TRAVIS YOUNG was raised in Garden City, KS as a first generation American from his two Vietnamese immigrant parents. His work, and approach to photography, shows a balance between eastern and western based cultures. Travis’s creative eye, wealth of knowledge and positive attitude have earned him clients ranging from large commercial agencies, design studios, the automotive industry and various sports clients like the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas Jayhawks.
YOU GREW UP IN GARDEN CITY, KANSAS AND OFTEN FEATURE THE CITY IN YOUR WORK. HOW HAS THAT COMMUNITY INFLUENCED YOU?
I didn’t realize how important Garden City, KS was going to be to me, let alone, to my work, until after I left the town for college. Garden City is a minority-majority town. It’s known to be one of the most diverse places in Kansas opening its homes to all kinds of cultures.
When I left for college, for the first time in my life I realized I was a minority. I knew I was a minority, I just never really had a moment to sit myself down and figure out what that actually meant to me and the rest of the world, especially here in America. After I realized this, every time I went back home to Garden I felt like I needed to photograph it. Figure out who I was as a minority in America and what that meant, if anything at all. I wanted to observe and analyze what brought my family to Garden City and document my findings in the town that cultured this rare existence in Kansas.
I tried to figure out, journal and translate bits and pieces of my hometown with my camera to figure out who I am and where I had come from. That town shaped me into who I am as a proud minority who was fortunate enough to grab a piece of that American pie, get an education, get cultured in things as stereotypical as piano and just participate in all of these amazing things my parents probably would’ve never even dreamt about when they were growing up in their country.
YOUR PARENTS ARE FROM VIETNAM AND YOU’RE THE FIRST GENERATION OF YOUR FAMILY TO GROW UP IN THE UNITED STATES. HOW DOES THE MIX OF EASTERN AND WESTERN CULTURES INFLUENCE YOU?
With my Kung Fu Movie Stills project, I was photographing the struggles within my identities. Figuring out who I was, who I wasn’t, what I’m thought to be and not just me but also my parents and culture as a whole. It was through this project that I realized the weight of the fact that I was the first person in my family born on American soil. I was the first American by birth in my family and I realized that it wasn’t as simple as one culture trying to wash away the other or picking a winning side. I realized that both could coexist in a new hybrid. My parents are Vietnamese. I was born American. But being the first American in the family didn’t mean I wasn’t Vietnamese. I was the start of something very new, a Vietnamese-American.
YOU'VE WORKED WITH KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AND THE NCAA. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES OR DIFFICULTIES WHEN CAPTURING SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY?
The most obvious advantage is hands down attending and seeing these sports events at their very closest and intimate outside of actually being a player. I hear refs. I hear coaches. I hear the trash talk of the players. I know nine times out of ten which way the play will swing when the play under review because I was close enough to see and photograph it. It’s a crazy experience that I’ll never get as a spectator—the crowd, the players, the ambience. It’s getting the best view, free of charge, with free food in between. Can’t beat it, I’ve been spoiled traveling around shooting KU basketball, seeing stadiums, states, and towns I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. With all-access credentials for the Chiefs, I’ve seen every nook and cranny, every box seat from the very top to the downstairs locker rooms and training grounds. I get to see things I would never see otherwise and it’s always fun to get texts from the friends saying that they see me making a stupid face on ESPN.
WAS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU KNEW YOU WANTED TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER?
My dad liked to photograph weddings and events from time to time and he took this fancy Canon film camera every time we went somewhere. I took a huge interest in photography because of him but it wasn’t until I was two years deep into pre-med at KU I knew I would rather have a camera in my hand. I was getting A’s and B’s, riding on a huge academic scholarship and I couldn’t have hated what I was studying more. So I jumped ship, traded that fat paycheck for a life of creative satisfaction and a sense of doing what I love most and never looked back.
“I JUMPED SHIP, TRADED THAT FAT PAYCHECK FOR
A LIFE OF CREATIVE
SATISFACTION AND A
SENSE OF DOING WHAT
I LOVED MOST.”
HOW HAS KANSAS CITY INSPIRED YOU?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such awesome local initiative when it comes to supporting local anything until I got to Kansas City. People here seem to really pride themselves on supporting local Kansas City culture—food, art, fashion, the list goes on and on. But the reason people love supporting local is because there’s so much going on here locally with creative minds and services. It’s hard to go to any chain because there’s quality work being pushed out by local hearts. There are so many insanely talented people here making good work that it’s hard not to get inspired.
