Myron Fung | photo by Nina Solinas

The Unspoken Collaboration in Myron Fung’s Photographs by Daniel Makagon

Jul 26, 2022

Part of the Seeing the Scene Series

Myron Fung was quickly sold on the idea that DIY communities thrive when people strive to find ways to participate. For Myron, that participation came in the form of making and sharing photographs. He wanted to document the DIY scenes that energized him and to give back by helping people see themselves in the spaces where music was experienced. Most of the photographers interviewed in this series have primarily photographed punk culture, but Myron’s interests extend beyond punk to include forms of indie rock and underground dance music. His photos capture the energy of DIY shows, the fashion choices that link to people’s musical interests, and the spaces where DIY community is created and shared.

Techie Blood at Contraband Coffee, 2/1/2020 | photo by Myron Fung

Daniel: How did you got into alternative types of music?

Myron: I first discovered conventional pop rock when I was much younger, maybe sixth grade. Then I slowly gravitated from that to more alternative stuff. I’m really into the ’90s feel of everything, how scenes were recorded. I didn’t start going to local shows until my sister took me to a show. She worked at a café, and I think a lot of music people connected through cafés. It was an indie rock show in San Jose back in 2016. The really interesting thing that made me want to go to that specific show was that Clay Parton, who plays in Duster, had a separate side band called Two Boys Alright who were playing. I jumped at the opportunity to see that.

Basically, after that first show, my mind was blown. I used to see stuff like this in movies about music, but I didn’t know it was actually happening in my hometown. I guess the way I got started after that first show was just keeping up with people who I would run into at shows. I think a big part of the rite of passage for a lot of DIY stuff is showing up by yourself. Small talk with people at shows is really important because it can be hard to find people who want to do this kind of stuff with you. I stuck with it and kept going to shows, even it was by myself. Eventually, I found out that I could participate in this more thoroughly through photography. I’m not a musician, so photography was a way to be involved.

Daniel: When did you start making photographs?

Myron: Photography started first for me, before I got into DIY stuff. I went on a road trip with a good friend of mine for a week and that person was really into photography. They just let me borrow the camera and play around with it while we were camping out. That experience made me want to get a camera. The passion grew from there. I started with a film camera first because it looks cooler. I use a digital camera now; it’s more cost efficient.

Daniel: How long did you shoot film before you switched to digital? And how long after you went to that first show with your sister did you start shooting shows?

Myron: About a year and a half shooting film, just to learn the basics and to have fun with it. As soon as I started bringing a camera to shows regularly, it became unrealistic to shoot only film. I think the first show I really shot seriously was around May 2018. A big part of it was that DIY isn’t very good at advertising to outsiders. It’s not exclusive but it’s just not very good at advertising so I wanted to photograph and share those photos.

Wife at Noisebridge, 4/3/2022 | photo by Myron Fung

Daniel: I want us to talk about your most recent book in a moment and I know from that book that you shoot different types of underground music scenes. Were these first shows in 2018 primarily punk shows?

Myron: It was often multi-genre. I’m from San Jose and we have a booking collective called Kitty Castle. They usually do mixed bill shows, so I had not shot straight-up punk shows until later. The kind of shows that the collective would be booking when I started would be indie rock and then noise and then a punk band. It was pretty diverse, but we didn’t get too much of the people dressed in all black with studs type of stuff. But that’s kind of fun to do, too.

Daniel: Were you exclusively shooting in San Jose?

Myron: Initially, it was a bit more limited to San Jose just because I was more familiar with where things were happening. But as soon as that expanded, I was open about where to go. I was not picky at all. If I found out that there was a show, I would try to go. And that would maybe be two or three times a week.

Daniel: I don’t know if there are enough shows that would keep you busy most weeks. Do you even need to leave San Jose?

Myron: I think scenes come in waves. I got really lucky because from 2018 until the pandemic, if you wanted to go to two to three DIY shows a week, no official venues, you could do that in San Jose. I’ve heard from other people who were involved before me that San Jose wasn’t really like that before. At this time now, 2022, I don’t think it’s really come back to that volume. So, yeah, I could stay in San Jose a few years ago, but now less so. But I do enjoy going to other places, too.

I’m definitely seeing more shows in San Francisco. One of my fears when the pandemic started was, “Oh, when it is all over—whenever that is—and I go back to shows again, am I going to recognize anyone?” I still see some familiar faces, but I’m also seeing different people booking shows, and some are young. Maybe seventeen. I think they’re introducing a lot more options to the scene.

