoshop. I created mostly alien fantasy types of images. After college, I kept on experimenting while I was a digital assistant for photographer Michel Tcherevkoff in New York.

DPP: When you went out on your own, you became known as a master of photographing urban girls. Why the fascination?

Huang: I didn't choose to be in this niche market. It kind of just happened for me. I wanted to do fantasy-themed shoots with agency models for fashion, but it turned out the urban fans love my vibrant color and style. I started to shoot for XXL Magazine, and one magazine feature led to another. I was soon doing photo shoots with urban girls on a regular basis. Years later, Taschen saw my work and decided to publish my body of work in a coffee-table book called Urban Girls, featuring African-American and Latina women with nice curves. I had the pleasure of working with hundreds of sexy women, most of the time getting to execute my vision. Hey, I can't complain about that.

DPP: How would you describe your style?

Huang: I have a taste for the dramatic, and I often see photography as a still frame of a movie. I love action and a single frozen moment of time that engages you.

Born in Taipei, raised in Hawaii and now based in New York, Huang worked with commercial photography legend Michel Tcherevkoff. His digital skills are honed to a fine edge, but Huang cut his teeth in a film darkroom. Regardless of the process, Huang creates a narrative in his mind when he's conceptualizing a shot, and he's always striving to make work with an emotional impact. Above: Part of a recent fashion shoot in Shanghai, China.
DPP: Tell us about your experiences working with rapper, singer, songwriter and actress Nicki Minaj. Do you suggest ideas to her, or does she come in with her own ideas, or is it always collaboration? Your photographs are able to capture and cultivate her multiple identities.

Huang: I started working with Nicki a few years ago before she was internationally known. From the first time I met her, I felt that she was going to be a big star. She's not only talented, but she has a big presence and a very exhilarating attitude on set. We hit it off right away. I presented my ideas to her and she loved them and totally went into character. Nicki is still the same creative eccentric artist even after her album Pink Friday dropped and she made a big name for herself. The difference is, now the sets have become more elaborate and she has more ideas of her own. But we just play like we always do. We have a great collaboration. To me, photography is to create a fantasy in a still frame, and her multiple identities fit perfectly into this approach. Both Nicki and I believe that photographs with a story behind them are the most interesting kind of image.


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