This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
Justin Chung arrived at the conclusion that he would pursue photography while studying medicine. Though he had grown up taking pictures for fun — living in fog-covered southern San Francisco, surrounded by beaches and soaked in soft, overcast light — it was during his graduate programme studying public health in Massachusetts that he really began taking the medium seriously. “I was really interested in art and photography and I ended up combining it with medicine in my graduate school thesis. It was an art-based project where I would carry out focus groups and share their health concerns through photo essays.”
Gaining a little experience shooting weddings in Massachusetts, after graduating he moved back to San Francisco faced with a decision. “I was at a crossroads: pursue medical school or keep pushing along with photography? I ended up moving to New York in 2011 for a few months to focus on photography. I immersed myself in it and surrounded myself with stylists, designers and editors in the fashion world, and was able to slowly build my portfolio and find my voice.”
Today, his work bears all the hallmarks of his hazy, California upbringing while nodding to the fashion experience he gained in New York. Looking through his work, you’ll find his lens bathes each of his subjects in a gentle, warm light against dusky backdrops, reminiscent of the beaches he grew up on. Shooting for the likes of Cereal and WSJ Magazine, his work takes in portraiture, interiors and food photography. “I am inspired by all these various genres of photography and I love finding a way to blend all these elements together. I find that this helps reveal a little bit more about the subject, offering a glimpse into their world.” His latest project takes you inside the homes and studios of the designers, artists and makers he most admires, and exemplifies this approach.
Faculty Department, Volume 2, as the name suggests, is the second iteration of Justin’s personal project. “The project started out of the curiosity I had for certain people that I’ve met over the years,” he says. “I found myself often sharing their stories because the way they work or the work they do means so much to me. I slowly began carrying out studio visits to tell their stories through photography. The concept of Faculty Department really arose as a culmination of these photographic essays that highlight different occupations and professions; from individuals whose work, life, or schools of thought influenced my photography in one way or another.”
This second volume began taking shape for Justin after a visit to Japan. “I went to photograph a chef, Shoichiro Aiba. When I met him in 2016, he was in the process of building a country home and dedicated to spending more time with his family. I was so curious and fascinated by his lifestyle and work — he is a chef with multiple restaurants and a casualness to his cooking style that I admired — and he was also able to share some of his lessons on fatherhood with me. I was able to visit Aiba again last year and photograph him at his country home in Nasu for this book, and that experience helped me hone in on the angle of the second edition. It became about this notion of ‘simple living with purpose’, which is a theme throughout the book.”
With some studio visits taken over the course of multiple trips across several years, the connections Justin has made feel very authentic. Taking in architects, editors, professors and more, the book covers an expansive range of creative professions. “Photographing studio visits over the years in both personal and commercial work has enabled me to gain experience and confidence in telling these kind of ‘day in the life’ stories through photographs,” Justin finishes with. “I try not to influence the story or stage anything when I’m shooting — just let things happen naturally and be ready to capture those moments.”
‘Faculty Department: Volume 2’ is available to purchase here.