In this interview series we sit down with Sean Maung. Unlike a lot of photographers that take the fly-on-the-wall approach or shoot from a distance, scared of the interaction, Sean shoots up close and personal. He always interacts with his subjects no matter what the situation. And that takes a special person. One must be confident and charming to make another trust them in their most vulnerable state, or just stop whatever they are doing and hand over a piece of themselves.
Anyone following PWNYC should already be familiar with you and your work. But for those new jacks, who are you and where are you residing these days?
SEAN MAUNG - I've been shooting urban life since about 2005. I'm mainly in LA and NY, but I'm currently living off of Normandie and Beverly in East Hollywood.
A lot of people are switching coasts right now and moving out west. What are your thoughts on this?
SEAN MAUNG - It's all good at the end of the day. It's natural for people from LA or the Bay to want to fuck with NY or Philly or Baltimore, and it's natural for them to move out here. I lived in NY for eight years.
2017 was a good year for you, especially being chosen to represent LA with the Nike Cortez campaign and having your work flying high all over the city. I don't want to label you a street photographer as you're much more than that, but you're known for being hands on in the streets. How was the transition of going from the streets to a full-scale production with a stylist, models and staff?
SEAN MAUNG - When you shoot the streets and blocks and people from all walks of life, you have to understand that anything can happen. Nothing is guaranteed, especially taking a pic you want. Things move quicker, there's more pressure. On a full-scale production, like with Nike, I was locked in the moment. It's not a hot block, it's not a trap, it's not a dude with a needle — it's all controlled. I got as many rolls of film as I needed. I got the street cornered off to arrange the whole scene. After shooting the spontaneity of the street, a big production wasn't as hectic.
These days through social media it's easy to make a whole persona with no authenticity and big branding buys into that without fact checking the artist. Can you talk about the importance of having an authentic body of work and what changes you would like to see in how culture is being showcased to the main-stream audience.
SEAN MAUNG - That's a good and important question. My body of work is my soul. It will be the spirit that transcends my body after I die. All I ever wanted since I picked up a camera was for my work to be dope and official. That's all I can do, and the rest is out of my control. As for how art and culture are being showcased, who are these "gatekeepers" aka creative directors, gallery curators, art-book stores, etc? Most are so disconnected from the street, from everyday life, from the communities where movements are being born. They live in lofts and eat at spots in Echo Park and chill with people who are all their same age and background. There is no cross pollination. So they are isolated and they turn to social media and they follow the hype that has been created artificially. That's what I see when I see these "gatekeepers." Isolated from real-ass people and communities and relying on social media to find what's hot. There ain't nothing original about that and it shows.
A lot of times you shoot a darker side of society. How do you feel about going through some of the images you have shot in the past?
SEAN MAUNG - I don't even label it dark; it's reality. There is light in dark, there is hell and heaven. To me, there is no judgment to the intensity of someone's life that is considered dark. There is character, there is emotion, there are questions.
Gaining the trust of your subjects is a job in and of itself. What's your approach?
SEAN MAUNG - Being calm, being straight up, being sincere and respectful.
Let's talk gay Latino cowboys. This seems to be your main focus right now. Please elaborate to those who might not have the first clue on what the hell I just said. Will we be seeing a show or a project drop anytime soon?
SEAN MAUNG - Yeah I've been shooting gay Latino cowboys in East Hollywood this past spring and summer. It's a vibrant scene with a lot of layers. There are so many layers that inspired the project. First, visually and aesthetically, the style and fashion of the cowboy drew my attention. They took the look of the cowboy and added an extra flyness to it. Then there is the symbol of the cowboy, in both American and Mexican culture. The cowboy has a strong place as a male macho myth in both countries, but isn't that big of a culture in such a modern city like LA. To have a place where cowboys were meeting and dancing, it caught my eye. And finally, the fact that they were gay and Latino added other layers. I mentioned the dominating myths in our society of what it means to be a cowboy or to be a male Latino cowboy and have that be erased in this club, where men were not afraid to be macho, or be a cowboy and mix that with their sexuality and fashion.
What do you got lined up for 2018?
SEAN MAUNG - As for 2018, release the gay cowboy book, it will be called "Tempo." And from there be out shooting, hopefully create something with hourly motels.
To see more of Sean's work visit him HERE