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Chinese Whispers // 中國私語

In Exclusive for LAB A4 / LAB Gallerie
A Conversation between: Chris Cheng x Jason Capobianco
All photographs by Jason Capobianco

Predominantly regarded as a fashion, beauty and portrait photographer, and recently adding documentary film maker to his list of credits, Jason Capobianco distinguishes himself in his field with a cinematic approach to storytelling. Something he has been honing over the past 15 years of working professionally. Spending time in Australia, Europe and the last eight years based in Asia, he brings his distinctive combination of colour, light and emotional photography to his newly adopted home of Hong Kong.

Capobianco’s ever growing list of clients continues to swell with some of the best talent in Asia, including Aaron Kwok, Angela Baby, Huang Xiao Ming, Chow Yun Fat, Tang Wei, Simon Yam, Fan BingBing, Andy Hui and recently adding international superstar Justin Bieber to his folio alongside Sophia Loren and Cate Blanchett. Spending the majority of his time on the road, between Asia and Australia and occasionally Europe, for more than a decade, Jason Capobianco has been creating his own brand of high-fashion focused editorial work. Contributing to titles such as Vogue Australia, Vogue China, Harpers Bazaar, GQ China, Japanese and Australian GQ, and many others. He is no stranger to television either, appearing in a number of beauty / modelling shows as both photographer and guest judge.

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LAB/ Can tell me about your love of image making?
JC/ My love of image making comes from total voyeurism. Sounds creepy I know. But it’s a want to examine the unguarded moments that make up a life. Those little split seconds where a person forgets to wear their mask of ‘dealing with he world’. Photography also is the process of stopping time and allowing us to examine it. I think that’s a pretty magical trick.

LAB/ Who inspires you?
JC/ My inspirations used to be traditionally ‘other creatives’, Wim Wenders, Francis Bacon and others, but as I progressed, it turned into every person, every day who gives me inspiration. It became more universal. I had always sought characters rather than finished styles or works. And now it’s just anyone I see on the street. I try to imagine their stories and in this, there is an endless horizon of inspiration.

LAB/ Can you share your initial beginnings with us?
JC/ I wanted to be a photojournalist. I was totally inspired by Sebastiao Salgado and the image makers for Magnum agency. I tried for a few years along that road and soon found I didn’t have what it took at that age. I wasn’t mentally ready for it. It’s a lot tougher than just being in the right place at the right time. There’s the whole emotional side of the craft that plays a big part. But when I started assisting other photographers, I got hooked on the fashion side of photography because they were pushing the standards and boundaries of image making at a rapid rate. I liked the pace of creativity in fashion. You have to be instinctual because of the pace of change. You work with your gut and your emotions and that tended to agree with me. Just like photojournalism, you push the shutter when it feels right, not when it looks correct. And once I had found something I had a feel for, I assisted as often as I could, I kept my mouth shut and my eyes open and absorbed as rapidly as I could.

LAB/ How has basing yourself in HK changed things – being across the Indian/Pacific ocean?
JC/ Being in Asia as an outsider is a (very welcome) reality for me. It forces me to think differently and engage differently, especially in terms of creativity. Moving yourself to a different place means you have to learn cultural languages more so than spoken languages. There are a lot of dialects & nuances in accents than than other things. But that’s what makes it so fascinating. To learn about a place and all of that new information provides so many avenues for exploration.

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LAB/ If you weren’t a photographer / image maker. What would you be doing?
JC/ I’d be in the kitchen, it’s the only other place I feel truly comfortable. I still remember the day very vividly when I was a teenager, early morning, sitting at the bar having coffee with the boss of the restaurant I was working in. He asked me what I wanted to do in the future. He said that if I wanted to be a chef, he would make a place in the kitchen for me to be an apprentice. And that was the day I left the job, I told him I was going to choose photography, and he wished me well. And even now, my kitchen is my temple. A place I can go to to experiment in a different language. More recently, I would say I’m inspired by the Brazilian chef Alex Atala. To me there is a purity and rawness in his vision of living and connecting with the earth, which he translates into something incredibly beautiful and exploratory on a plate. He wants you to see the future in a different way. I think he’s incredible.

LAB/ You have developed an acute sense of taste where does that stem from?
JC/ I can’t pinpoint it directly, but taste and memory are so interlinked, that I think they form the roadmap of life. Food for me was the connection to so many people, as a kid, my parents had friends from all over the world who would come to our house and cook, or we would spend time in their kitchens. And taste for me was like this passport to all these magical places I had never even known about at my young age, Indian villages, Swiss mountain tops, Singaporean street stalls, Italian or Greek islands, the places seemed endless. So the tastes for me are connected to people, family, and their histories.

LAB/ Tell us something we don’t know about you?
JC/ I’ve never eaten a Krispy Kreme donut.
LAB/ What makes a perfect or imperfect picture or story?
JC/ I don’t do perfection. Don’t really get into it. Perfection for me is quite dull, and it somehow feels expected. It’s too self contained and doesn’t really leave much room the viewer to interact. Don’t get me wrong, I do love things to be well designed. But imperfection is where it’s at for me. When I’m working on an image, I always leave in something that is a little bit wrong. Just to cause a disruption for the viewer.

LAB/ Name favourite film & Actor?
JC/ Punch Drunk Love – PT Anderson Actor – Gary Oldman
LAB / In a Lips sync battle what would be your song choice?
JC/ Grandmaster Flash – The Message
LAB/ Old school!

LAB/ Lastly, is the best way to love thru the heart or stomach ?
JC/ Through the soul of a person I think. Otherwise you just end up with indigestion and heartburn.

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Grandmaster flash.

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