Video Report: Interview with Environmentalist Photographer Ian Teh

With ANA PHELAN, age 11

IndyKids Reporter Ana Phelan interviews environmentalist photographer Ian Teh about his work at the Photoville exhibit in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Ian’s recent work raises awareness about the effects of climate change in China

ANA PHELAN: This is Ana Phelan for IndyKids News interviewing environmentalist photographer Ian Teh at Photoville.

What made you decide to become a photographer?

IAN TEH: So, when I was very young, when I was 19, I came across two books that moved me. One was by Cartier-Bresson, the other one was by Eugene Smith. What impressed me about those photographs were not only how beautiful those images were about everyday life, but how Eugene Smith, for example, used his photography to try and change the world—


IAN TEH: —or to communicate problems in the world. And at that young age, I was intrigued about that idea. So, I suppose at that time I became more and more curious about seeing if I could actually do that for myself.

ANA PHELAN: Yeah. What is your inspiration when you take pictures?

IAN TEH: I draw inspiration from many things. I love movies, and I love other photographers. So, to me, what’s important is the message and how well that message is being told. For me, it’s to find an eloquent way to express an idea. So—and yeah, I draw, you know, things like—there’s a film called _Elephant_.


IAN TEH: So I love that, you know, and many different photographers, as well. So…

ANA PHELAN: Cool. What is your favorite subject to photograph?

IAN TEH: Well, I’ve been traveling to China for a long time, so I suppose, in a way, that has become my favorite subject. I am interested in the changes that are happening in the country. And in a way, I’m interested also in the environment. So those are the subjects that I really would like to focus on.

ANA PHELAN: How old were you when you began your career as a photographer?

IAN TEH: I started—I think I started around 27 or 28. That’s when I started to become a professional photographer. I had done my first job taking some portraits and got my first paycheck then. Yeah.

ANA PHELAN: I know that your photograph will be on a banner at the climate march on September 21st. So, do you have anything to say?

IAN TEH: Yeah, yeah, I mean, that’s—I’m quite excited to see that, you know, to see the photograph being taken through the march. And I think it’s very apt, because a lot of my work is about climate change and about the environment. So, I think it’s a very good use of a photograph.

ANA PHELAN: How is your work related to the issue of climate change?

IAN TEH: Well, the area that I’m photographing, the Yellow River, has gone through a huge amount of degradation in the past—for many decades now. Back in 1997, the river actually didn’t reach the sea for almost eight months. And that river is very important to China, because it’s known as the cradle of civilization, it’s the mother river, so it’s where agriculture, industry and people living in cities get their water from. And if that runs dry, it becomes—it’s a serious problem for everyone. So, me photographing this area, it’s important for this area in terms of environment.

ANA PHELAN: What impact do you think your photograph and the banner will have on the march and on the movement?

IAN TEH: One of the things that I hope with my photography is to create awareness about issues that perhaps are less well known, in areas that maybe—where people don’t often go to. And through that awareness, I heard people actually talk about it and want to find out more about those issues. And maybe they can actually start thinking about what’s going on in their lives, you know, because everything that’s happening around the world in terms of climate change is largely to do with the way we live our lives. So, the more aware we become, the more likely we can make some positive changes to improve what’s happening.

ANA PHELAN: Yeah. Have you seen any impact from your existing work right now?

IAN TEH: Yes, I have. I think I get—I hear from people, when they come to an exhibition, and then they ask me questions. And that’s one way in which I know that there’s a real—that they have a connection with the work. Sometimes when things are shown online and people write in, that’s a positive way, as well. So, I don’t have—it’s more about what people say and when they write in, send me emails and messages about the work I do, yes.

ANA PHELAN: Will you be at the march? And what is your future plan in helping this cause?

IAN TEH: I will be at the march this Sunday—next Sunday morning. I still haven’t finished photographing the river. I’ve only done the beginning and the middle part of the river. That river is maybe over 3,000 miles long, so it’s a very long river. So I have to go to the foot of the river and photograph that area, as well. And it’s very industrial. So, I’m looking forward to doing more on this river.

ANA PHELAN: What would you like to tell IndyKids readers and audiences who are interested in becoming a photographer and those who care about the environment?

IAN TEH: I think they need to shoot, take lots of pictures. And they need to try and say something with their photographs. So, they should keep practicing and keep asking other people what they get from those pictures, because sometimes when people get what you’re trying to do, then you know you’re on the right track.

Special thanks to Neil Shibata for the transcript.

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