Jia Xin (JX) Kwok is a street and landscape photographer based in Singapore. He splits his time between capturing lively scenes in crowded cities and finding beautiful parts of nature. JX has a fresh, modern style with vivid color and stark toning, which is very impactful yet lifelike. He takes inspiration from wedding photographers and also hard rock and metal music – two very different places to find creative energy.
[All photos by JX Kwok]
How did you get started with photography, and what did you find most difficult about that beginning phase?
I picked up my first DSLR in 2011 after going on an overseas trip to India with my friends. They managed to take so many beautiful pictures, I was inspired to do the same as well.
I was mostly self-taught so I struggled with acquiring knowledge. I’m not talking about learning the exposure triangle or how to operate the camera – there’s a ton of tutorials online. Rather, I’m referring to all the small, implicit habits that make a good photographer – for example, choosing not to look at your LCD because there’s something happening in front of you, or deciding to wait on the street because you know your composition will be perfect when someone walks past.
Such matters are invisible to the beginner photographer who faces a myriad of unknown unknowns. I was blessed with the opportunity to attend courses and mentorships, and even now I’m still learning from the photographers in my circle.
How do you find aesthetically pleasing scenes in an environment most people overlook (nighttime city streets)? How do you develop that eye?
I wouldn’t say I’m seeing things that others overlook; rather I’m highlighting – in pictures – what I find interesting. Everyone finds different aspects of the environment interesting. I have friends who capture things that I would never shoot – stains on a wall or leaves on the ground, for example – and the final result is amazing when collated.
If I’m doing street photography, I usually give myself a while to soak in the environment and get used to the general ambience before shooting. I find it a good practice to observe things and how people are acting instead of firing off frames immediately.
When you mention developing the eye, a quote by Patrick Demarchelier which I read online comes to mind: “When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera.”
I put this in practice by observing the environment wherever I am, even when I’m not shooting. I passively look for shots, and sometimes use my smartphone to take pictures if I’m particularly inspired.
How do you stay out of the way, but also keep people from walking into your frame, when taking photos in a busy street environment?
It’s hard to put in words – and I fail at that quite often as well. But one thing I read somewhere was that it doesn’t matter how big your camera is (at least to a certain extent). Rather, it’s the way you carry yourself. You could be use an iPhone for street photo and still stick out like a sore thumb. Just act as an observer (not a voyeur) and people will treat you as such.
On a more concrete note, sometimes I shoot with live view or without looking through the viewfinder, in order to draw less attention. I’ve heard of other photographers who remote control their camera via and app too, so they can shoot inconspicuously while looking at their phones.
Where’s your favorite environment to take photos in? City or nature? (I see you’ve done some of both)
Probably nature in the day, and city at night. But really, whichever that has more life – by that I mean everyday scenes that are unfolding.
And what, to you, is the most memorable specific location you’ve taken photos in?
Tokyo’s “Piss Alley” in Shinjuku. That place is full of atmosphere and character – Google it – and is really the quintessential venue for street photography, especially at night. The last time I was there, I spent a few hours walking up and down the alley, waiting for things to happen and interesting characters to appear.
What are some of your photographic inspirations, whether it be other photographers or inspiration from elsewhere?
I draw lots of inspiration from wedding photojournalists, particularly Jeff Ascough and Alessandro Avenali. Ascough once said in an interview that some of his best wedding images are landscapes. Similarly, the wedding photojournalist mindset and thought process can be applied to all genres of photography.
I also regularly browse the quarterly WPJA contest winners for inspiration. Other than the above, I’m inspired by the greats (Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt, Winogrand, Nachtwey etc), but then again, so is everyone else, right?
What are some of your interests outside of photography?
I listen to lots of hard rock and metal (heavy/power/thrash/black) and am picking up the electric guitar to play my favourite songs! Come to think of it, I do get inspired from song lyrics and titles – often a line from a song pops up when I’m composing a shot. Sometimes, they end up being my caption for the photo.
Check out more of JX’s work on his 500px (link opens in new tab).