Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Star Rush. I am Vietnamese American, born in Vietnam and raised in the United States. I’ve been faculty and an administrator in colleges and universities. I have taught writing, rhetoric, and literature. I’m currently the Dean of Arts & Humanities at Bellevue College, just east of Seattle. I’m passionate about photography. When I can, I write poetry.
How did you start taking photos with your mobile phone?
I bought my iphone 3Gs in January 2010, and it’s changed my life. I have always taken photographs, but with my professional life going in one direction, my photography over the years went in another. Often, I just left it behind. But the iphone has renewed what I didn’t realize was always a simmering passion for photography, not just a passing interest. Images play an important part in my life; I just wasn’t actively practicing the act of image making. Because my iphone is with me all the time, it has made it difficult to have excuses for not taking photos wherever I went and whenever a scene provoked me. I started to go on walks around Seattle, which I like to do, and I took photos with my phone. I liked it, kept doing it, and sharing the photos on flickr, where I met others who were doing the same. I then started to connect some aspects of my creative life in words with this passion for images and describing the world; I see images in my writing style, too, in the way I think and describe information often in metaphors. So, I’m grateful that I needed a new cell phone last winter!
What’s your favorite photo and its story?
For me, each photo has at least three initial stories. First, there’s my story and what I remember about what was happening or what the stimulus was for taking it. The second story is the one that I see in the image of what I was describing, capturing. The third story is the one that viewers may piece together themselves. These don’t all line up most of the time, and that’s what is so great, so thrilling about photography. It’s hard to chose one favorite photo—I have different relationships with each. Some come from so much spontaneity, they’re relaxed, and others are the result of an impact or effect I was hoping or intending. When I look back I can see the difference. So my favorite image right now is “Public Seating,” because I like how it turned out, the story it tells about this young man taking a smoking break in an alley while pigeons scurry at his feet. He only has a few minutes and tries to sneak in a phone call, too. It’s a common scene that many have experienced or witnessed. There’s nothing special about it. It’s ordinary, and that’s what I like about it. At the last minute, a couple of the pigeons started to scurry, one beginning to fly. I was able to catch the bird’s early take-off. I took two photos in about 5 seconds, and I kept the first one, the one where he bird is in flight, looking a bit awkward as the man had already put out his cigarette and is dialing is cell phone. That’s the story that provoked me last year when I took this. The story it tells me now, why it’s my favorite, is because of these things. It is also a different story. I like it so much because in those 5 seconds I realized that I wasn’t playing around with a toy or just a cell phone camera with many fun apps. I had been trying out several colorful apps at the time, just having some fun, not thinking about photography, really. But after this image, my relationship with the world, with my creative process, my creative life, and the iphone changed. This was going to be my tool of expression. I realized I was thinking as I captured his work break, as I framed what I wanted from that alley and what I kept out. I didn’t choose the tourists just outside the frame, I didn’t keep the colors of a spring day. I made choices, so this wasn’t a snapshot anymore, and I liked that. I wanted to keep going, see what I could do, see what this new photography tool and I could do.
The iphone is a perfect camera for street photography. It’s unobtrusive. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and I can take photos on the street by slipping in, getting close to the action, to people, buildings, surfaces. Right now, the iphone lets me concentrate on my process, gives me the intimacy and immediacy that helps me describe those ordinary moments in the world in ways that feels right for me. Photography in general, and photography with the iphone, brings me closer to what I’m passionate about—image making and images—and my feelings. It’s a wonderful, intense hobby. It relaxes me and engages me at the same time.
What’s your source of inspiration? WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
First, there are the feelings that go into and come out of creating something, which lead me to keep on doing it. I like to know that others experience feelings and ideas when they see my images. I’m inspired by the connections, the links, and relationships that form, even for a split second between myself and what I’m trying to describe in the photo. It’s intense. With the iphone, I can be quite close to my subjects. Our distance has collapsed—intellectually or creatively—and that’s great. So I respond strongly to the connection that’s being formed through the creative process, even if photography is a kind of private act taking place in a public context (since I shoot outside mostly and in the streets). I can come out from behind all those knobs, switches, lenses and bulky machines. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mechanical aspects of my film or digital cameras. But with the iphone, I feel an immediacy and spontaneity in the moment when I release ”the shutter,” and an emotional response—that feeling of being in the moment, attuned to what’s happening and what could be happening next, I love that feeling of intentionality. It’s awesome. I’m trying to synchronize with the environment, when I am photographing. I don’t know how successful I am, but I’m trying. I’m not as lonely when I take photos as when I write—writing is gut-wrenching, and very, very lonely and isolating for me, which probably explains why I don’t write often enough, except for work.
My second source of inspiration is other artists, writers, or thinkers—both in my life and those I admire from afar. There are people doing imaginative work all over the world, expressing themselves with cell phone cameras and learning from one another via social media. We don’t have to call ourselves artists to create, and create truly moving work. I’ve met mentors from around the world through my involvement in mobile photography whose work is an education. Some specific individuals are Michael Baranovic, Gusbano, Sion Fullana, Robert Paul, Sascha Unger, Stephanie Chaffe and Carmen Cabrera. I’m inspired by a myriad of artists and thinkers: Henri Besson-Cartier, Stephen Shore, Lee Miller, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, and especially the lyricism of writers Zora Neale Hurston and Emily Dickinson—each having been innovators of form.
I’m inspired by the challenge of describing ordinary moments in uncomplicated images that manage to exhibit some complexity of feeling or thought. It’s simple to desire and difficult to do, convey complexity as simply and directly as possible. I think images can record the moments that go by too fast for us most of the time or that go unaccounted for or unnoticed. I like those moments, I want to preserve those moments—really they’re seconds–so I can reflect and connect. So many surfaces aren’t reflective, you know. Images can give us reflection where it doesn’t yet exist.
For the future you’ re dreaming of …
For the future, I’m dreaming of time to take photos, time to spend getting to know my friends and colleagues, less reason to hustle through my days, barely able to catch a breath or catch an inspiration. Contemporary urban existence is so truly fractured and marked by haste. It reminds me of the Egyptian myth of Osiris, who was all cut up, his body split into so many pieces and scattered about the lands. And his wife Isis, who went about the business of finding all those parts, putting him back together, making him whole again. She did it, you know, found the parts and made him whole. So I dream about wholeness in humanity, for connectedness and belonging in a world that is so tantalizing in all its distractions and diversions. It’s a big wish, but that’swhat dreams are for, right? I’m inspired to bring those parts together within the frame of a photograph. I aspire to be whole.
Do yourself a huge favor and check out Star’s work!