Interview by Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography by Kahlil Hernandez
In a world where there’s much noise through the constant creation of imagery, Que Duong has the ability to hold your attention. His Instagram page is a visual masterpiece. In his work, you’ll see a bit of New Orleans, a city he moved from to New York to pursue his dreams in becoming a photographer. What we learnt from our conversation with Que is that plans can change, the importance of patience and taking advantage of whatever situation you may find yourself in.
How did you fall into art?
I’ve always been into art. When I got to high school, I remember one of my teachers said I have to try a different medium and she said, “Why not try photography?”. From then on I started shooting and that’s pretty much it.
Is art something you always thought about doing since you were a child?
Not photography, but I always knew I would be some type of artist. To me, photography is just another medium to express myself.
So would you say you’re a photographer or you don’t like titles?
I don’t like to subscribe to a title but sometimes you have to.
Your parents support you as well?
I don’t know. It’s weird, they want to support you because they love you as a child. My parents support me because they know I’m gifted and talented but they also worry that art doesn’t make money. They’re just worried that I’ll struggle in life and they think I have to be smart about it. If I don’t make money, they feel I should let it go. But that’s not my philosophy. You just have to work hard.
Would you say part of your philosophy is that you’re creating art to make you happy or is money the motivation?
It’s something that I love and I’m making money off of it. I won’t lie and say that money doesn’t make me happy. I have to do certain things for money but it isn’t the driving part of me creating. But also you have to answer to the question of, What makes you happy?
Are you content with where you are in your career right now?
No. I have one quote I live by, my professor told me this “Real artists are never satisfied with their work”. I feel that is where I am in life. I haven’t let go. I’m continuously evolving and I constantly have new ideas. And because I’m always growing, I’m never going to be content with where I am at in life because you’re always looking for something better.
How do you evolve and get inspired to create new things?
I think it’s all about challenging myself. I get bored easily. I try new things and figure out if I love or hate it. Our generation is so stuck on titles which causes us to limit ourselves to trying new things. I’m always looking for new experiences and new feelings— that adds to your growth and as you grow older, you have different philosophies that you live by. For example, I’m into imagery that’s minimal because I’m looking for solace.
So you want your art to evoke a certain emotion?
Yeah. My intention when I came to New York was to focus on fashion photography and I ended up doing something so different. I love telling stories and evoking fantasies in my work. I want to evoke emotion through my work. And even if people hate it, at least it was good enough for people to form an opinion on it.
Was it hard for you to get used to a big city like New York?
Yeah. It took me a while. I was scared but once you believe in yourself and you’re well prepared, the fear starts to disappear— then you begin to start to get used to it.
Why did you deviate from fashion photography if that’s what you came to New York for?
I got bored with the industry. It got too repetitive. Once you get sick and tired of something, you should leave it. I was coming home not happy and dreading going to the studio— I do love it but sometimes you have to take a break to get inspired again. I’ll tell you this though, I’m still learning in terms of letting stuff go. I remember when I was going through that phase and I’d be telling my friend that I can’t leave fashion photography because that’s why I came to New York, but sometimes you have to embrace falling out of love with something.
I have this crazy goal of wanting to work for a sportswear brand like Nike, and maybe I’m not going to do that tomorrow, but there’s certain things I’ll do to prepare for that. So maybe that’s a bit similar to your quest to work as a fashion photographer.
Yeah. The way I prepare myself is that I set short term goals and long term goals. Your short term goals should be in line with your long term goals. Don’t kill yourself trying to make your short term goals thinking it’s a long term goal. You have to learn not to be thirsty enough to be desperate either. If you want to work for Nike, you have to research the company, figure out what they stand for and how Nike creates their brand. Then you look at yourself and ask how do you get to that level where Nike would want to work with me. If you have to go to New York to work as an ambassador or something, do that. Or maybe you have to work with other brands like Reebok or Saucony to get there because Nike is going to look at you and say, well you’ve worked with these other similar brands, let’s take a chance on you. It’s all about building up your resume to get the big job. It works the same way in business. You have to learn to patient and also learn to forgive yourself of any missteps.
I used to be a visual merchandiser at the Gap when I came out here. I used to hate it so much. I used to come into work with such a bad attitude because I was beating up myself so much. I was like, is this what I moved to New York for? Is this my life? But at the end of the day, working for the Gap helped pay my bills while trying to settle in the city and truthfully I learnt so much from working at the Gap. Those experiences helped me progress in my own practice. For me, part of forgiving yourself is taking advantage of the predicament that you’re currently in. A lot of young creative people are so hard on themselves that we have to learn how to be patient.
How do you learn patience?
Do you learn how to be patient?
Or maybe it’s a continuing process?
Yeah, I think it’s just about letting go. You have to learn how to adapt and be flexible and not be stuck on an idea.
Do you like failure?
I hate failure but I think it’s the greatest teacher. It’s so cliche but it’s true.