Fan Wei Sheng is a 28-year-old Taiwanese photographer that’s more commonly known under the moniker SamAlive. He currently resides in NYC and works as a freelance photographer, having moved there in 2013 from Taiwan. In the last few years, he has amassed over 270,000 followers on Instagram not to mention his popularity on other photo sharing platforms like Flickr and Tumblr. He has also collaborated with numerous brands and companies, ranging from AT&T to Nike, as well as having been featured in publications such as Vogue and designboom.
For Sam, it all started in college where he was studying graphic design at first. His friend lent him a film camera for a darkroom class and he soon became fascinated by the ability of being able to capture everything that was in front of him. His love for photography just snowballed from there.
Sam’s ever growing collection of work showcases a well-balanced mix of stunning portraits, awe-inspiring landscapes, slices of urban life, and more. Despite his very versatile style, Sam confesses nowadays he tends to prefer shooting portraits and landscapes over anything else. But the difficulty of revealing the subtleness of a person’s personality through a single frame has cemented portrait photography as his all-time favorite style. Through the masterful use of light and composition, his portraits manages to capture the complexity of human emotion.
Later this month, Sam will be hosting a photo exhibition called Adventures in Taipei. It will be held from February 14th to 29th and is open to the public. The exhibit will showcase a collection of his cityscape and landscape photos that embodies the spirit of adventure. It will take viewers into the hectic hustle of New York City before whisking them away into the breathtaking wilderness of the U.S. Northwest. Neocha recently had the chance to speak with Sam about being a creative and all the challenges he’s had to face along the way.
Neocha: When did you get into photography? Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings as a photographer and the journey leading up to the success you’ve had so far?
SamAlive: I first became interested in photography during college when I took a photography course. At the time, I just thought it was neat being able to capture what I see into still frames. I had no goals or any plans on developing a career out of photography, I just wanted to shoot, but soon I started picking up cases for paid work. At the time though, it felt really discouraging because it just felt like every photographer had better equipment, more connections, and more clients than me. My family had their doubts on whether I should really pursue this as a career. To be honest, I even had a strong sense of doubt in myself. I pushed on though. I kept shooting and creating, and slowly but surely, people started noticing my work. That led to me picking up more and more commissioned work. Now I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am today.
Neocha: When you were first just gaining an interest in photography before the whole Instagram craze, who were your biggest influences?
SamAlive: I think I started taking photography seriously in 2009. That was the same year I started using Flickr, and I would browse the work of international photographers like Nirrimi, 13thwitness, and Daido Moriyama, just to name a few. They definitely left an impact on me. Some photographers I enjoy their written work as well. I’m interested in hearing their story, and I try to understand their thought process. Photography is more than a job to me – it’s a lifestyle choice.
SamAlive: 真正開始認真拍照，我想是從2009年開始，那時開始使用Flickrㄆㄧ，常常瀏覽一些國外的作品並且受到影響，例如 Nirrimi, 13thwitness, Daido Moriyama等等，有的則是已經記不住名字。有些攝影師我喜歡閱讀他們文字書，喜歡去了解他們的故事以及想法，攝影不單單是一個工作，應該是生活自我的一部分，這也是我自己不斷在努力的部分。
Neocha: How would you assess the current state of photography as a profession in Taiwan?
SamAlive: To be honest, the more recent years of my photography career I haven’t been in Taiwan so it is hard for me to assess the current state of it. Based on my previous experiences though, I feel like the market for photography is too small in Taiwan. It’s always the same firms hiring and the same photographers shooting; the competitiveness is way more intense. There’s definitely more restrictions on freedom of creativity for photographers as well. Especially now where everyone has access to high-end cameras, photographers are less respected, people feel like all we do is press a button. I feel like this lack of respect isn’t only towards photographers, but also extends to designers, and artists in general in Taiwan.
Neocha: What culminated in your decision to move to New York rather than continue staying in Taiwan to pursue photography?
SamAlive: I’m a very spontaneous person, so I really didn’t give it much thought before I just packed my bags and went for it. I guess I was all about the notion of chasing after your dreams while still young. I decided on New York just because it was a place I’ve always wanted to photograph. I wanted to break the routines of daily life, and shoot in a brand new environment, that’s really all there is to it. I’m lucky enough now to be able to stay stateside and do what I love.
Neocha: In this day and age, when everyone has access to a smartphone or an entry-level DSLR, and is able to publish their work instantly to a huge international audience at the click of a button through numerous social networks. What would you say you do differently to set yourself apart from the countless numbers of photographers nowadays?
SamAlive: Actually, this is something I’ve thought about a lot. In my opinion, it’s a great thing – the more work that is out there, the more you see, and the more you learn. It’s all a learning process to me. In the end, it all still largely depends on hands-on experience to be able to find your own artistic voice. I just used to shoot literally everything, I really didn’t know what I wanted to capture, but the more I experimented and shot, I started to figure out the direction I wanted to head in and developed my own style along the way. Nowadays, I feel like inspirations comes from every corner of my daily life, photography is a big part of my daily routine. I don’t think I will ever stop taking photos, and I feel like my desire to continue improving and creating is insatiable.