“I have found my new home in Newfoundland and my muse” – Ting Ting Chen shares her impressions

October 2023

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a St John’s-based fine art photographer. I specialize in both fine art landscape photography and fine art portrait photography. My landscape artworks reveal the rhythms and moods hidden in the natural sceneries, which are personified in my eyes as an artist. My fine art portrait photography explores the relations between people and their environment, life experiences, and identities. I make the portraits not only an artistic picture but also a periscope through which you can see into people’s personalities.
My photography works showcasing the beauty of Newfoundland have won multiple prestigious international photography awards, including Overall Winner in the 18th Julia Margaret Cameron Awards, 1st Place Winner in 9th Fine Art Photography Awards, shortlisted in the Royal Photographic Society’s International Photography Exhibit 164, 2021, International Photography Awards Silver Winner, etc. My works have been displayed in solo and joint exhibits in Spain, Germany, Paris, Budapest, Tokyo, and the US.
I left home and came to Newfoundland in 2018. I have found my new home in Newfoundland and my muse. Newfoundland is the inspiration for my photography. Robert Tilley, a 75-year-old true-and-born-Newfoundlander, is the first friend I made in Newfoundland, and became my best friend and eternal muse. Robert and I have travelled most parts of Newfoundland taking photos, and he appears in many of my photos as a model. My portraits of Robert are a unique demonstration of our precious friendship.

You first came to Newfoundland as a tourist. What did you know about the place before you arrived? Was it what you expected? When did you know you would call it home?
I first came to Newfoundland in October 2017 as a tourist and stayed here for one month. I didn’t know anything about this place before my arrival, but as soon as I saw this place, I was totally fascinated by her beautiful seascape. I grew up and lived in the inland China and I hardly had any chances to see the ocean before I came to Newfoundland. What I saw about this place was beyond my expectation and I soon fell in love with it. I made a few friends during my stay and Robert Tilley was one of them.
I returned to Newfoundland in the summer of 2018 as an international student of MUN. Robert and his family invited me to stay in their house in Brigus South from July to August, before my semester started. Robert and I travelled around the Avalon Peninsula during that summer, and that was the very beginning of our trip across Newfoundland. At that time, I already felt that I would call this place my new home.

Your relationship with Robert Tilley seems to take the muse/artist dynamic to a whole new level. How did that happen, and how has it evolved?
Robert and I first met in 2017 when I visited Newfoundland for the first time and through the past few years, he has become my best buddy. I choose Robert to be the model in my portrait and landscape photos not only because he is a very photogenic person, but also because he has this emotional bond with me as my best friend. This connection between the photographer (I) and the subject (Robert) adds an additional layer to my artworks. I want my audience to feel this emotional bond when they look at my photography works.

One striking aspect of your photography is its “painterliness” in palette, texture, and composition. Where does that come from? Do you work in other media? Does your folklore PhD play into your choices of subjects? (And what field is your first PhD in?)
I like paintings but I am not a painter myself. I always think paintings are eternal inspiration for photography. I like to absorb inspiration from masterful paintings created centuries ago, and from modern and contemporary art.  I do the retouching in my own way, which is more like doing a painting on a digital drawing board.
My first PhD is in Intangible Cultural Heritage, and now I am doing my folklore PhD. My education background allows me to pay more attention to create narratives through images, instead of just “taking pictures.”

What’s next for you?
I will still be here, creating my art. I want to develop a photo series under a good theme, and I want to continue my journey and be a more established and successful artist in the future.

Ting Ting Chen’s Impressions of Newfoundland is published by Breakwater Books ($39.95)

Author photo: Robert Tilley

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