Meet the tutor: Christopher Chan

Christopher Chan is both a storyteller and a truth seeker. It has been argued that truth and stories are not necessarily common bedfellows, but Christopher’s inquisitive mind and his earnest integrity, is clearly the exception. 

As a photojournalist, you are as likely to find Christopher pointing his camera at a gruesome crime scene as you are to find him in the pastels of a wedding bakery. He follows the story, and every story begins with a person. Christopher is fascinated with people and no story is too dramatic or too mundane. His path to professional photography began with people and psychology was his first distraction but when he discovered he didn’t have enough points to study psychology in university, fate had other plans for his future.

Up to that point photography was a merely a hobby, something he had a mild interest in. He found himself in unchartered territory and wasn’t sure which direction to choose. With nothing to lose, he decided to look a little further into photography. It wasn’t long before Christopher realised he could in fact study human behavior, through his lens. Just like psychology, he would document and analyse all walks of life and deliver it to the world to be examined. Photojournalism was his true calling, and he took to it like a duck to water.

As soon as he graduated with bachelor’s degree in photography under his belt, Christopher moved to a small town and got a job in a local newspaper. He loved it. It was there he could immerse himself deep into the lives of the people around him and he soon learned how no human story is ever boring. Behind every door is both comedy and tragedy. Every life has a tale to tell.

Because he was away from the anonymity of a big city, he had the time and space to earn the trust of his subjects and to get up close and personal. This would cement his strong moral compass and immediately entrench the innate respect he has for all his subjects. The entire experience was both humbling and elevating. He felt it was a privilege to be part of their most private and vulnerable moments.

Christopher would spend the next 6 or 7 years moving around Queensland, NSW, and Melbourne until eventually he left Australia for London. He secured some freelance work and travelled around Europe until eventually returning to Australia. But the timing would change Christophers path once again.

His return was during the initial explosion of social media photography with smart phone camera capabilities becoming more and more sophisticated.  The result was that photographers were being made redundant at a rapid rate. Christopher loved photojournalism but he needed a new angle.

As a people-person, a career pivot into education seemed like a natural transition. Before he went to London Christopher had taken a course in training and assessment and he had a couple of years’ experience teaching in a private photography college. It didn’t take long for the Australian Academy of Photography to recognise his talents and communication skills, and he was snapped up as a tutor.

While Christopher’s pursuit of truth is honourable, he is aware of the subtle ambiguities that can emerge in photography. The very nature of holding a camera involves a certain amount of a photographer’s perspective. No two people will shoot the same way thus demonstrating how the camera takes on the photographer’s eye. Christopher believes that his students’ life experiences will inform their approach. He encourages a personal style of photography but will always check the virtue of an image. Christopher imparts his ethos that when shooting people, a connection must be made.

Due to the freedom of digital photography, Christopher encourages his students to shoot everything, go wild, escape their comfort zone and through the luxury of that freedom, they will find their niche. Unlike many purist photographers, he sees social media as an area that can help inspire people to find a style or genre. With imitation being the best form of flattery, he gets students to try to replicate a favorite image. This helps them to learn how the photograph was constructed and shows them the intricacies of creating images. Whether it’s portrait, products, studio or photojournalism, the same principles apply, and a connection is vital.

Christopher continues to work freelance as he believes it’s important to keep working and remain fresh and informed. He doesn’t ever want to become stale. Today he does less photojournalism and more commercial work which has given him a newfound respect for studio photography. It is very difficult to photograph a person who doesn’t want to be photographed but his organic approach to taking his time and communicating is where he can capture the essence of the person. He calls it nosy; many would call it interested.

Working as a tutor is exciting to Christopher. He loves to see fresh ideas and insights from students and when they ask how is something achieved or why can’t something be done, it encourages him to find out for himself. Their eyes help him see things in a fresh new perspective.  Christopher is a sponge and always wants to keep learning.

Today the Australian Academy of Photography are learning from a tutor who continues to test himself, to experiment and to try new things. Through the diversity of photojournalism and his studio and portrait experience, he humbly calls himself a ‘handyman’ of photography, a ‘jack of all trades’, but photojournalism has inadvertently made an artist of him. Like a true artist, Christopher will only show his students the door, they must open it themselves.

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Written by: Fiona Byrne

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