You may not have heard of singularly monikered Huan, but there’s more than a good chance that you’ve seen his work. Based in Toronto, he’s worked with General Motors, AT&T, Harvard Business Review Magazine, and a list of other companies. While work for hire may bring home the bacon, it’s not quite as satisfying as when the creation is wholly yours. For the artist, their work is an extension of their soul, a particular view of the world that informs their reality.
Through his ARTFRAK collection, Huan explores and experiments with a number of artistic concepts. It is an idea of ideas, a vehicle for his imaginings, and an environment for his unique creativity.
When you first became a photographer, did you know what kind of photography you would be doing, or were you taking pictures of flowers and kittens first?
I hesitate to call myself a photographer specifically. I’ve been working in the creative field as graphic designer and then as a freelance editorial/advertising illustrator for nearly fifteen years. Eventually I started to dabble with photography as a new means to make ideas into images. I’ve never photographed the high octane lifestyle of fruit sitting in a bowl or of friends trying their best to look cool, all the while nonchalant, at the cafe. When I first decided to start clicking the shutter button, it was to facilitate the creation of various images and ideas that I had swirling around in my soggy sponge brain. It’s the curse of a perpetually curious mind, there’s always a story I want to tell, a concept to explore, and a cool looking image that I want to create. My photographs are rarely random or candid, not much of capturing somebody in their natural habitat; no witnessing a person in a moment, with hopes of glimpsing a peak at their soul in the reflected light on the camera lens. I generally shoot to create specific pieces that I have in mind and picked up photography for this purpose. Simply put, I’m more of an image maker, or better yet, a visual storyteller rather than a photographer, an illustrator or designer specifically. To answer the question more directly, yes. Before I did my very first photoshoot, I knew what kind of photography I wanted to do.
One of the things I like about your work is the style you call “graphic slice”. It’s like a surreal collage, but of one image.
“Graphic Slice” is a category name I give to experimental design work. Because of my graphic design background, this is an outlet for me to keep those muscles flexed. The ‘surreal collage’ as you put it, comes from toying with different ways of using a basic photograph and pushing it to tell a more compelling story by slicing it up and reassembling it in different ways.
Many of your photographs have colorful elements, bright strips, lollipops, balloons, rainbow glasses, and buttons strewn about. They seem to pull the eye towards the subject. Is this by intent, to highlight the subject?
All of the examples you mentioned belong to one of my favourite ongoing series called “Dark Rainbow”. I’ve always been fascinated, yet completely freaked out by clowns. Something about their happy and colourful exterior, which seems to mask a darker underbelly with a painted on smile, a permanent grin that cares little for the actual emotions of the person beneath the makeup, is eerie to me. It is with this idea in mind that this project was born. It explores dark themes of violence, mental health, emotions, situations, and sexuality with a bright layer of rainbow coloured coating. A happy facade of unicorns, candy, crafts, confetti, and balloons attempt to distract with flare, but ultimately fail to mask what is right at the surface.
What kind of equipment are you using in your photoshoots?
I actually have a fairly DIY setup in my tiny illustration studio space. I’m certain that other photographers would look at my equipment and disapprove violently. But fancy gear is inconsequential if the results can speak for themselves. I mostly just use a single continuous light and a strong strobe with a softbox, any more than that, I find myself getting bogged down with how to take a photograph as opposed to taking the photograph.
Where did the idea for the black tape superhero series come from?
It doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m a huge comics and superhero fan. The Black Tape Superhero series started as a personal pin-up design challenge. Having seen designs over the years of people using black electrical tape as body art, I wanted to try my hand at it. The challenge was to reduce the outfits of superheroes down to simple lines and shapes represented in 2D on a three dimensional body. Unlike creating arbitrary lines on a model just because it looks cool, the superhero designs have to resemble the outfits the heroes wear using the fewest amount of lines and shapes, yet still read as their costumes. The visual problem solving and designing of the tape outfits is my favourite part.
The fanboy in me wants to ask: which brand do you prefer, DC or Marvel?
I suppose fans generally pick a side and defend their position to the death, but in all honesty, I like DC and Marvel equally. More accurately, I love all of their characters equally and rarely associate them with which universe they belong to. I like Batman because he’s Batman and I’m drawn into the world of mutants and the X-men because I like the X-men. I don’t really think about if they are DC or Marvel.
You also do fantasy digital illustration. Which takes more effort to complete, photography or your illustrations?
Illustration has been my main career for a good part of the last decade and remains to be. When it comes to time and effort, there’s no comparing how much more time and work it takes to paint a scene entirely from scratch, versus photographing and editing a scene together. Illustration is a heavy time suck, but it also puts me in much more intimate contact with the image during its creation.
What kinds of things do you plan to do next?
Apart from continuing to experiment with more ways of telling a story and exploring concepts visually, I’d like to do more gallery shows. Above all, I’m excited about the possibilities of random chance, new relationships, and a healthy supply of anticipation for the ‘unplannable’.