KATE KIM SITS DOWN WITH PHOTOGRAPHER, DIRECTOR, AND ARTIST ENMI YANG TO DISCUSS THEIR SHARED KOREAN ROOTS, NATURAL INSPIRATION, AND THE transition from producer to director.
By KATE KIM
I was going through a really rough year when I meant Enmi, and I am so lucky that I did. She’s been a real inspiration for me, and welcomed me with open and loving arms immediately. As a Korean creative from a small town, I struggled to find others in the same field as me (film), and when I met Enmi, I saw a hopeful future. Not to put anyone on a pedastal or anything, but I was so excited to be able to work with her and hoped she didn’t think I was the stupid, not even legal to drink yet person I pretended to not be. Her work, knowledge, and just sheer determination to get what she wants always sits in the back of my mind when I feel stuck. Enmi Yang, 29, hails from Jeju Island, South Korea. She came to America (Houston, Texas), when she was 10, living with her father. I met Enmi in New York, where she moved after school. When I first met her, I knew her to be an immensely talented artist and photographer, with a really cool producing gig under her belt, but now I know her as all of those things and a director. She invited me to work on a music video she directed this summer, and it was one of the best film jobs I had ever done. I can’t wait to see what else Enmi does.
From Yang’s show “ASCENDING“ on view at “From Houston, With Love”
Did where you come from impact you and your work in any way?
Absolutely, my family had a small house by the beach surrounded by small mountains on the island. When I moved to Texas, I was constantly yearning for nature within this vast land. Within my practice, I think of the natural world as my stage. My creative motivations are largely influenced by nature and its organic voice; movement within stillness, positive and negative spaces, and nature’s relationship to the body. I have always felt a magnetic connection between my own femininity and artistic concepts and the textures, softness, and colorways reflected in nature. Nature: water and earth have always been a home to me when I had nowhere else to turn. I feel cradled creatively and spiritually when I maintain a close relationship with the organic and emotional strength of all natural things, both outside of myself, and within my own expression as an artist and as a woman. Remote landscapes reflect my own feelings of isolation and separation, while at the same time grounding me to a force much greater than myself. Nature has always been a place of safety for me, and it’s where my creative roots are derived and protected, and where I feel powerful.
What did your parents do?
My dad had moved to America when I was a child. I reunited with him when I moved to America when I was 10 years old. I remember him working at Sally’s beauty when I first moved here, then he eventually opened a donut shop. Then the recession hit and Shipley’s donut came in the neighborhood, and he had to close the shop. He worked at a Chevron gas station after that.
He moved back to Jeju Island about 6 years ago and he opened an indoor golf range and is finally doing what he wants to do and I'm so grateful, proud and happy for him!
Were your parents supportive of your decisions to pursue something artistic? (Did you always want to do something artistic?)
My dad was the typical immigrant story of wanting their daughter to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher. I’ve always been doing something creative since I can remember and it took me a very long time to learn english so I thrived in my art classes.
I won a painting competition with a prize of $50,000 when I was 17. But because of my immigration status, I couldn’t get the award. I was fighting my dad about my career path so much, and this was the first time he had hopes for me.
I think it was very hard for him to understand that I can have a creative career living in Texas. So when I decided to move to New York, that's when his mentality changed and knew that I was serious about this career path. He’s been supportive ever since!
Was it difficult leaving Korea?
I was so young, I just remember being happy to be flying on a plane.
Why New York?
Because if you can thrive in New York, you can thrive anywhere!
What drew you to the medium of photography/film?
I fell in love with photography in the dark room.
It’s a true love story :’)
Have you known that you also wanted to pursue film?
I didn’t but I feel like it came naturally to me.
How did you get to producing and then directing?
I started a photography book called Phase Journal, and quickly learned the role of a producer. After doing four issues of the book, I got asked to be a producer for a short film. They pretty much told me that it was the same concept, but boyyyy did I not know what I was getting myself into. I learned soooo much during that project!
I wanted to be a director so bad, but I felt like I had to earn my title to feel comfortable calling myself a director. I worked a lot as a production assistant and would ask so many questions to the Director, DP, AC, grip, gaffers, and literally everyone on set. I tried my best to read the room and not be as annoying as possible. I also asked my director friends for advice, references, recommendations and love to hear their experiences. I think you learn so much by listening to other people's experiences. This year was the first time I considered myself a director and I’m feeling very happy about it.
Do you remember the first project or job that you were excited about or that cemented you as an artist to watch out for?
My first print cover for a Texas Magazine called Paper City. I was so ecstatic and so naive. That experience taught me so much and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity Michelle (Art Director) has given me. It affirmed my journey in photography and I can’t wait to work with her again to show her how much I’ve grown since then. I love her so much!!
What has been your favorite project?
Honestly, every project is so dear to me.
Every new personal project I do, ends up becoming my favorite.
Do you have any new exciting projects coming up?
Yes! Soon I will be debuting Phase Journal in New York, and have a music video coming out with the most beautiful singer/songwriter Nakaya.
What are you listening to when you’re working on a script, treatment, project, etc?
A lot of times I listen to Jazz. My favorites right now are Butcher Brown, Lonnie Listen Smith, Yussef Dayes, Jazzbois.
What do you think about social media and the way it’s changed in a way that often makes artists depend on a platform in order to get work? Do you think it’s necessary to have an Instagram as a filmmaker/photographer?
I think social media changed the industry on how to get yourself/ your work discovered. It was so much more difficult to pursue a creative career before the internet. I definitely feel the complexity and the pressure from the ever-changing, social media platforms, but throughout the years, I’ve set many boundaries with it. I think it can be utilized as a great tool!