KITTY CHOU – The Purist photographer

Kitty Chou was born and raised in Hong Kong in 1961. She is the fifth of six sisters.

Although outwardly shy and reserved, when talking about photography, Kitty immediately lights up. The passion shines through her eyes and a transformation comes over her when she meets people who are seriously interested in discussing her photography. Like most persons taking up photography, Kitty initially tried her hand at a number of diverse photographic genres, but she has always been fascinated and drawn to people and society. Like most photojournalists, Kitty has a natural knack of communicating and she loves engaging with people. Despite the human element features in a lot of her everyday photographs, there is, ironically, a conspicuous absence of persons in most of her Fine Art exhibition work. Her work is imbued with classicism although most of her fine art imagery borders on abstract and semi abstract subjects.

© Kitty Chou

Portrait without a Face no.2

Through her own admission, Kitty is an extremely curious person and one realizes that this characteristic filters through her work. Most of her Fine Art work invites the viewer to first of all, engage aesthetically, then to delve deeper into what the images can evoke. Kitty’s work is at times mysterious and leaves a substantial part to the interpretation of each viewer: she is not one who spoon feeds the viewer.
After attending primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, she went to the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, United States, graduating in Business Administration in 1982. Kitty was always keen to take what would be termed snaps or documentary images. She was interested in preserving the memory of a fast disappearing lifestyle with the development of the society, especially the one in Hong Kong. She was further inspired when she saw an exhibition of Henri Cartier Bresson at MOMA in New York while she was in university. Bresson’s work not only impressed her but set her reflecting on photography.

© Kitty Chou

An interesting view of a mundane subject

Her first camera was a Minolta analog model. Like a lot of photography enthusiasts, she also developed her own films. After University, she seemingly drifted away from photography only to take it up in earnest again in 2002, buying a compact, point and shoot, two megapixel Casio digital camera. Kitty is mainly self taught and does not put much store in what cameras and equipment she employs – for her, the camera is just a means to an end and the importance of her photography is encompassed through perception, subject framing and aesthetic composition. She recalls her early days when many people she encountered would be asking her what type of camera she uses – as if the camera makes you a better or worse photographer! Many tended to be biased and look down at her photography due to her not sporting the latest “professional” camera model! This reminds me of a dear departed friend and great photographer, David Facey who, when once asked as to what type of camera he uses, he replied: “One of those little black ones!”

© Kitty Chou

The exhibition venue – the Natural History Museum, Mdina, Malta

Kitty’s first exhibition, in 2011, at the New York School of Interior Design, was urged by her professor, who seeing her work, encouraged her to exhibit at the school gallery. She entitled her exhibition “The Accidental Photographer: Line, Colour and Perspective.” The response to her work was so positive and encouraging that Kitty felt that exhibiting and showing her work was the way to go. This is one of the factors which continue to encourage her to exhibit as she particularly enjoys the feedback of her audience.


A year later, Kitty conducted a talk with slide show, as well actual prints at the Asia Society in Hong Kong. Ben Brown, a gallery owner, was invited to attend the talk by the forum moderator. The gallerist was intrigued by Kitty’s work and expressed interests in working together. Less than six months after that initial contact, Kitty had a solo show in their Hong Kong gallery.

She followed this exhibition by taking part in a Hong Kong collective exhibition during 2013. This was held at Duddell’s , a very up market restaurant and gallery in Hong Kong. This exhibition merits particular mention due to the fact that iconic Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei, who was under house arrest then, was the curator. In 2014, another milestone followed for Kitty when car manufacturers Rolls Royce, converting their showroom into a pop-up art gallery, hosted Kitty’s work as their first Art Series in Asia.

