Having a background in architectural design, Erik Cheng is interested in photographing visual and spatial relationship and aesthetics. Since 2015, Erik has dedicated more time and energy to photography as a creative output for his own pleasure, rather than just for work requirements, shifting his focus towards content and expression that are inspired by documentary, street and art photography.
In this article, Erik speaks about a recent project he undertook; documenting his time volunteering at a school in Tanzania…
One of my old high school friends married a man from Tanzania and now they both live in one of the poorest parts of Tanzania in the Karagwe Region. The couple’s wedding wish was a plot of land where they could start a school for the local community, and in 2010 I got involved in the construction plans because of my background in architectural design. By 2015 the school had been built which was a tremendous achievement, and in 2016, having never been to Tanzania before, I took the opportunity to visit my friends and volunteer at the school for three months; visually documenting the lives of the teachers and pupils along my journey. I wanted to capture the daily routines; the ups and downs and what education in a primary school in rural Tanzania is like. I knew it would be an adventure and a personal challenge but also a rare opportunity to really experience the culture and the people, as I was spending quite some time there.
The camera body I took with me was an easy choice at the time, as I only had a FUJIFILM X-T1, but I also took the XF14mmF2.8, XF35mmF1.4 and the XF56mmF1.2 lenses. I only use primes because, in my mind, they’re simpler to use. The lens’ image quality is really good at all apertures and they are so portable. The weather resistant properties of the X Series were also very welcome on my trip, as dust and rain was quite abundant in Tanzania. Having bought in to the X Series system because it had great intuitive ergonomics, I have come to love Fujifilm’s dedication to “old school” dials because it makes your photography very tangible and they serve as a great way of educating yourself while you are photographing.
For me, the essential thing to understand with photography is the exposure triangle. For anyone starting out in their photographic journey, I would recommend getting an in-depth understanding of how aperture, ISO and shutter speed are interconnected, what each of their properties are, and what the trade-offs are for prioritizing one over another. Getting to grips with the exposure triangle helps me to make informed decisions about how to capture what I want, have more attention to the creative and narrative qualities of photography, but there is no guarantee that I will always get what I aim for. This brings me on to a piece of somewhat counter-intuitive advice… Whenever I photograph and interact with people, places or events, I always make time for not photographing. Putting my camera in my bag just to spend time with people makes it so much more memorable for me. Experience has taught me that doing this will add authenticity and emotion to your photography because you got personal and shared your time and stories. Connecting with people without a camera as a mediator is important.