Wretched Self at 510 Fest, 4/9/2022 | photo by Myron Fung

Daniel: Shifting back to photography, what are you trying to document when you shoot a show?

Myron: The most important thing I try to incorporate isn’t necessarily the artists who are performing. I want to include the crowd interaction. Oftentimes I feel like people put a lot of focus on the artists, which is totally valid. But I feel like without the context of the audience in the background, it’s sort of like photographing a band practice. I’m also trying to take more portraits of people at shows because the interesting people who go to shows is another huge part of what piques my interest when it comes to DIY.

There’s kind of like a routine almost, gosh [said because the reflection seemed to surprise him that he follows a routine]. Before the band even starts, I try to go to the front because that’s going to be the hardest place to initially get into. I take a few shots there when the band starts. Afterward I try to go slightly behind stage if there is a stage. Or near the drummer if there is no stage at all. I get a few shots there. If there’s a stool or something, I actually try to set one up beforehand in the back of the room. Then, at the end, I can go to that stool to get a picture with the band playing and the crowd. I like taking pictures between the sets, too: People setting up or people just hanging out.

I guess at another level when thinking about the purpose of it all, for me, having a camera at a show and showing up by myself all the time, photography is an easy conversation starter. It’s a way to maybe deal with social anxiety. And when I share the photos with the bands and they get to see how I saw them, that makes me happy as well.

Daniel: Can you talk about your process when making portraits in general, but especially related to posed versus candid portraits?

Myron: Usually I’m taking photos of people in the overall, general scenery. Probably because it’s easier to do that. If I had more courage, [laughs] I would 100% like to stop and ask while talking to the person, get to know them.

Daniel: Of course, there are benefits to each approach. A candid photograph documents people in action. A posed photograph can be more artistic, but the person performs for the camera.

Untitled, 10/9/2021 | photo by Myron Fung

Myron: Yeah, that’s true; it’s a good point. And I feel like most of the portraits they’re not really happening at the punk shows; it’s happening more at raves. I think it’s because the fashion aspect is a much bigger deal for the rave community than other scenes. I mean, there is fashion in every scene, but I think the individuality of fashion is a big part of raves. So, it’s much easier to just approach people for a photo because I think they actually appreciate that I like their outfit.

Daniel: Are there other differences for you as a photographer when photographing underground dance music scenes versus DIY punk/indie rock scenes?

Myron: I think the underlying core principle of DIY is pretty strong in both scenes. There is usually higher energy at the punk shows, so I feel less disruptive when I use my flash. It’s just so loud and crazy that I don’t know if people notice the flash. Whereas, with the raves, I’m still using the flash but I’m more conservative with it. Raves might be in a darker room or a darker space if outdoors and the lighting in that room matters a lot. I use flash for all my photos, but I’m just a little bit more considerate about how frequently I use it at raves.

I wouldn’t say I go to too many raves but the ones I have gone to are usually in Oakland. Oakland has a big outdoor rave scene: usually in a forest or skate parks and stuff like that. This is minor, but I like including backgrounds, which is easier at an indoor show. I love weird settings. If a show is happening in a laundromat, I’m going to really want to focus on the laundromat as a setting. When you’re in a forest, the trees start looking the same. Especially at night. There’s less background, so everything that’s not the subject in the foreground becomes black. That’s another reason why I do more portraits at raves, the background isn’t as interesting.

Daniel: I pay attention to underground dance music a little bit, but not nearly to the same degree as punk. It seems like there are more photographers who shoot punk shows now compared with the past. Are raves saturated with photographers in your area?

They Wept at Vanalden Caves, 7/24/2021 | photo by Myron Fung

Myron: I haven’t gone to a rave outside of the Bay Area. Usually there are the same two or three people who go to the raves to photograph. I feel like there’s a much bigger expectation in the punk scene to share the photos immediately. Photographers provide documentation of the live shows. In my experience, photographers I’ve encountered at raves approach taking photos more like personal artwork. It’s not that they won’t share the photos, but it’s not like they’re really trying to get the work out there.

Raves are also nice because it’s not aggressive, I guess. You’re always free to move around and the music never stops. Although it’s really hard to have conversations with people. Then with the DJ, I usually wait until the next DJ goes on and I go up and take a few close-ups of them DJing. They’re usually pretty cool about it. Not every single person absolutely loved it, but what I’ve come to realize is that most artists like seeing pictures of themselves afterward. Beg for forgiveness. Don’t ask for permission. [laughs]

Daniel: That’s interesting. Going back to punk shows, there are obviously a lot of photographers shooting in the Bay Area. Do you need to fight for space? And does it seem like the photographers chat with each other about the work they do?

