The Luupe speaks with photographer Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet aka Poupay about her passion for turning the ordinary into something astoundingly surreal.
Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet makes us look at the world in an entirely new way. Discarded masks are living, breathing, even glowing reminders of the strangeness of everyday life. Piles of trash shimmer and shine. A fire extinguisher in a floral-wallpapered hair salon becomes an object of delight. A bottle of sanitizer – magically psychedelic.
This intuitive and unexpected gaze on the mundane has landed her dream editorial commissions, frequently shooting stories for The New York Times, New York Magazine, and Wired.
While much of her work deals a quick visual punch, her approach is malleable and sensitive, allowing her to cover urgent events such as protests against anti-Asian hate with a thoughtful lens.
The Luupe: You have a unique, very specific style that incorporates classic street photography with a contemporary punch, a sense of urgency, and straight-up fun. How do you see your style developing/ shifting over the past few years?
Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet: I think I developed my style based on my experience. In the beginning, I was taught to make one-liner punch photos. I was told that complex composition or technique will make good photography. I stuck with that for a year until I came to New York City to study at the International Center of Photography (ICP). Then I realized there is no one way to make good photographs. I started digging into my archive and figured out I love shooting ordinary details. For my style of using flash and vivid color, I guess it’s because I want to use street photography to make fun of the commercial photography world.
The Luupe: On a similar note, one of our favorite things about your work is how you elevate the ordinary – from discarded surgical masks to even a bottle of hand sanitizer…What draws you to this subject matter?
Pinyodoonyachet: I consider myself a wallflower. I love to observe things quietly so I usually see things that people don’t really notice. But I do believe in that ordinary thing is special in itself. So I think that perspective shows in my photos. Your work shows your attitude.
The Luupe: Building on that, one thing that’s moving us/ fascinating us is your ability, while maintaining a clear vision/ aesthetic, to tackle such a range of subject matter with the right sensitivity. While your work is often hilarious, and ironic, other work – like your recent coverage of the anti-Asian-hate demonstrations – is sincere, and sensitive.
Pinyodoonyachet: It depends on what assignment it is. My personal work might be quirky but with the protest coverage, I couldn’t shoot it that way. As an Asian person, I’m very sensitive about the situation. So I make the work that is honest to myself.
The Luupe: You got your start interning at Magnum. Do you think this influenced how you make work/ your longer-term professional career?
Pinyodoonyachet: I was an intern for the archive department at Magnum. One of the lessons there is that you got a chance to see their amazing archive. Then I realized photo editing is very essential in making the work. The project can get stronger with good editing. I think seeing the Magnum archive influences my editing process. I may shoot a lot while I’m working on a project. But when it comes to editing, I always work hard on my photos.
The Luupe: When did you first realize that you wanted to dedicate your life/ career to photography?
Pinyodoonyachet: For now, I couldn’t do anything else better than photography. Previously, I worked for an advertising production house as an assistant director for a few months and I hated it. I worked in the post-production industry as a video editor for a few years until I realized I didn’t want to stare at the screen for 10 hours a day anymore. I worked on a film set and I couldn’t stay awake for 24 hours without hating myself. So photography is the only thing I can do for a living and still enjoy it now.
The Luupe: What was your first commissioned job and how did it come about?
Pinyodoonyachet: My first commissioned job came from my best friend at ICP. She is a photo editor for Money Magazine. The photoshoot was about how parents and their adult kids are living together again during the pandemic.
My biggest difficulty on this first assignment was that I don’t really know how to direct people – I usually do my best when being a fly on the wall. So when the family asked me “What do you want us to do?” I was so terrified. The shoot went well in the end. Now I think I’m a lot better at telling people what to do without being too staged. I always learn new things with each assignment.
The Luupe: What/ who is inspiring you these days?
Pinyodoonyachet: Martin Parr will always inspire me. For my photographic practice, I would say my girlfriend is the one who influences me a lot in my work. She loves art so she helps me to develop my work by just looking at them and telling me what she thinks honestly. She loves to look at my photos and I love to read her writing. Then we share our thoughts together.
The Luupe: Do you have a favorite photo you made in the past year? Tell us the story behind it.
Pinyodoonyachet: I think my favorite photo is the trash pile during the Lunar New Year event at Chinatown in 2020. I was going to the event mainly to shoot people but then I saw that trash pile and couldn’t stop shooting it. I think I shot it by instinct. With flash, the photo looks like an advertisement. I love that controversy.
The Luupe: Do you have a dream assignment?
Pinyodoonyachet: Shooting editorial work is my dream job and I’ve accomplished it now. So I don’t really have any more goals besides getting better at what I do. Every opportunity I get is a bonus in my life. I really enjoy where I’m at right now.