Model, Actress and Stocksy Photographer Nabi Tang is a force and talented artist. We chatted about her origins in Thailand, sources of inspiration, and how being behind and in front of the camera changes her approach.
It’s inspiring to see that you create wonderful portraits regardless of whether you are working with other people or shooting yourself. What makes you decide to execute a concept as a self-portrait or a portrait with other people?
If I have one thing that inspired me. Either a place, model or just some idea popped in my head. I will look for the rest of the elements to complete that picture around that first thing that I got in mind. Or I just make a self portrait to express by using a timer or remote. Or I just explain to other people how to frame the composition. Then press the shutter as I move around where I set.
We’re curious to hear how your experience working with photographers and cinematographers as a model or when acting influences how you work with your talent when you are the photographer or cinematographer.
I am grateful to have both experience working in front and behind the camera. It helps me understand the process and limitations for each role.
When I work as a model I am quite patient. I want the crew to feel that I am present to create anything with them. I am blessed to have a chance to work with many photographers or cinematographer I admired. I learned a lot by observing them working.
From my experience as a model and actress makes me understand the models I work with. While some photographers may not be aware of the struggle models have to go through. Such as weather conditions, inappropriate outfits, location, physical pain, timing…etc. Sometimes the team was not mindful about safety or discomfort. Because most of the models didn’t complain. It’s their responsibility to speak up for themself if they feel not ok about something. But most models, especially inexperienced ones, will go quiet. Because they don’t want to bother the rest of the team that is ready to work.
About the video. It’s harder and takes a longer time to create. I have never been to any drama or film school. I basically remember how directors I used to work with directed me who was completely clueless. And then applied that when it’s my turn to direct my model. Also these past 5 years I have been working with Marko Milovanovic, a talented cinematographer. I have opportunities to see him work on film sets and afterwards. He helped me a lot with videos in my portfolio.
Going off of the question above — do you have any tips on how to get the most out of working with people in terms of making people feel comfortable and direct people to act or pose as you have in mind?
If you are not good at directing with words. You can just show them how you want them to pose or express themselves. Bring visual preferences to the shoot.
I always started with simple tasks. Let them relax on the scene while you test the camera. Then tell them where to fix their gaze on. Until they build up the confidence then move to something more complex you have in mind. If there are more people. You can guide them to interact with each other when they are more comfortable. Communicate with your models during the shoot. Be present to capture those moments.
Don’t have high expectations if you work with someone for the first time. And because models don’t see what they look like. It’s good to show them after a few tests. So they know what to improve. But if they don’t feel natural anyway. Just drop it. Do something else.
“Been everywhere for a while.” — after reading this in your Stocksy biography we’re wondering how having been exposed to, and a part of so many different cultures has influenced you as a person and as an artist.
I have a Chinese Buddhist family background and grew up in mixed religion influences in Bangkok. I lived in Koh Phangan and Bali for some years which were packed with travelers. It has made me wonder about experiencing different cultures and traveling to other continents since I was very young. To grow more spiritually.
I have pursued my dream of exploring the world. But I got fed up floating around. I wanna have cats and a good education base for my son. So I settled down in Serbia for many years.
Then this year I just moved back to root in Thailand again after years of looking for a place I could call home.
I don’t know how much all these influence my work as an artist. But as a person these experiences shaped me to be an open minded person and respect other people’s beliefs.
Though when I was a student. I was scared of being trapped in the system in Thailand and end up like everybody else. The fear drove me to constantly improve myself in order to get out of my home country. Because most of the artists were poor. Women don’t get much support at that time. And I chose this path.
There were not many Thai stock photographers back then. I wanted to create work that people can’t recognize if I am “a girl from Thailand.” I succeeded at some point when a community of stock photographers in Thailand found my account around 10 years ago. They were surprised that I have been here all along.
My style and attitude have changed a lot now.
I think since I joined Stocksy actually. Stocksy supports me to grow in the direction I always wanted to. I feel very well respected so I stop offending myself. Things changed a lot in me and still keep changing. People’s perspective toward female artists changed with time. Also I am not a girl anymore. I can make a living and raise a son on my own. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Not anymore bothered by people’s opinions.
We love seeing how you are comfortable exploring many different styles both in front and behind the camera. What would you say is the red line that runs through all your creations and ties them together, making them yours?
I am quite random but I think bright colors and framed composition can be recognized in my work. I like to add a little touch of different cultures and its beauty. But it depends on location and who my models are. Whenever I can I love to play with patterns especially flowers as well.
As visual artists, we have many different tools at our exposure to tell a story or convey emotions. What are some of your favorite elements or techniques to get your vision across?
I am not so good at conveying my emotions. What I did was to be present in the moment to capture it. Which is more of channeling something that isn’t mine.
Sometimes I have an intention to tell a story without words. I added meaningful elements in the frame that linked with memory or person. It may only make sense to someone that shares that experience with me. While other people may perceive it differently than what I want to communicate. It can be frustrating as I imagine something so beautifully but then I can’t express my feelings nearly as well. But it’s ok. One day I might get there.