Rain at Cypress Lawn Cemetary, 3/1/2020 | photo by Myron Fung

Myron: I guess, yeah, the Bay Area is a little saturated. I think that’s nice. In San Jose there really weren’t many photographers for a while, so even I was tired of seeing my own stuff. [laughs] As I said earlier, having the camera is a nice conversation starter, so that applies to the other photographers as well. Whenever I see someone else with a camera at a show, I feel like I almost have a duty to just say hello. Am I usually talking about the photographs we’re doing? Not really. I think that most of the time the photographers who go to the shows already know of each other, at least through the internet. We don’t really need to talk about the photos. At least from my experience in the Bay Area, everyone has been courteous. I’m the kind of person where if I’m standing at a certain area, and I already got the shot, I’m going to move back so someone else has a chance.

Daniel: We talked already about your process when it comes to shooting a show, but let’s chat a bit about your process managing and editing the photos.

Myron: I’ll take a shot and then double check it really quick just to make sure it looks right. Moving forward, I won’t look again. That’s the nice thing about digital: I can take three hundred photos and other people only end up seeing ten of them. I have a lot of options and flexibility on that front.

When I get home, I usually transfer all the raw files and immediately pass through them. The ones with no chance whatsoever will get rejected. After going through that filtering process, I apply a preset in Lightroom to all of them. Then I look through again, to make sure nothing is super off. That initial filtering will usually filter down two-thirds of the photos. A hundred on a really good day, but usually much less. Let’s say there are fifty that I really like and then what I would do is I upload that whole thing as a folder onto Google Drive so anyone can access it. Then I select a few that I really like and represent the lineup of the night. I share those photos on Instagram. The Google Drive link is listed on my Instagram. You can get to the folder with full resolution of every photo.

Daniel: Basically, you’re using Google Drive in the same way that like Flickr used to function.

Myron: Yeah. I want people who want the photos to have access. I don’t treat this like a vault. I think photos are meant to be seen. If people want to see the images, they can access the folder

Daniel: Beyond social media, how do you like to share your work?

Show! Two flyer

Myron: I’ve had a few opportunities to participate in group art shows. I actually did one recently at JOY Gallery.

Daniel: I saw posts about that show; it looked great. And there were a lot of participants who have been interviewed for this column: Karoline Collins, Rob Coons, Senny Mau, and Mark Murrmann.

Myron: It was really fun. I got to meet a bunch of other people who I’d heard of but never got the opportunity to say hello. Also, once in a while I get requests from other people who want to use my photos for a zine or want talk to me for another medium. I’ve also published two books and I made a few zines before the pandemic: all photos because I’m not that great of a writer. [laughs]

Daniel: I have your second book, Everything Is Fine. Can you talk about the production process and the choices you made about the photos?

Myron: One day in March (2022) I got really sentimental about shows, how long I haven’t been going to shows regularly because of the pandemic. I went to a show and talked to this person who has been really supportive of me, and that conversation inspired me to document everything I’ve done since the pandemic. The photos in the book were all taken after things opened up again. I organized the book mostly in chronological order, so it wasn’t really curated. Basically, it’s an archive of a photo dump.

Daniel: Using a chronological approach means the sequencing of images was out of your hands to some degree. But within each show or rave, you were faced with sequencing choices.

Myron: The thought process was not really that complicated. If I did a vertical photo somewhere, maybe the next one would be two horizontal photos. Applying that vague decision making with a strict chronological order helped. I laid out the whole thing in one day. I downloaded a free trial of InDesign, so it was a rushed job. But I also didn’t really want to think about it too much, to get stuck. I’ve never looked at my photography as art. I kind of hope the photography is viewed more like journalism. I guess I apply that outlook when I do stuff on Instagram. I try to post the photos an hour or two after I go to the show. That immediacy is important to me. I want to be a scene reporter or something.

Daniel: That absolutely makes sense. Then, another interesting part of this book release is that you listed it as pay what you want. What inspired that decision and did the process work well?

Myron: It balanced out. The motivation for that is I didn’t want access to resources to be a barrier for someone who wants to see my work. From my experience with the whole pay what you want model, I think people have a lot of respect and wouldn’t just take advantage of it. Some people offered to pay zero dollars for it, and that was totally cool. I don’t think it was easy for someone to say, “Hey, I can’t afford to pay for this.” So, I don’t think it’s out of mal-intent that they made that request. And from my experience… My first book was $18 each, whereas this one is pay what you want, and I think, on average, out of every single order, the price was higher for this one.

