Friday, October 4, 2013

Artist profile: YLK photography

Yony Lee Kim, the photographer behind YLK photography, is self-taught. She specializes in lifestyle and portrait photography. Yony is mom to three adorable kids. And she has mono to thank for her Etsy shop.

After doing portrait photography for a year, Yony got mono in the spring of 2010. “I obviously couldn’t do sessions with people during that time, so I started to go stir crazy,” she said. “If there is something about me that has been consistent since I was a child, it is that I always need a creative outlet. So I started picking flowers from my yard and just taking pictures.” She started a still life album on her Facebook page to keep up with her marketing. 

Friends loved the photos and encouraged her to sell them. “So in keeping with who I am, I opened my Etsy shop on a whim and did my first Jingle Bash later that year,” Yony said. “I was invited by Etsy Inc. to participate in a Pop-Up shop at West Elm in Mockingbird Station. It was a great event and I was so honored to have been asked. I had no idea something I started doing while I was sick would turn into what it has. I still do it for me, though. This will always be the area of photography that I do just for myself.”

Yony recently took part in a Q&A session with Liz Day.

Liz: You are self-taught. When did you gain an interest in photography?
Yony: My dad was a photography hobbyist for many years. He had a darkroom next to our garage when I was a kid and he was always sticking his camera in our faces. He gave me a camera for my birthday when I was in middle school. It was just a point-and-shoot, but I documented almost everything. In 2002, I became a mom, and the obsession grew, or maybe I should say that it exploded. Within a week of giving birth, our entire apartment was covered in photos of our firstborn. After a short while, my closest friends and family encouraged me to take my hobby and segue it into a business.

Liz: When did you know it was your calling? Was it slow and steady or fast and furious?
Yony: My husband, in particular, has always been my biggest supporter. He did a lot of the research on equipment for me and was just always very encouraging. He thought that I had what it took before anyone else did. One summer night, I sat at my computer and decided to do it. I created my logo, set up a blog, and a Facebook page somewhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. My closest friends know that when I make up my mind to do something, there is nothing slow and steady about the process at all. Almost every decision I make is fast and furious.

Liz: How do you balance family and your business?
Yony: I made a conscious decision to be more "present" at home. I consider the hours of their school day my working hours, so I try to get as much done during the weekday as I can. Once they are home from school, I don't do anything business-related until the night hours (and then end up going to bed anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m. most nights). I have whole weekends set aside when I will not book a session and that's OK. My kids aren't going to be kids forever and I don't want to look back and think that I should have spent less time shooting and more time just "being" with them. … I always figured it out. Balance is the key.

Liz: How do you market yourself? Which social platform has been your most successful?
Yony: I do not market my business in any traditional sense. I don't typically pay for ads. As with most photographers (most everyone these days, really), I use Facebook as my main marketing tool. … I try not to let more than a couple of days go by between postings. The key is to keep people interested, so letting weeks go by without posting something is a no-no. The flip side to that is obviously not to post too much, either, because people get annoyed. You just have to be smart about it. Anyway, there is nothing that compares with "word of mouth" and in this day and age, Facebook gets it around the fastest and easiest.

Liz: Have you always considered yourself an artist? Did you have another career before photography?
Yony: I was an English major in college and had various jobs before becoming a mom, but nothing that I would say was my career. They paid the bills. Once going professional with my photography business, it took me a bit to accept the new title. It made me squirm to think that I was using the words "professional photographer" to describe myself. Honestly, I don't know when it happened, but along the way, I got comfortable with it. I even got comfortable with the word "artist," because I do now believe that what I create is art.

Liz: What is your favorite topic to photograph?  
Yony: My favorite thing to photograph is still life/macro photography. I love the solitude of capturing a beautiful object or scenario. Some people say my still life work has a slight vintage feel to it. I have had a love of all things antique and vintage since I was a child. My mom was an art major in college and my childhood home was always decorated with Korean antiques and art. On trips to Korea, I was taken to antiques shops and art galleries. I remember loving anything with a patina (my dad's ashtray was my favorite) and one of the coolest things we ever owned was an antique organ (yes, I took organ lessons during my childhood, too). So, yes, if people sense a vintage vibe from anything I do, it is definitely there, ingrained within me.
My next goal as a photographer is to go bigger with the commercial side of my photography business, perhaps making a move to doing solely commercial work in the future. There is nothing I enjoy more than the creative process of coming up with a concept, styling a shoot, and then working with young models who "get" it. I hope to do more of this type of photography going forward, but we'll have to wait and see.

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