Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: Pretty as a Picture: Photographs by KEN SHUNG on view at The New York Public Library Tompkins Square Gallery through March 31

Photographer Ken Shung at the opening night reception for his solo exhibition Pretty as a Picture, at The New York Public Library Tompkins Square Gallery in New York, on March 9, 2011. Photo by Lia Chang

Photographer Ken Shung at the opening night reception for his solo exhibition Pretty as a Picture, at The New York Public Library Tompkins Square Gallery in New York, on March 9, 2011. Photo by Lia Chang

On Wednesday, March 9, the Tompkins Square New York Public Library Gallery was filled to capacity for Pretty as a Picture, photographer Ken Shung’s debut New York exhibition of photographs. With Neal Grover tinkling the ivories, more than 100 friends, colleagues and family members came out to celebrate him and the exhibition, a collection of large and medium scale prints of his recent Portrait / Landscapes, on view through March 31, 2011.

I’ve long been a fan of Ken’s, who began his career spotting prints in the studio of Irving Penn and freelancing in the studios of editorial photographers Annie Liebovitz, Bill King, Bob Richardson, and assorted magazine photographers. Although he was trained in the workings of studio lighting and editorial magazine photography, Ken set out to discover his own style without the limits of the formal studio, producing work with the intention and idea that “The World is my Studio.”

He has worked for countless magazines shooting portrait assignments, alongside commercial lingerie campaigns starting with magazines like “7 days” to New York Magazine, New York Times Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair, and a host of Time Inc. and Hearst Publications.

The party continued a few doors down in the heated garden room of the Italian restaurant Gnocco, where we noshed on their signature appetizer Gnocco, a homemade deep fried dough, served with Northern Italian cold cuts, Maccheroni al Torchio Integrali con Prosciutto di Parma e Rucola, Gnocchi pomodoro with basil, wafer thin pizzas-Margherita, Tartufata (Truffle Sauce) and Parmigiana with eggplant.

Ken sipped a glass of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo as he chatted up his guests. I snagged him for a moment to talk about the inspiration for the photographs he chose for the exhibition which he created during assignments and personal travels. His latest work exemplifies a new direction and change from his formal portraiture, where he has instead incorporated decisive moments and storytelling in the landscape /portraits genre.

Ken’s monumental images embody the idea of the Pretty Picture, capturing disjunction, viewing our social spaces with wonder and tenderness and a magical decisive moment. In a typical Shung image, something ominous, apocalyptic, paradoxical, pictorial, and timeless has happened.

“It is said that a photographer/ artist is always searching to find his or her own vision and voice, otherwise they just ends up making a bunch of Pretty Pictures. With this collection of recent images I explore the nature of ‘When is a photograph just a Pretty Picture?’” he shared.

Ken considers his landscapes and portraits graphic, simple, psychological, introverted, and uncomfortably romantic, as well as very challenging conception-wise and academically well-conceived. Unsolved emotions and bold slices of life are part of the pleasures and smiles that are felt when you look at the “Pretty Pictures.”

Pretty as a Picture : Photographs by KEN SHUNG
Through March 31, 2011
The New York Public Library Tompkins Square Gallery
31 East 10th St., NYC 10009 212-228-4747
Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon until 5 p.m. Email Ken at, to schedule an appointment after hours.
Click here to see the photographs in the exhibition.

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All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2011 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden.

Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are now in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.

Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre,, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle,,,,,, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:

A night out with Gordana Rashovich, Flora Goforth in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
André De Shields Set for World Premiere of Charles Smith’s The Gospel According to James at Indiana Rep, 3/22-4/10
Photos: A.B. Cruz III and Lillian Kimura Receive 2011 AALDEF Justice in Action Awards
Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder, Lia Chang in Art & Healing Exhibit at Snug Harbor on SI
Juicy Buns at Ollie’s
The Dish on Susur Lee and Shang
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

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