Which story is truly inspiring for you: a story of a lucky guy who won a million in a lottery, a story of an amateur who worked hard and became a highly estimated professional or a story of an artist who had a natural talent and got famous? Everyone has his vision of success and his idea about the best way to achieve it. In reality this way is usually a combination of various factors…
A story of VuTheara Kham (Instargam @vutheara, 1,2 mln followers) who started as a simple instagramer taking his photos with an iPhone 4 and became a professional photographer working with the biggest brands is exactly this kind of story. It’s a combination of talent, good luck and hard work – explosive mixture which can shake the World!
I’ve been following VuTheara for years – in fact, he was one of the first photographers I started to follow when I created my Instagram account – and have been always impressed by his capacity to capture the moment. Most of his photos represent Paris and its inhabitants (even though last couple of years VuTheara has started to travel more and more, showing on his page more and more different locations all around the World). We rarely can see the Eiffel Towel or other iconic views on them, but there’s always a very recognizable “Parisian vibe” – Haussmann facades, heated terraces, metro stations… VuTheara is a tireless experimenter and light enthusiast, seeking new angles and views on the well-known streets and squares. Paris is always vivid on his photos – animated by the city lights, inhabited by Parisians – sometimes elegant, sometimes freaky, and sometimes vintage.
– Is it because of enormous luck that you always meet the most authentic and typically Parisian personages on your way?
– Not at all! Sometimes I spend hours and hours walking around the city, looking for a person wearing a colorful hat or vintage coat. And when I see one, I can follow him for a while before I find a good framing for the photo. Photography is very time-consuming, you know!
I know but it’s so captivating to learn more about behind-the-scenes of the photographer with more than 1,2 millions of followers on Instagram. Sure, this number isn’t a sign of brilliant skills or guarantee of quality – especially today when buying the followers on social media became so cheap and easy, – but in case of VuTheara it’s definitely a proof of talent recognition. He started his account seven years ago when Instagram has been just launched. If today we can compare this application with a virtual world, those days it was a virtual village. Photographers could gain visibility only by creativeness and freshness of their work. VuTheara managed to develop his original style of street photography and attracted followers by his artistic vision of Paris. One day his was featured by Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly French news magazine, and it was a real start of his career as a professional photographer.
– Do you think Instagram is still a good way for photographers to gain visibility?
– I think yes, one of the ways. It became much harder though – there’re too many people on Instagram now, fighting for public’s attention. When I started my account, the community was much smaller. Also Instagram continuously adds the new options – like Stories recently…
– Do you use Stories?
– No, I don’t. To be honest, I now try to limit my online presence – for example, I can only post one photo per week. Before it was everyday posting.
– Why did you reduce the number of posts?
– Instagram isn’t my priority anymore. I don’t consider myself an influencer, I prefer to develop my photographer’s skills. That’s why I don’t accept any collaborations which oblige me to post the photos of the products on Instagram. I don’t have any advertising on my page. The most interesting projects for me are those which are not related with my Instagram account but involve me as a photographer. For example, HSBC (one of the World’s largest banks) bought a dozen of my photos for their advertising materials. They never asked me to post something related to HSBC on my page, they just liked my work and decided to use them. Collaborations like really delight me.
One can say, it’s easy to do not care about the numbers when you are already one of the most well-known Parisian photographers on Instagram. That’s true, but talking to VuTheara you understand that he has NEVER cared about the numbers. I see in front of me an artist – never completely satisfied with the result of his job, always looking for perfection, passionate about photography and believing in it.
– Do you think photography is still can be considered as art?
VuTheara is visibly surprised by the question:
– Sure, why do you ask?
– I mean today everyone has a smartphone, takes hundreds of photos, shares them on social media… Doesn’t it devalue photography in general?
– I don’t think so. To be considered as art a photo must evoke an emotion, a real feeling…
That’s true, the main difference between a simple snap and a piece of art is the capacity of photographer to express his feelings and make a spectator experience the same emotions as he experienced himself. It’s the hardest thing for an artist and I doubt one can ever LEARN it – rather it’s what we call a talent.
– What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
– I love capturing the moments of everyday life. Love having people on my photos and making natural light portraits.
– You don’t post lots of portraits on your Instagram account though. Do you have any projects for the future relating to portrait photography?
– I’d like to travel more in Cambodia and take more photos of people living there. It might be a topic of my next photo exhibition – day-to-day life in Cambodia, just some sketches…
VuTheara was born and raised in France, but his family is Cambodian. He has already visited Cambodia many times and fascinated by his country of origin. He dreams to spend more time there, make a kind of back-to-the-roots travel and learn more about Cambodian culture and traditions.
– Would you love to move to Cambodia one day? I mean to live there?
He hesitates before responding and finally gives an evasive reply:
– For the moment it’s not possible. My work is in Paris, my whole networking is here… And I love Paris, it’s a nice city.
– By the way, a question about freelance photographer’s work: how does VuTheara’s normal working day look like?
– Oh it’s a hard question, – laughs VuTheara. – It depends on the projects I work at… But in any case I spend much time walking around the city. As I told you before, taking a good photo demands lots of time.
– Lately you have more and more travel projects? I saw you went to Mongolia, to Russia…
– Yes, now I have many possibilities to travel. Russia was a really great experience – I’ve already visited it several times. Moscow was very beautifully decorated for New Year! I also worked with a Russian airline company Aeroflot recently but for this project I went to Prague, to take some photos of the air hostesses.
– I saw some of them on your page, indeed, – very beautiful light! Do you edit your photos a lot?
– Not really. I’m not a big fan of post-processing. Of course I adjust colors and light but I never replace the sky, add stars or other details on my photos. Prefer to keep them natural.
– What camera do you usually use?
– I have Sony A7 hybrid – it’s a compact full-frame camera. I can easily bring it with me everywhere and get high quality pictures. Being ambassador of the brand Sony, I use their equipment myself and totally satisfied with it!
From a simple amateur to the Sony ambassador – it’s an impressive story of success! I finish our interview by ordering a second glass of wine (we met in a typically Parisian bar-brasserie near la place de Clichy) and asking VuTheara the “classical” question:
– What kind of advice would you give to the beginner photographers who want to become professionals and gain visibility?
He answers without hesitation:
– To love what they do and get pleasure in it. This is the most important thing in my opinion.
Parisian photos by VuTheara