Alice Gao is a freelance photographer based in New York and I’ve been following her work for some time now.Her area of concentration revolves around food, still life, portraits and wedding photography. All of her photographs always seem to have just the right amount of light in them which render beautiful warm images that transport as if you were there with her all of which you can admire on her blog Lingered Upon.
1. Often people comment on how one really needs to know exactly what they want to do in life in order to “make it” so to speak. Did you always aspire to be a photographer, how did you get started and was there a defining moment that led you in discovering the passion for the type of work you do?
I wanted to be many things when I was a little kid - TV news anchor, doctor, movie producer, epidemiologist (yes, seriously), but photographer was not among them. But photography was always important to me. In high school, I saved up all my tutoring and babysitting money to buy a little Canon point and shoot that was pretty nice at the time! In college, I literally wiped out my bank account one summer to buy my first digital SLR. I bought a Canon Rebel XTi off Craigslist and it was a super shady transaction held on a street corner in NYC. Then I outfitted it with a 50mm f1.8 lens and soon I was hooked.
I began mostly taking photos of food and self-portraits. It was a steady hobby throughout college but heck, I was studying Economics and Consumer Psychology at a great college and I knew I was headed for the corporate world. I started my photo blog shortly after I started living in NYC and it quickly became something I really looked forward to producing content for. After I started putting more and more effort into it, my passion for photography grew. I wish I could name a single defining moment that led me to pursue this passion, but I don’t think there is one. Living in NYC definitely contributed to growing my passion. The energy and the dynamic nature of the streets move and inspire me.
2. Two things about your Instagram photos. Not only do you consistently make me hungry with the amount of food you shoot but you’re also an absolute heavy user of the service. What impact has Instagram or mobile photography in general had in your career?
It’s embarrassing to admit that sometimes I like my Instagram or iPhone photos better than what I produce with my 5DMII! Instagram has allowed me to connect with other creative individuals, which is always great. I’m not sure if I’ve gotten any real client work directly from Instagram, but I do think (or at least hope) I get more traffic on my blog and website from people who have clicked over from my Instagram profile.
3. Is there anything as a photographer that you have high hopes to accomplish whether it be a personal project, conducting a workshop or traveling to some distant exotic country?
I would really love to be the main photographer for a book - specifically a cookbook or an interiors (design) book. I’ve also had the idea of putting together a little visual guide to the coffee shops in NYC (in magazine-like format) for almost a year now, but have really put it on the back burner. And yes, I would be pinching myself if I could ever travel anywhere exotic for work. I’m also secretly hoping a future client will let me do an entire shoot on the iPhone…
4. It’s difficult to talk about photography without bringing up the topic of gear. Talk to us about what we’re likely to see you shooting with either in NY or the many places you seem to travel to.
If I’m just walking around the city, my iPhone 4S is my camera of choice. When I want a slightly more “real” camera and still want to travel lightly, I’ll take the Fuji X100. If I’m shooting a wedding, I bring like two 5DMKIIs, my Contax 645 (usually), and a 50mm f1.2, 85mm f1.8, and 24-70mm f2.8 lens. I am hoping to add the 135mm f2.0 to my lens collection soon! On my recent Paris trip, my boyfriend and I tried to pack lightly - we took one 5DMKII, the Contax 645, and the Fuji x100.
5. Do you have this thing where you recall exactly what you were feeling and thinking when you took a photograph regardless of how long ago it was? I was wondering if this is the case with most photographers. It certainly is for me. Assuming it is for you as well, would you choose a photograph of yours and talk to us about the backstory that went into making it.
While I don’t do this for every photo, I do love photographs for this very reason. I can go see exactly what I was doing 3 years ago, because I almost always shoot something every day. There is one set of photos from over 2.5 years ago that I keep returning to - they were taken in the Chinese countryside at one of my relatives’ kitchen. At the time I was shooting with a Canon Rebel and only in JPEG (kills me that I didn’t shoot in RAW back then) and I had no idea that those photos would be my favorites from that trip. I remember how cold I was (it was winter time and there is no heat in these homes) and how I huddled in that kitchen for some warmth from the steam.
While in there, I was inspired by the steam. I don’t think I even realized how good that bit of light was, or how beautiful those wooden doors were. I was trying to capture the steam and not really thinking about the other surroundings. Nowadays, it seems to be about the perfectly propped and styled kitchen and although I admit I am drawn to those photos, I like that this particular photo is authentic, not a thing touched by a stylist.
To read up more on other photographers in the Spotlight Series, check out the dedicated page.