Artist Interviews 2023
Chase YI / Film Poetics
By Julia Siedenburg
Chase Yi is a man of many talents. He is currently best known for his work under the name Film Poetics as an extraordinary photographer and cinematographer. His pieces are a harmonic mix between a cinematic poster and beautiful editorial imagery.
He has an exceptional eye for choosing breathtaking locations. He knows how to position his subjects just right to tell their very own unique stories. I fell in love with his work so much that I had to acquire one of his photographs for my home.
Besides being a camera magician he also dabbles in acting, poetry, collage work, and paintings. Didn’t I tell you he is a man of many talents?
This super talented and funny gentleman who has captured moments all over the world can set a scene, even with himself in it, like no other.
Meeting him was such a joy and that is why I wanted to give you dear reader the chance to chance to get to know him too. So please enjoy!
First of all, please tell our readers where the idea for the name Film Poetics came from.
I majored in Poetry at UCLA, and I came up with Film Poetics as a way to blend my love for words, imagery, and performance into one cohesive art form. Beyond that, my goal is for Film Poetics to become a creative agency–using my artistic style to inspire others with meaningful, inspiring projects.
Your work is a beautiful collection of unique human portraits and magical landscape photography. Are all your photos extremely thought out and planned or spontaneous shots captured at the right moments?
I feel like it’s a good mix of both. Lately, many ideas are planned ahead of time. I have a model or subject in mind. I know what time of day and lighting I want, and there’s a clear idea of what environment to shoot in. When things are planned out, making the photograph is simple. I tell people all the time that once a set is dialed in, there are no wrong choices or decisions. That’s the beauty of preparation. However, there are always moments of spontaneity that bloom. Unexpected looks into the camera, the light may catch the subject in a way I didn’t anticipate, or ideas snowball into something totally new. Then there are moments when I just happen to be there with my camera at the right time. A couple embraces on the street corner. A close friend daydreams out the window. Light spills into a room and turns everything gold. Again, preparation is key because I know to bring the camera with me. I don’t want to miss anything, so I try my best to stay ready and stay open to the world around me.
Your eye for capturing the raw beauty of someone is exceptional. Are most of your subjects people that you have known for a while?
I love to photograph old friends, but I also try to bring new people into my community as much as possible. My mother told me a long time ago that so many people are lonely in this world. Everyone wants someone they can talk to or share experiences with. And being here in LA, there are so many people who are looking for inspiration–some way to connect with themselves and feel like they’re working toward a dream. I love being able to support other people and give them the space to be seen and understood. Photography has really given me a chance to do that in a positive way, so whether it’s someone I know or someone I just met, I try my best to be present with them and really listen to who they are. It makes a tremendous difference in the final outcome.
Is it in your opinion easier to get a great image with someone you know and can easily direct rather than an unpredicted stranger? And which one is more fun?
I think a great image can come from anyone. There are some who know how to be in front of the camera better than others, but everyone has the capacity for beauty and authenticity. There’s nothing more satisfying than someone seeing themselves in a totally new way. I’ve had many people tell me, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen myself like this before,” and right away, their perception of who they are or who they thought there were has changed. Art is all about perception, so more than anything, you only need people who are open and willing to show different sides of themselves.
This issue focuses on storytelling and obviously, you are a true master in telling a story with one single frame. What do you think makes a good storyteller and how can people get better at telling visual stories with their work?
I think that a good storyteller pays attention to details. These can be tiny things like a book on the shelf or the way a strand of hair falls in front of a subject’s face, but paying attention to small details informs the bigger picture. I will comb through a scene to make sure everything looks the way I imagine. I look for gaps or empty spots in a frame, and if I feel that an adjustment would make the picture better, I take the time to fill it with more detail–with more specificity. Quite often, creating the environment helps the model feel secure in what emotion is needed to elevate the space. And once they understand the vision, their reactions and performances become second nature. The story naturally unfolds, and these wonderful vignettes start to form. I really love intimate, isolated moments of a moment in time. To me, that’s what makes good storytelling–something that makes an impact on someone. It transports them, momentarily, to a new world and feeling.
You have captured photographs all around the world. Is there any place that you specifically enjoyed photographing? If so, which one and why?
