Chek Yong is a travel photographer who has been to 91 countries such as  Afghanistan, Antarctica, Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Thailand, Georgia and many others. As he says , Georgia is one of his favourite countries he has visited so far. Some of  his photos are available on  National Geographic’s website. It’s worth mentioning that  Chek yong is a self-taught photographer. As he says , Local cultures are fast disappearing ‘thanks to’ globalization, and the technology that spreads globalization. He wants to document as much as possible before they become history. In his interview for Georgian online journal www.wis.ge .   

 Chek Yong talks about his creative work, experience and future plans. 

(To visit Georgian version of the interview click here)

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Did you go to school to study photography?

I have never studied photography officially in school. Most of them are learnt through books and online materials. I benefited a lot by studying the techniques of master’s work, especially Steve McCurry, Michael Yamashita and other regular Nat Geo magazine contributors. Ok, I took a 15 hours class on documentary photography back then and that’s the only class I attended.

When and how did you become interested in photography? Can you tell us a few words about it?

I used my friend’s cheap point and shoot film camera to take some shots during my first backpacking trip in Taiwan in 2004. I thought they were good shots until I shared it to a professional photographer who totally smashed my confidence with his critics. Shortly after I went for my second “real  & hardcore” backpacking trip alone. My friends gave me a low end point and shoot digital camera as birthday present before my trip. With a lot of me time and unlimited shots to try, my photography skill improved very quickly, and received positive feedback from people who have seen them. I was really encouraged, and my interest grew.

A friend of mine recommended me to check out Nat Geo’s work.  I was totally hooked up by the brilliance of it, and thought that was the genre of photography I wanted to pursue – since it combines two core interests of mine – arts and travel.

 

How important is it for a photographer to ‘connect’ with his subjects in order to bring out their true selves?

It is not only important, it is also essential. Photos will honestly reflect the true-self and viewpoint of the photographer. If you are empathetic, aggressive, affectionate or hate the subjects, your photos will show. For me, I know most of my subjects (person) by name; have either chatted with them, spent some time with them, or been in presence in the same scene with them for a while and observe them before clicking the shutter. I need to have a strong personal association with the subject in order to photograph the subject.

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What is the one thing you try to express in your photos the most?

People captured in their authentic, un-staged moment, which can naturally express the character or story about that person.

When you visit a country, what inspires you the most (architecture, nature, people, lifestyle, culture)?  ( please give us some examples about it).

People and culture inspires me the most. For instance: I find the conflict between faith and modernization in Iran very interesting, I have a great empathy towards Afghan refugee because I have followed my Afghan refugee friend on some episodes of his asylum-seeking journey. I also became a keen natural wonder explorer. My one year journey in South America has opened my eye to believe that mother nature has so many tricks to blow your mind off with her beauty.

As we know you have visited Georgia. We have some questions about this…  Why did you decide to travel to Georgia to take photos and what was your first impression of the country?

I have heard about Caucasus being a region full of diverse culture and people. And based on the words of my friends who have been there, Georgia always comes up to be on the top to go. I sense a very special vibe when arriving Georgia – friendlier, more open minded and well managed. It helps that this country  has an extremely rich amount of attractions packed within a relatively small geography.

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Which parts of Georgia have you been to and which is your favourite?

Tbilisi, David Gareja, Kazbegi, Mestia, Ushguili, Sokhumi. I love the Svaneti region the most, including the winding journey from Zugdidi to Mestia, trekking around Mestia, “world’s most dangerous roud” to Ushguili and the Ushguili stay.  My stay at Ushguili has been the most memorable and surreal, it feels like a fairy tale about an old European mountain village lost in time.

 

In our private conversation, you mentioned that Georgia is your favourite country among all Caucasus countries. Please, tell us why you think so?

All the surprise of beauty and warmth of people that adds up along the way: Kind gesture of an old lady passing me a candle and inviting me to join the mass in Tbilisi, random family who invited me to join their dumpling lunch in Sagarejo, sharing finger size carrots as snacks with kids under the watch towers of Ushguli, breathtaking sunset at Gergeti Trinity Church, wandering among the hidden rooms at the cliff of David Gareja, autumn trekking to the glacier in Mestia.

 

What are your future plans? Which countries are you going to visit in the near future?

I am in a race with time. Local cultures are fast disappearing ‘thanks to’ globalization, and the technology that spreads globalization. I want to document as much as possible before they become history. With time limitation, I can only select a few, and it’s a hard choice.

For countries not visited yet –  Africa, India, North Korea, Middle East and Pacific islands will be on my high priority list. Africa and India are fast developing and much will disappear in 10-20 years time. North Korea and parts of Middle East are unstable may disappear overnight. Pacific islands may be gone soon too due to global warming. For countries visited, Iran has a special place in my heart, because of the friends I met, and I will revisit it again and again in my life time to witness its change over time. In shorter term, Africa has a higher chance in becoming my next adventure.

Photos are taken from Chek Yong’s official website and FB profile

 

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Interviewers: Tamo Chincharauli/ Nino Imerlishvili

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