Would you mind introducing yourself? Hello! My name is Ding. I am an artist and photography professor. My students call me Prof. Ren. I currently live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I was born in a village just outside of Wuhan, China and immigrated to the United States when I was three. I grew up in various parts of the US, but mostly the Maryland suburbs near Baltimore. After finishing my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree in Washington, DC, I moved to Amsterdam in 2010. How I answer the "where are you from" question can shift in length depending on the day and context.
Ding's Instagram: @halfcrystalline
How would you describe your style of photography? I’m drawn to natural light, colours, shapes, and objects that all comprise delicate moments of the everyday. I like to have my camera with me at all times and document what I am naturally drawn to. I try to incorporate the process of taking photos into life as it is happening, so that I can keep my working style intuitive. I don’t try to force things but rather try to find the best way to photograph a specific subject based on the present moment.
When did you first fall in love with taking photos? I took my first photography class when I was 12. Ever since that first experience processing film and printing in the darkroom, I was pretty mesmerized by the whole process. It quickly became a way to be creative but also be social or alone depending on what I felt like taking photos of. I never thought it could or would become an integral part of my life and my profession, but here we are two decades later—photography really stuck around.
Do you have a favourite photography related memory, whether it be in front or behind the camera? One fond memory I have is visiting Lisbon, Portugal for the first time. I was escaping gray Amsterdam for some sun and blue skies. I shot many rolls on that trip and the whole time several Destroyer (an indie rock band from Vancouver, Canada) songs were stuck in my head. Something about the vibe of Lisbon matched well with the idiosyncratic lyrics that Destroyer is known for. One evening as I was on a photo walk with no destination in mind, I came across Dan Bejar (Destroyer’s frontman) aimlessly wandering the streets of Lisbon also. They had just played a festival in another part of Portugal. He seemed surprised that someone would recognize him or be listening to his music at that exact moment—it was a funny, uncanny coincidence. I took one of my favourite photos of all time right before that moment.
Who/What inspires your photography? The seasons, weather, and all things nature inspire me. As well as music, writing, art exhibitions, moments in the city, bird and people watching, creating other things with my hands via knitting and sewing. I don’t tend to be inspired by one set thing but rather various different experiences that all become interrelated to each other.
Camera & Editing Process? I like to keep it simple when it comes to cameras and photo editing. I have one film camera that I use until it breaks and do very minimal post-processing. Right now the camera I have with me at all times is an Olympus mju-ii 35mm film camera. The autofocus is moody, it can be mysterious at times. I get small post-card sized prints made of each roll of film and then scan in the prints instead of the film. I find it gives the photos a more nostalgic analogue look. My post-processing usually consists of retouching out dust and that’s all.
Are there any tips you would like to give to anyone out there who would love to create similar style photos to yours? Don’t overthink things, trust your instinct, be curious, don’t think that you need a better camera or more gear. It is also important to look with your eyes to really see your subject and experience the moment first before reaching for the camera.
Who are some of your favourite photographers? The other 6 photographers of @white_light_collective, the photo collective that I am a part of. They are always inspiring me. Each one of us is from a different part of the world with our own style of photography so it is interesting to see how our work all comes together. Photography as a medium, just like all of art, is unfortunately shaped by a patriarchal narrative. So here are a few women photographers who are great inspirations. Some are even friends IRL! On Instagram: Esther Rays @erays13, Aurélie Bella @ladyflashhh, Di Emerson @diemersonphotography, Caiti Burroso @caitiburruso, Alexandra Silverthorne @silverthorne02, Regina van der Kloet @_123regina_, Anna Paola Guerra @annapaolaguerra, Bethel Dudt @beedotvon, Hatlim Lee @hatnimlee, Natasja Martens @gluejeans, Wendy Morgan @wendy__morgan + many more
What would be your number one dream destination for a photography adventure? I’m currently reading an anthology of Asian diasporic writers called “GO HOME!”. In the forward, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes, “Perhaps the writers in this collection also had to leave home in order to go home.” So this concept of leaving home to be able to go home again has been at the forefront of my mind again. I think, “what if one has left home for another home and then again for another?” This makes me dream of going to photograph my granny’s home in China.
Which time of year is your favourite for taking photographs? I like to work with the seasons and photograph year round, so each season has its specific place. There can be some cozy foggy days in the winter which I always look forward to and I enjoy the transition into spring when the green starts to return to the trees.
The coolest place you've ever been? I could tell you the best travel stories from my times in Indonesia—Jakarta and Jogja.
Do you have any upcoming photography trips/sessions that you would like to share? After many tough years dealing with housing, climate, culture, health, I’m pretty content with Amsterdam these days. This is the first year that I’m feeling more settled, so I’m quite happy to not plan any big trips or extended time away. I always feel that once you’ve finally made it through a Dutch winter, then it is time to stay and enjoy the longer days. There may or may not be some mini-train trips later in the summer.
Ding's Instagram: @halfcrystalline