'People think I'm a tourist and that's working out for me'
I'm on my way to meet Amsterdam-based street photographer Jianmin “Jimmy” Huang, starring in the moving 7-minute documentary “Jimmy on the Run” – which was released earlier this week and blew up the internet right away (with over 17.9k views at the time of writing).
“Jimmy on the Run”, 2016, directed, filmed & edited by Wytse Koetse
We meet up for a chat at his eclectic apartment, just around the corner of the Wibautstraat. His living room is sophisticatedly furnished with second hand pieces and I notice that the TV is being held up by stacks of photography books, ranging from Helmut Newton to Yvan “Facehunter” Rodic. Jimmy points at a book about Rembrandt: “I bought that one for five Euros at the Waterlooplein market.”
I wonder: what is it like to be living your dream, working as a photographer?
You know, it's never been a dream of mine. It just happened. I grew up in a poor family in Taishan, rural China. We didn't have access to cameras or other expensive things. It wasn't until 2008 that I bought my first camera, right after a rough break-up. I needed distraction. And I found that taking pictures of people would make me crawl out of my shell. Back then I thought 'if I buy the type of camera that Anton Corbijn uses I'll become just as good'.
What would have happened if you never had bought that post-breakup camera?
I'd be working at my dad's Chinese take-out restaurant.
What advice would you give your past self – from back in the days when you were just starting out with photography – with the knowledge you have now?
Do more. Try more new things. I had so much self-doubt – I still do. But you know, struggle is good. If you don't push yourself, you start getting comfy.
“You wouldn't mind if I put on some music, right?,” he asks, as the soothing tunes of Julie London start playing from the speakers.
Jimmy then shows me a photo of a teenage girl with freckles. “This is my favorite shot. I think she's extremely beautiful. I saw her walking down the street and I just had to run after her. It was the first time I'd ever done that. When I took her picture, someone jokingly said to her 'when did you become a model?'. But the thing is, you don't see this kind of person every day. I'm not looking for perfection, I want my pictures to evoke an emotion. I like it when something is off. That's what makes it right.
Is your eye more drawn towards eccentric or ordinary people?
To neither of both, really. I'm drawn to interesting situations. When I'm out on the street, I'm an observer. I pay attention to everything. There's always a surprise for me hiding somewhere. When I see that other people are hastily making their way, I'm thinking 'you're missing out on everything that's happening right now'.
How do you hope to look back on your life at the age of, say, 80?
80 years? Damn, that's a long time. I'm not sure if I'll live that long. But if I do, I'll probably be walking around in a retirement home, making snapshots of other retires Dutch people with names like 'Jan'.”
Jimmy yells “hey, Jan!” and makes hand gestures as if he's taking pictures.
How is Amsterdam treating you?
I like it here, the people are so nice. Over in China people can get so aggressive. But here, I've never seen any big fights. Of course, as an immigrant in the Netherlands, people do tend to put you in a box – once an immigrant, always an immigrant. But for me, that also works as a huge advantage. When I'm taking pictures, people see an Asian with a camera and think I'm a tourist. That gives me more freedom.
Thanks for the interview, Jimmy!
Visit Jimmy's website to see more of his stunning work.
- Adriana -