Your child is one of our favorite models in your portfolio. It’s wonderful seeing them grow up and play such an active role in your work. Besides being a model do they help plan or execute ideas? If yes, do you have a favorite shoot you worked on together?
Any shoot that my son(who confirmed that he is a “he” even though he looks very fluid sometimes) can make some art was our favorite shoot. Because he can play while I take photos of him. But he is easily bored. So if I try to plan anything with him I must act very fast and make it very spontaneous.
He was my little assistant who followed me preparing props and meeting models. I let him use my camera whenever he wants to try. Some of my portraits in my portfolio were taken by him. I bought him a polaroid and analog film camera because many years ago he wanted to apply to be a Stocksy photographer and sell his polaroid collection book.
But the latest update is you may not see his new photos on Stocksy for years now. Because he is becoming a teenager. Growing up seeing his mom working as models makes him sick of the industry. He doesn’t want to be a model or put himself in front of a camera anymore even for me. So I’ll respect him.
And he lost interest in photography as well. Like other youth this generation. There are a lot of possibilities that distract them. This year we made tiktok for him to cook vegetarian food. It went well for 2 months before he completely ignored it. I just hope he will find what he really loves and can stick to it.
Even though he participates less in what I want to do. Still he likes to give suggestions and offers to help with color correction sometimes. Which I appreciate.
Looking at the year ahead, are you letting it all develop, or have you set your goals for the coming year?
When you asked me this question last year. I said “I don’t set any goals because where I wanna be it’s a bit far for now and not all up to me.” Because I don’t like to feel disappointed in myself. So I only set a few small easy goals that I can achieve for sure.
But this coming year I set a clear goal. I won’t let anything hold me back and I will find my way to get there.
If you could execute any creative idea – no budget or logistical limits – what would it be?
Many years ago I saw an artwork series by Jee Young Lee (https://www.instagram.com/jee_young_lee/) on the internet. She would spend months creating colorful surreal scenes in a studio room. Then create the new set after taking a photo in it. If the budget and time is unlimited I would like to create magical spaces for fashion photo series. And would get my cats to model with me.
Do you have any hidden talents besides creating your wonderful work?
There is a saying in Thai called “Know like a duck” that’s me. I don’t drown but I can’t breathe underwater. I have wings but I can’t fly.
I have basic random skills in the arts but I am not an expert of any. It’s more like hobbies or experiments. I always have a grid book with pencil in my bag. Mostly I use it to sketch floor plans for tropical houses, comic girls, and package design.
Last year I jumped to many courses. I got certified as a chakra healing and yoga nidra teacher. I got into bamboo tattooing. Do I work as a yoga teacher or as a tattoo artist yet? Nope, I am into tiktok and filming content now.
Are you “always on” or do you need your moments to disconnect to recharge?
I swing up and down a lot between 2 modes. I found out the definition of these symptoms in English called “cyclothymia”.
If you need to recharge, how do you normally recharge?
When I am on the island I am on my balcony all the time. Breathing salt air and watching the sunset. When I am in the city I just sneak out to a quiet cafe for a few hours. If I can’t even go anywhere. I will pretend that I am sleeping so no one bothers me. Daydreaming is good enough.
What is the one bit of creative advice you wish you knew from the start?
Don’t try to follow the mainstream style just to earn a living. It will slowly kill your soul and no money can heal it.
Creative blocks can happen to everybody, what works for you to get out of them?
I can’t always get out of that too. I’m still struggling with it sometimes. I learned to live with it and have in mind that all states are temporary. I swing between passion and languish every few weeks or even within a week.
If my brain is not too buzzy I will remind myself to not force myself to create anything I don’t feel like to.
Be patient until the inspiration comes back even though it could take months.
First of all, see if “I am exhausted or blocked” If I am exhausted I will rest and do nothing.
If I wanna do something but I have no idea. I will look for activities to do. Sign up for some classes. Call some friends out for a tea that is up for anything weirder.
Sometimes it’s just the environment that makes me feel trapped. So I get myself out in order to change the way I feel. Cutting off people who drain my energy is also a big help.
Just make sure to not chill to the point that I ignore the responsibility. And when the idea arises I must act very fast in order to keep it going.
Do you have a favorite piece of gear? And why?
50mm 1.4 lens. Because I can shoot in blue hour and it’s the first lens I bought for myself.
Do you have any advice for contributors just starting out at Stocksy?
Some people think arts don’t sell so they focus too much on mainstream style.
But Stocksy is not like other stock photo agencies.. Because our clients have very good taste.
They are looking for uniqueness that they cannot find elsewhere.
Create the style of work that you are passionate about. Don’t do anything that is not you.
I believe that people can feel the energy through the work you created whether they are aware of it or not.
My most popular image is the one that contains my most intensity in it.
But if you feel insecure because you plan to be fully financial depending on Stocksy. Then compromise yourself. Do some research.
Create what clients are looking for. Along with something unique that will stand out in the feed. To attract them to check out your portfolio.
Eventually they will purchase something in your portfolio that they can use for their project.
Make sure the model signs the model release before starting the shoot to avoid any problem later on.
Let’s create something that makes people forget that stock photos used to be cheesy.