California Dream: Yosemite

California Dream: Yosemite


Steven is one of those impossibly positive people, and his enthusiasm and humble modesty would never betray the extent of his work as a photographer and cinematographer. For that, you have to visit a portfolio bursting with big-name clients and sparking commercial work. Here, he discusses the personal photo series California Dream: Yosemite and shares some of his art:

You call yourself a lens-based artist - how did that begin? What first drew you to photography?

I studied photojournalism when I was in college and that was the first time I realized that a camera is more than just a device that helps me remember moments of my life. It is a powerful tool that I can use to express feelings, to tell stories or even to create something that doesn't exist in reality. After I graduated from college, I became a full-time photographer for a local magazine in Asia until I moved to New York for my master’s degree in directing. Since I started working as a cinematographer/focus puller on film sets, operating cinematic cameras has become a very, very big part of my life. So in order to combine my two identities as photographer and cinematographer, I call myself a lens-based artist. 

I always liked taking pictures. I remember when I was a kid, I used my dad's Kodak to take pictures (mostly portraits of my family). However, the quality and quantity of my picture-taking increased dramatically after my parents got me a Canon 500D (Rebel T1i in US market) 8 years ago. 

A lot of your work is commercial but you also pursue a number of personal projects. Do you approach those differently? 

It really depends. Personal work is pure expression so the point is to pick a subject that is really appealing to me, go out to shoot something and see what happen. Commercial work usually involves more people/parties, meaning I have to understand what my clients need, what my target audiences like, and what I can do with the provided time/budget. Sometimes, when you have clients who hire you specifically for your own style of thinking and shooting, working on a commercial project can be as fun as the personal project. 

What draws you to a particular personal project?

I have a list on my phone where I write down things that I'm curious about. They are all random, sometimes silly and sometimes very serious. When I have some time to work on my personal project, I will look at the list, pick a question and then try to find the answer with my camera. 

What brought you to New York? How does this city inspire you?

I came to New York for film school. This city inspires me every day with something different - it could be the people I saw on the subway trains, buildings I passed by, stories my friends told me, or simply the sunset I happened to see. 

What were you seeking to capture in the California Dream: Yosemite series? What inspired that project? How did you approach it?

Yosemite is a very special place to me. I've been there three times so far. When I was there for the first time, my parents and I got stuck on the mountain for 10 hours because of the car accident; the second time, I was with my ex and that was the last time we traveled together; the third time, I was there for a shoot on which we hiked over 10 miles per day with all the gear to capture those stunning landscapes. All these experiences are so special that I always dream about this place and people who are related. Therefore, I gathered all the photos I took on those three trips and the combined them with Photoshop to recreate the dream and experiences that I had about Yosemite. 

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a TV show called Big Dogs in upstate New York. I'm also working on some photo shoots during the weekends. 

click on photos to view fullscreen:

All photos courtesy of Steven Tong,

personal project part of the part of the RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW exhibition

American Mirage

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