© Kitty Chou

Kitty’s keen sense of light and texture

Ironically, there was a time when Kitty refused to go and see other photographic exhibitions as she felt that her work would be influenced and lose its distinct, personal character. Yet, today she has reversed that, mainly because she is confident enough about her work. These last years, she feels unshackled and free to do her ‘own thing’ and not be unduly influenced by what people say.
Kitty does not use any supplementary lighting in her images, preferring to keep her work as simple and true as possible. Her main ally is natural light. In fact, her style and work resemble more the photojournalistic or ‘street’ photographer. She does not manipulate, arrange or set up her images – her process is one of keen seeing and intelligent selection, cropping only in the camera and not in post process,maintaining that, if this is done, her images would lose or stray away from their initial purpose and concept. For this same purpose, even her digital editing is kept to a minimum – just some minor colour correction and brightness and contrast levels. Apart from Cartier Bresson, who remains forever one of Kitty’s inspirations, other photographers she admires are Horst P. Horst and Herb Ritts. She is particularly attracted to the more vintage photographers due to their studied composition and intelligent perception. This is actually interesting as in fact, although a large part of her work ends up being abstract and semi abstract, Kitty’s work is always imbued with classical inference.
She has now been working totally with the digital medium, due to its convenience and wide creative possibilities, printing her Fine Art exhibition work on high end special art paper. Kitty is increasingly looking to explore subjects which have a meaning to her and is interested in producing more work that possibly can have a social concept. Kitty is also looking at future challenges, and a project that is slowly taking birth is the production of a book on her photography.
Finally, I asked her how she would describe herself, a fine art photographer, or perhaps a photojournalist. She promptly replied that she really does not feel boxed to any particular type of photography but that photography has gradually just become an integral part of her lifestyle and is one of the main purposes and driving forces of her life.

Kitty today is married and has one son. She commutes regularly between New York, Paris, and her own Hong Kong.

© Kevin Casha, 2015

Note: Kitty Chou will be exhibiting her latest work in Malta at the Natural History Museum in Mdina between the 20th of May till the 7th of June, 2015. The exhibition is called “Cotidie The Magic of the Everyday.”

Maintaining your Passion!

Maintaining your Passion!

I recently started teaching another series of the MIPP’s Introduction to Photography Course and the discussion fell on what discourages newcomers to photography. I gave it some thought and I tried to narrow it down to five main factors which contribute to the failure of beginners to maintain their initial interest and momentum.

© Fast Track (2)

Do not blame your equipment (or lack of it). Yes, certain equipment is needed for some genres of photography, such as macro, sport or wildlife, but photography has been with us for nearly 200 years and those photographers who came before us did not even dream of the equipment we have at our disposal today. Yet, the history of photography is brimming with outstanding and iconic work where a basic camera and lens were employed. Auto-focus and the camera Monitor, just to mention two things, are relatively recent inventions.

On the other hand, post processing or digitally editing images after they have been captured with a camera, is here to stay. How can the images of a student of photography, who has no idea of post processing, compete with those of someone who is employing the enormous benefits of fine tuning one’s images? The answer is simply a big “No.” When such newbies compare their images, they are bound to be disheartened. Thus, when taking up photography, or going to learn, one must today perforce interest oneself in image editing. Otherwise, one’s images cannot reach today’s industry standards.

Life has become so fast that most of us rarely pause enough to see the opportunities and the great visual images that are there for the taking.
One can carry a camera around the clock, (which I recommend) but unless one learns and disciplines oneself to slow down and to look at the world a little differently one may never actually see those images. When out taking pictures, fully absorb the surroundings and if something stops you in your tracks, keep the camera down and first use your eyes and your brain. What has attracted you to stop? How can you shoot the subject differently? What do you include and leave out? Is the background complimentary? The list never ends. Yet ask yourself these questions as eventually it will become a natural procedure which will get one into the habit of seeing subjects which otherwise would be ignored. The main idea is to include photography into your daily lifestyle and rhythm, and observe even when the camera is not with you

This is becoming a very neglected part of the photographers of today. Art needs stimulation and knowledge. If we do not constantly research and improve our knowledge, in all spheres of life, our horizons will be as restricted as a horse with blinkers. The more we research on what others have done before us, the more we look at other art forms, the more we read on photography, the more we research themes and concepts, the more our imagination and creativity will broaden. Humans are a product of their conditioning, so how can someone who isolates oneself and is not constantly searching for ways and means to improve his work progress? The more knowledge we have, be it conceptual, historical, technical etc; the more capable we will be to improve our work.

A common gripe I hear is that newcomers are very scared to compete in photographic competitions or even to show their work on social media. Here I totally disagree. Images were not meant to be taken and hoarded by the photographer. Images are taken to be seen, discussed, generate awareness, pass a message. The reasons why we photograph are endless so if one is going into photography being perpetually scared to show one’s images, one might as well stick to philatelly or needlework! Do not be worried about how others see your work, or if you fail in a competition. This is a vital process for a beginner to learn how to improve. If one does not hear critique of one’s work, how can the work evolve? How can a photographer’s confidence grow if the photographs are only seen perhaps by a few close people around him – who would normally be too polite to say what they truly think? So go out there to compete and show your work and remember, even those ‘judges’ started out the same as you.