“I don’t believe in beauty standards.”
So says Hau Le, who, despite starting his photography career in only 2015, has already been featured in Harper’s Bazaar and L’Officiel, and has taken photos for Lam Gia Khang’s new clothing collection. In 2018 one of Hau’s images for GIASTUDIOS was featured in Photo Vogue as a “Pic of the Day”.
Hau is known for his mesmerizing portraits, in which he highlights both models’ conventionally beautiful features and the peculiarities that make them stand out. From braces to elegant trench coats, Hau is a talent at showcasing both fashion and the individual.
When Hau is not at work as a freelance photographer, he is studying photography. He is self-taught, never having studied the art in a formal setting.
Hardly more than three years after the beginning of his photography career, Hau has an age’s worth of stories to share. Vietcetera sat down with the artist to learn more about his creative vision and current projects.
You didn’t study any visual arts in college. How did you end up becoming a photographer?
I wasn’t trained at all in photography. And as a child, I hated when people took my photo. During college I studied International Trade Operations but, a year into my first post-graduation job, I realized that I didn’t want to have a career in business.
So I decided to sell my phone, count up my savings, and buy a Canon EOS 5D Mark I. I had to figure out the art myself. Another year and a half passed by before I began receiving collaboration requests from magazines. Not long after, brands started coming to me for my fashion photography.
Today you’re known for fashion and portrait photography. Were these always the styles you were most interested in?
You might be surprised to learn my first shots were everyday street photography. It wasn’t until Yeah1 had me take photos of their models that I got hooked on fashion photography.
Portrait and fashion photography can be two very different art forms. For portraits, I need only pay attention to a model’s pose and countenance. But in fashion photography I have to consider more than just the model—the fit of their clothes, the theme of the collection, and the best angles to showcase the collection’s design.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced during your career as a freelance photographer?
Being new and not formally trained in photography, I had a hard time finding jobs. In the beginning, I worked intermittently with long periods of unemployment. Sometimes I didn’t even make $50 during a shoot.
Additionally, because of my lack of a background in the visual arts, I often felt like my opinions weren’t appreciated by my collaborators.
But today I’ve reached a place where I’m confident giving and receiving feedback. I know that people will value my skills.
There are a number of photographers, including you, who never had formal training. Do you recommend that budding photographers study the visual arts in school?
I will say that studying photography alone can be challenging. People who are just starting in the field usually have some trouble choosing a genre. But with another pair of eyes, with the help of a mentor or institution, you will better be able to identify your strengths.
Though I didn’t go to school for photography, I did benefit from some mentorship. I was only able to define my own style after participating in Tuan Fr’s workshop on fashion photography.
My biggest takeaway was that I had to believe in myself as much as he believed in himself. I used to hesitate before testing and implementing my own ideas. But his lessons planted a quiet self-confidence in me that fueled my works and trumped external validation.
I was able to find my place in the photography scene without formal schooling, but I still believe studying photography in the classroom is really valuable.
Schools give you access to growth-accelerating resources like professors and equipment. Plus, there are classes—though self-learning is essential, I want to invest in classes when I can. My purpose is to learn as much as possible no matter how. It’s the only way forward in art and in general.
Which fashion designer have you most enjoyed collaborating with?
My favorite collaborator is Lam Gia Khang. We share similar tastes. He also lets me take charge of creative direction, which is uncommon for a fashion designer.
Normally the designer takes over his collection’s branding and the photographer has to follow his lead. Khang doesn’t claim this authority—he shares a generous part of it with his photographers.
We’ve worked together on three shoots, and I hope to do more with him.
Tell us about the projects you’re working on right now.
My time is spread evenly between magazine shoots, brand shoots, and personal projects.
When I’m photographing someone else’s designs, I try to balance my creative impulses with the spirit of the collection.
My personal projects, however, give me the chance to immerse myself in imagination. I love taking portraits and nudes bathed in warm colors. Red is my favorite.
I’ve also always liked shooting with layouts that are as simple as possible. I don’t like cluttered wide-angle shots. And when I pick a model, her popularity is irrelevant to me. All I care about is whether she can pull off an exotic, unique look for the camera.
Most of my personal projects are sensitive, so what I do with them will vary. Sometimes my work appears on Vogue. Other times, I leave the photos to sit quietly on my computer for my personal viewing.
What about your future projects?
I’m working on projects that unite fashion and portrait photography. They’re personal at the moment, but I’d love to bring in collaborators eventually.
Adapted by Mieu Cao.