To some people a photograph is a way to capture and recall a moment in their life; an experience they want to revisit or present to others as sharing or even validation. That’s a perfectly acceptable reason but for those like photographer Natalie Chen, photographs are both a way to impart an emotion that others may have experienced in a different circumstance and a way to connect. It’s possible to cultivate both sympathy and empathy with the same image, to say nothing of joy. For Chen, to call oneself a photographer means to do much more than present pleasing imagery, it is to create an emotional and experiential touchstone. To endeavor on such a pursuit in the modern age requires walking in the opposite direction of the crowd, rejecting the massive proliferation of photos which exist simply because they can do so as a result of ease, apps, and software. Natalie’s mindset is classical but utilizes modern tools and perspectives. Her work has been recognized with awards and an eclectic set of patrons. Her path is the one less traveled these days which makes it all the more exceptional.
Chen didn’t settle in on the idea of being a professional photographer until her second year of college. It was during this time that she had the epiphany that not only did her images allow her to express something she felt internally on an emotional level but also seemed to elicit a response from others. Her work varied from clean & minimal product shots to disturbing maximal images that arrest one’s attention. Still life images have always been her preference. She notes that minimal imagery of this type is used to communicate the way that the photographer sees the world, placing subtle cues that give hints to their mood and view.
Recognizing Natalie’s exceptional talent as well as her unique vision and style, Life Framer presented her with an award for her photo simply titled “self-portrait.” The unsettling and yet somehow beautiful photo is far from a true self portrait as it displays meat in an ornate box with needles sticking out of it. True to her artistic core, Natalie reveals, “Honestly I don’t think any title would ever be appropriate for this photo, so I just called it a self-portrait. The acupuncture needle is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine. This photograph represents how my parents used to take care of my sister and myself before we moved away from home to pursue our dreams with better education.”
A number of Chen’s compelling images have received accolades from various outlets because of their unique vision. These photographs achieve what all art forms aspire at their heights, a subtext that inspires more questions than it answers.
“The second image with the Cabbage Patch Kids symbolizes youth. When we were kids, it was okay to put peanut butter all over our faces and clothes. It is okay to do silly things and it is okay to make mistakes. When all things fade (like the roses in the background), the childhood memories will stay fresh and sweet, never fading.”
“The third image with the papaya, avocado and oyster symbolizes traveling abroad. I miss the food from home. It’s that simple.”
In spite of her status as an award-winning photographer, Chen admits that she rejects any sense of status associated with this, in true artistic temperament. She feels that awards are a fallacy because, to her, art is about a personal story, Its viewing by others still makes her shy, while the very thought of it being judged holds no validity or purpose. Artists are sensitive and the most gifted of these are known to have a proclivity for being emotional; it’s what enables them to create their work. Natalie Chen is all of these but for those who appreciate her photos, it’s the exceptional work she displays which is the only thing needed to communicate her prominence among her peers.