I was in Japan in 2018, and at the time, I wasn’t focused on photography. I had a camera with me, and took pictures here and there, but I didn’t have the patience for it or the same understanding of light and composition. Looking back, I regret not paying more attention. It was such a beautiful place with so much history and wisdom, and someday soon I’ll go back there to capture it. NY is the same way for me. I’ve been several times, but I didn’t have the capacity for photography and art like I do now. So maybe it’s not so much my favorite places that I’ve documented, but more so the ones that I wish I did. Funny enough, that seems like the whole point of taking photographs–to remember. And I can’t remember as much about them as I’d like.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing.
I grew up in a small town in Michigan called Kalamazoo. And to be honest, I didn’t do anything creative as a kid. I rollerbladed every day. I hardly read books. I spent time playing with my friends outside–riding bikes around town and scraping up loose change to buy Cokes and slices of pizza. My mom cut my hair. My dad threw the football with me in the backyard. I was terrible at math. And I didn’t really start to find myself or understand who I was until I started acting at 14 years old. In high school, that’s when I began spending time thinking about who I was, what I stood for, and where I wanted to go. Acting opened up a lot of doors for me, but in many ways, it left a lot of questions, too. I’m 31 now, and so many of them are just now starting to make sense.
You’re a film as well as a digital photographer./ cinematographer.
Do you prefer to use one over the other?
I think both film and digital photography have their place in the world–they’re both useful tools that everyone should enjoy to capture what they want. Nowadays, the possibilities for art and individuality with photography are endless. I don’t care if you use your iPhone, AI, a point n’ shoot, your mom’s old digital camera, a reliable DSLR, or a brand new mirrorless beast–everything has a unique look and can be manipulated in some fashion. For instance, I use the original Canon 5D with adapters and vintage lenses as my digital set up. The photos are stunning. Plus, it’s simple and effective. I use a wide range of film cameras to get unique looks and perspectives. These are all just tools. The shooter is the artist. And more importantly, nothing beats an understanding of emotional lighting and composition. More important than the gear you use, lighting and composition are key to any worthwhile photograph.
I will say that shooting on film helped me understand the fundamentals of photography way more than using digital. If you make a mistake with a film, it shows. Your negatives are blank. Your scans look green and murky. You opened the back of the camera by mistake and all your photos are gone. There’s no second chances, so it’s better to know what you’re doing the first time around. After that, everything else is simple.
In some of your pieces, you are the subject yourself which brings us to your other passion: Acting. What is it about acting that you love and if you would need to choose between acting and camera work,what would it be?
Acting is definitely what brought me to using the camera. I spent so much time in front of it, but eventually, it got to a point where no one was giving me opportunities to practice acting, so I had to create them myself. Then I realized I needed material to shoot, so I started writing. I would memorize monologues, break out the camera, and then shoot them. I spent a lot of time looking inward, and the more interested I became, the more I wanted to explore what else was out in the world. I started bringing the camera with me everywhere. I would look around and just see patches of light–simple scenes where all I had to do was frame up a shot and take it. So many opportunities. Using the camera became another mode of self expression, and now, everything folds into each other. The better I am with the camera, the better I can be in front of it. The more detail I spend creating an environment, the better I’m able to understand a scene and what happens to the characters. The more I observe and listen, the better I can respond–the more patient I become. I tell people all the time that I’ve gone in a giant circle. I started with one thing that led to so many others, only to find that I've ended up where I began in the first place.
If I had a preference, I’d say acting is my main focus. It’s the reason I started doing a lot of this in the first place. I want to inspire others and make them feel like their dreams are possible, and that starts with me achieving mine. Along the way, I can use all the skills and tools I have to do that.
What is next? Any big plans for the future of Film Poetics?
I just opened a new photo studio in Mid-City. I’ve been shooting there like crazy, bringing a ton of friends and new connections into the space. I’ve also been focusing a lot on painting and using my composition skills toward physical, mixed media projects. In the next couple of years, I hope to transform Film Poetics into a cultural movement of art and photography. I’d like to partner with more companies and brands to develop strategic campaigns that inspire people–not just from a consumer standpoint, but with feelings and emotionality. I want to empower other people with art, and if I can do that with my own creations–that’s amazing. However, I feel like the only way to truly change people and to inspire them is to help them find a way to do it themselves. I want Film Poetics to be the spark that helps others find their own path toward self discovery.