We recently spoke with photographer, Cocu Liu, about his photography journey and why he prefers mobile photography over the traditional point and shoot camera. His images are showcased in Volume 1 of the Trope Mobile Edition Series.
Cocu, let’s start by talking a bit about your book! You are presenting a series of your work all shot on your mobile phone which is quite remarkable. Would you mind telling us how your iPhone photography journey began?
I started using my old iPhone 5 in 2013. That phone camera was pretty great at the time. I took a lot of photos with it. It was convenient to carry around throughout the day. In the same year, I began publishing my work on Instagram, I was super impressed by the Instagram community, and people are so creative there. That’s how my mobile photography journey began.
So Mobile v DSLR what are the main advantages for you?
Both are great. Mobile is a relatively new device in comparison to traditional film cameras, DSLR, etc. With mobile I can take pictures lots easier and quicker than ever, there’s a saying that goes “The best camera is the one that is with you”, I truly believe so. My mobile phone is the one that I carry with me all time. I certainly adore the powerful DSLR, and no doubt they produce high-quality images. However, they are too bulky for me to bring with me every day.
Why do you prefer using your phone, and what do you like most about this medium of photography?
I use my mobile phone for all sorts of things related to photography - ranging from planning (Google maps, weather app, etc), to photo shooting (native camera), to post-editing/digital darkroom (Filterstorm, VSCO), to publishing my work on social platforms (Instagram) - all in one palm-sized device, I think this is powerful.
Do you have any creative influences? If so, what are they?
I’m a great admirer of analog film. I especially love the color of Kodachrome. I sometimes try to simulate the Kodachrome looks and feels on the mobile device. I own books of Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog, Luigi Ghirri, etc. and their analog work is exceptional.
What can viewers expect from your book?
This book collects a set of experiments of my mobile work since 2014. I always challenge what I can do with my mobile. This book is a summary. My mobile work normally appears on digital platforms - like Instagram which requires finger scrolling up and down to browse content. This time it is different, viewers will see my photos in a physical book - a traditional way to view photography. I hope this old form provides a ‘novel’ experience for my viewers.
Your photos are so consistent and your vision allows the viewer to focus on the most important element—your photographs, and not whether the photos where captured on a camera. What was the most challenging part of choosing what photos to include in your book?
Working on a photography book is so much different from posting my work on digital platforms like Instagram. Simply put, it’s just a completely different game. I worked with the Trope team together to make sure this book tells good stories and to ensure all photos are well organized and meaningfully connected page by page.
You have an amazing ability to create strong images that capture the beauty of the urban landscape, however ‘light and darkness’ is as much a protagonist in much of your work creating a sense of tension between what is known and what is not known, and intensifying the mood of the moment with mysterious shadow and hidden drama. Can you share with us why you are drawn to the light as such a strong visual communicator?
For my photography, light is my main inspiration. I love to experiment with shooting things in different types of light, no matter whether it’s harsh light at sunset or soft light during the rain. The light mostly defines how things look in my photos and what emotions could be brought into the frame. In addition to that, Chicago is such an amazing city and the architecture is absolutely stunning. I like exploring the light in different weather conditions such as rain, fog, or even snow. Weather adds unique moods and emotions to my photographs. In addition to that, I always try different angles and viewpoints while I shoot. I bounce around places to see if there’s a better spot that provides a unique viewpoint. Sometimes I avoid photographing from eye level, and try shooting from low down on the ground or go up on the roof for a bird’s eye view."
What do you look for when you photograph? Is there a predetermined process you employ before you get behind the lens or do you work out compositions and storylines instinctively?
If photography has taught me one thing, it’s to learn how to see things. I started to see things I originally ignored before. I might be a contrarian, but I love things that other people don't pay attention to.
We live in an image-led culture, and due to the abundance of images, the criteria for what counts as ‘a good photograph’ has slightly shifted. What does, in your opinion, make an image stand out today?
I have my own criteria for ‘what’s a good photograph’, and I’ve done my best to include my best work in the book. However, I never attempt to define what’s good for others. Everyone has their own judgement, I believe there are no right or wrong ways to see things.
You can learn more about Cocu, his work, and shop his books and prints on his Artist page.