Artist Spotlight - Betty Youg
Betty Youg is a photographer, aspiring tattoo artist, pursuing an Art degree at TUJ. She’s 21 years old, born in South Korea and now living in Tokyo, which is her second home.
Describe briefly the work that you do.
I try to make work that is lighthearted and warm. I photograph seemingly mundane subjects, things that people see everyday but don't always remember. However, when they see my photos, they can instantly recognise what’s in them. Everything that I do, I want it to be relatable to my audience. In the past, I thought that the more personal I get, the less relevant my art would get. To my surprise, it’s the other way around. The more vulnerable I get, the more emotion I put into the photos, the clearer message it conveys.
It was only recently that you picked up photography. Beforehand, I saw you mainly focused on drawing. How did you get introduced to photography specifically?
For the first two years of school, I’ve been drawing a ton. I saw myself become complacent, felt burned out and started looking for something that was outside my comfort zone. I thought photography would be an interesting tool to create something I’ve never done before.
You prefer shooting film over digital. Can you explain why?
I took a digital photography class at TUJ, and it just wasn’t the right fit for me. When I used a DSLR, the shooting process became careless, as you can take so many photos. With film cameras, you only have about 40 slots to fill, and so it makes each shot that much precious. With each photo I take, I grow more excited to develop the film. 2017 was somehow a time where I got back to a more analog life overall. I got rid of most of my social media. I started using an older Nokia phone instead of an iPhone, which makes it hard to use any apps or take digital photos. It made me focus on living in the moment, and I think film camera compliments this kind of lifestyle well.
Do you have any specific models you shoot with?
Last year, as I was complaining about digital photography to my friend recommended I try film, specifically a camera called Olympus Mju II. The snapshot-style of this model really fit me, even though the first few films turned out pretty bad. It kept me motivated to take another photography class, and I was fully hooked. I still take all my photos with that camera.
Do you think you will ever try your hand at DSLRs again :)?
I think I will be really stubborn and won’t! The first camera I’ve ever bought was a DSLR. It’s very heavy, the lenses are expensive, I just find it very annoying overall. The technicality of shooting with it is off putting to me as well. There is an art to creating beautiful, sharp photo of Tokyo Tower by night and that’s great, some people love to do that. To me however, I find it hard to connect with people through this style of photography.
What is your process for generating new ideas?
I have two ways in which I approach my work. First, I rarely take trains, I mostly bike everywhere. It gives me a chance to see much more and increases the chance of encountering something worthwhile. The other day, I bumped into a grandpa exercising on an animal bench at the playground, which I of course took a photo of. This kind of random-chance encounters is what makes biking around the city so special. On the other hand, I’m at my most creative during times of sadness. I shoot a lot and work made then is indeed very melancholic, but it’s not a bad thing.
Do you have any long-standing influences?
To be honest, I don’t believe that looking at other people's work will make your own photography be better. I strive for my work to be influence-free, and I hope to develop my own style organically that way.
Last year, you’ve released your first photo book called Rewind. Can you tell us more about it?
After a fight with someone very close to me, I needed to get out of the house. I wanted to just be alone and take photos. I couldn’t come up of a place to go, until I thought about an area of Tokyo in which I grew up in. As I got there, I took photos of all places me and my family used to hang out at. I started at 9AM and was done late in the night. I did not edit any of the images, I just organised them in chronological order and send it to print. As I first looked at the finished project, I became very sad, as memories of many painful times from my childhood as well as the day of the shooting came back to me. When you’re young and living with your parents, all you dream of is to get out. However, the day those photos were taken, the very place I tried to escape from became my shelter. I gifted the photo book to my parents, and my father, who is a very stoic man, called me to tell that both he and my mom cried while looking at the book.
Can you describe your idea of artistic success?
Of course I want my photos to be looked at. But rather than becoming famous by name or having a best-selling photobook, inspiring someone to try photography by themselves would be the biggest compliment for me.
What are your plans for the future?
There is a photography contest that I plan to take part in and see where things go. However, while right now I am fascinated by photos, my main goal is still to become a tattoo artist. I also hope to teach one day. I want to do a lot of things!
Thank you Betty for your willingness to open this series!
This is the first entry in our weekly Artist Spotlight series, hoping to promote local creatives from TUJ and beyond. We aim to cover a diverse range of artist from variety of fields, so please follow us for future episodes! Next week, a recent TUJ graduate will talk about her passion for character design and share some tips for job hunting in creative fields.
Contact us to if you want your work to be featured or know an artist who’s a good fit to our mission and you think deserves more attention!