I wasn’t very confident in how it was going to do, so I planned to make an initial run of thirty copies. But I didn’t want people to think that this was going to be limited to only thirty copies. I left the order posted on an Instagram story for another forty-eight hours, so people could submit their orders. Then I ended up submitting all the orders that I got during those forty-eight hours. If there’s enough demand, I might make another order. The only problem is that if it’s only a few orders then it’s going to be tough. When you make a lot at once, it’s a lot more affordable for everyone. That’s a challenge I don’t know really know how to overcome, but I guess if there is a lot of demand, I will make more.

One of my friends is really into independent printing and told me about really, really high-quality print options. But that is not at a price point that is accessible for everyone. This company I used is online (Mixam.com) and they were able to do the book with something like two-hundred pages to me for like $7 to $8 per book. The quality of the printing is reasonable. Can it be better? Yes. But I think for how much they’re charging, that allowed me to avoid a set price to the book and do pay what you want.

Lucky | photo by Myron Fung

Daniel: What inspired the title, Everything Is Fine, and the cover photograph?

Myron: Everything with the book was extremely spontaneous. I first chose that photo I used for the cover because I felt that photo represented a lot of the sentiments I was feeling during the pandemic. I was just holding on to the past and pretending everything will go back to the way it was, which is not true. The title, I guess it’s a thing I was repeating to myself a lot during this time period. In some way, putting out this book was a way for me to move on from that negative time for me.

Daniel: What is the general timeframe for you in terms of publishing something, whether that be a zine or a book?

Myron: The zines were shorter projects. Each of those, I went to a show, and it was so cool. I decided to make a zine about just that one show. The decision-making was completely spontaneous. In terms of a book, once I feel like I have a body of work since the last book, then I do it. I think two years is a reasonable timeframe for me. It also really depends on how much I can keep up with going to shows.

Daniel: Did you use the same title for your zines or did you use different names?

Rave Story at Minga's house, 1/24/2020 | photo by Myron Fung

Myron: It was the event name and then the date. It was kind of untitled. I went to a rave that was called Rave Stories and then I just used that as the title, January 24, 2020. Just from one night.

Daniel: Do you have other interests when it comes to photography?

Myron: Honestly, I usually don’t bring a camera outside of the music environment too much anymore.

Daniel: Really?

Myron: The photography aspect is an extension of how I participate in DIY. Photography is a good second hobby that supports a primary hobby. Photography is a format to support the real passion, which for me is music. At the raves, I would say that I’m probably just hanging out eighty percent of the time and then maybe twenty percent of the time I’m scouting out people to shoot. Then the DIY shows, once I’ve done the whole routine I talked about earlier (close angle, behind the drums, far angle) then I’ll just enjoy the show. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the show when I’m taking photos, but it’s like, “Oh, I can get in the pit now.” That kind of thing.

Daniel: How would you say your photography has developed over the years when it comes to both the practice of photography and then the actual photos?

Myron: It’s not like anything has really changed, but I have more focus now. All the photos I’m taking now, I feel like I was probably taking even back in the beginning. But at that time, I would be a lot less selective about what I shared. Now I’m a little bit more consistent. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, because now I’m so comfortable with this specific look that I haven’t really explored anything else. At the same time, maybe that’s kind of nice because I don’t want the photos to be about my artistic characteristic. The focus should be on the people in the photos. I have only used a single camera since I started taking photos. I guess I can say that using this camera so often, the camera is an extension of my body at this point. I used to have to look at the preview to know what I’m seeing. It’s a lot more natural for me now. I don’t have to do that now. Another thing, which is kind of good and bad, is that I think a lot more people became aware of what I do when I’m at the shows. It’s much easier to get people to be comfortable with what I’m doing. At the same time, sometimes it can feel a little bit more unnatural. When they start noticing I’m taking a photo, they’re trying to wait for me to take the photo.

Drain at RBS, 6/19/2021 | photo by Myron Fung

Daniel: It’s interesting because one common point among photographers I have interviewed is that they think their photographs are more engaging when they learn the rhythm of a band—when jumps will happen, when a singer will hold the mic out so the crowd can sing. But you’re describing something in reverse, band members and people at shows are timing the rhythm of your photographs to help make an interesting photograph.

Myron: I think that happens with different people. When they see a camera, they might be a little bit more dramatic with how they’re screaming into the mic. Some part of it is maybe they want to be in a good photo, but some part might be that they want to help me get a photo. Photography is a little bit of an unspoken collaborative effort. We’re not going to talk about that moment, but they know it and I know it.

https://www.instagram.com/fungipower/

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