Who is Michael Jang? I must confess, I wasn’t really familiar with him until an email landed in my inbox from Jang himself asking if I had seen his book, titled — what else? — “Who is Michael Jang?” (Atelier Editions, 2019).
I’m so glad I saw that email, because now I know who Michael Jang is, as well as his work and backstory.
During his nearly four decades as a commercial and portrait photographer, Jang compiled what would end up being a compelling body of work. That work drew its first acclaim in 2001, when Jang submitted some images to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. His photographs made such an impression that for the next 15 years, Jang showed them in national and international exhibitions.
Late last year, Jang’s work was pulled together for “Who is Michael Jang?” — his first book — coinciding with his first major retrospective exhibition, which ran from September to January.
The images in “Who is Michael Jang?” highlight various chapters in the photographer’s life, taking us from the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco to political events, punk shows and his family’s home life, mostly during the 1970s. The images in the first chapter, “The Jangs,” show his time spent with family during the summer of 1973 while he was an undergrad at the California Institute of the Arts, near Los Angeles. From the book’s description:
“Jang . . . spent several leisured days documenting the pleasant, occasionally surreal, middle-class, Chinese-American domesticity of Aunt Lucy, Uncle Monroe, and his two young cousins, Chris and Cynthia. Pacifica’s Jangs are accompanied by numerous, rather eclectic, photographs of Mother Dorothy, Father Woodrow, Cousin Ted, and Sister Gaynor. Two faithful hounds, Abby and Sam, two young rabbits, one adventuresome feline, and a majestic koi carp complete the Jangs’ menagerie.”
The photos are fabulously idiosyncratic, humorous depictions of family life. In fact, that sensibility applies to all the images throughout the book. Jang has an affinity for taking what would normally be banal subject matter and turning it into a visual treat — whether depicting family, politicians, performers or everyday people on the streets.
You can learn more about Jang and his work on his website.
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