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.
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.
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’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.
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.”