SINCE YOU’VE PHOTOGRAPHED BOTH KANSAS CITY CHIEFS GAMES AND KU BASKETBALL GAMES, WE IMAGINE YOU’VE GOT A FEW STORIES. CAN YOU SHARE A COUPLE?
When I was photographing KU basketball Travis Releford was on the team. There would be so many times that Head Coach Bill Self would scream, “TRAVIS, WHAT THE HELL” or “TRAVIS, QUIT BEING A PUSSY” and damn, for a few seconds sitting on that court photographing, my head went straight to, “Oh, shit, what did I do?!” Then I would realize he’s not talking to me at all. Pretty lame story but my short life photographing KU Basketball was uneventful outside of dodging loose balls.
One Chiefs game I really remember was when the Chiefs broke the world record for loudest open-air stadium. It was Chiefs vs Raiders and all I remember was being on the field not being to hear a damn thing. A fellow photographer at one point of the game was trying to get my attention and started screaming at me and I didn’t even notice. He grabbed me and blurted something about inch away my ear as loud as he could I couldn’t make out a single word. Since the field of Arrowhead is actually underground everything echoed more than it should and life on the floor that day left a ringing in my ear for days. I’ll never forget that insanity.
CURRENTLY, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF EQUIPMENT YOU WORK WITH?
The only thing in my bag is my Nikon D700 and it will generally always have either a 50mm f/1.4 or my 28mm f/1.8. The Nikon D700 body came out in like 2008 and I’ve had my 50mm since high school. I like to work with what is comfortable and what I already have. It’s a simple setup. When things get too complicated and fancy you can get wrapped up in the hype and possibly start measuring your self worth by how much money you tossed at a stupid piece of technology. Sometimes we forget that we are born into our eyes and we shape our vision and taste with time and passion, not money and technology. Less isn’t always more, but it forces you to really think and to really create rather than to rely on the “new best thing.”
WHAT’S THE LATEST HOBBY YOU’VE PICKED UP?
I recently got into fixed-gear bikes. That might sound ultra hip of me but I think it’s one of the greatest things ever. I got into bikes in a strange way though. I really modding out cars—changing looks, performance, wheels, and paint. However, cars and their counterparts get fairly expensive. Then I was introduced to fixed gear bikes. Everything is customizable, parts are cheap and plenty and you get to cruise around in this thing you just put your heart and soul into with the build. Going fixed was like owning a stick shift car to me. I have ultimate control and the relationship between myself, my bike and the road in front of me are a lot more in tune with each other.
WHAT NEW MUSIC CAN’T YOU STOP LISTENING TO?
IT’S Not really new, but right now I can’t stop listening to Bishop Nehru. He’s this hip-hop artist with an insanely crazy perspective on life especially at a young age. There’s a song he wrote when he was 16 or 17-years-old called Misruled Order, where he talks about his personal life, being a young kid in a rough neighborhood, trying to stay alive. By the time this kid hit 18 years old he had caught the attention of MF DOOM and they ended up collaborating to make a mixtape, NehruvianDOOM. Mad talented, no doubt, can’t sleep on this guy.
WHAT IS IN YOUR NETFLIX QUEUE THAT YOU CAN’T WAIT TO WATCH?
I have a few movies that I have lined up but I’m not 100% sure if they’re on Netflix or not. One is called I am Santa Claus. It’s a documentary about these dudes that are fully committed working as Santa Claus—actual beard and all. The documentary follows a few guys around for a full year to figure what their lives are like outside of the Christmas season. It’s just one of those things I never really thought about, so I can’t wait to be enlightened to what Santa does in the warmer seasons.
“THERE ARE SO MANY INSANELY TALENTED PEOPLE HERE MAKING GOOD WORK IT’S HARD NOT TO GET INSPIRED.”
UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY, WHAT IS ONE LOCAL RESTAURANT, STORE, OR SPACE YOU LOVE?
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT is Vietnam Café. It makes me miss the food my mom cooks and it’s sure as hell the next best thing.
I love the 888 International market. The first time I went there I knew I had found a slice of Asian heaven in Kansas City.
The Bonfire space is definitely my favorite space. It’s this cool collaborative studio space shared by The Waldron Photography Co., Prairie Goods (leather), Ocean & Sea (clothing), Survival Letterpress, and KC Lamp Co. From time to time they’ll hold little concerts and pop-ups and it’s always a good time. An extraordinary collaborative experience in their space and I have nothing more than respect for creative folk who would rather make awesome shit instead of sanctioning themselves off in elite mentality.