Photographer Sean Maung walks the streets of his native Los Angeles, camera in hand, eye on the scene, capturing a captivating collection of personalities that populate the city’s streets. Since 2010 he has been putting out a series of zines that are equal parts gritty and lush, with titles including Put That on Something, Fascinations, and Peep Show. Maung reveals, “I have always thought of zines like mixtapes. I have complete control of what I produce and show, and that’s empowering.” Maung has just released G-Body, his tenth zine. He speaks with Crave about his work.
When did you begin taking photos, and what inspired you to become a photographer?
Sean Maung: I started taking photos in 2005. I have always been inspired by people and places. I have spent a lot of time working for community based organizations and that has connected to me many different walks of life. Photography is another way to connect with people from all types of backgrounds.
Are all the photos in G-Body taken in Los Angeles? If so I’d love to get your thoughts on the city. What is your LA?
The majority of the photos are from LA. There are like five photos from other places, but the rest are LA. As for LA, and what the city is to me: I grew up in an area that some identify as mid city and others say is the Westside. The city to me is about the cross pollination of race/ethnicity/sub-cultures/class that has created and inspired how I take photos and make art. So when I shoot in LA, it’s a product of my upbringing and experiences, and a product of being aware of the overall pulse of the city and the cultural dynamics of the city.
There are certain spots In LA over the years that I have preferred to shoot. I have spent a lot of time in downtown, on Broadway and Los Angeles Street in particular, in between 3rd to like 8th Streets. I have also spent a lot of time in Macarthur Park. Sometimes I just ride my bike and roam around or get a day pass on the train and bus and get off at random stops and shoot.
Please talk more about the appeal of Downtown LA. What’s the scene like?
I’m attracted to downtown for its density and intersections of people from all over LA that make it down there. When I first started shooting down there, it was always an adventure; I didn’t know what to expect because there were a lot of intense people down there mixed in with immigrant families. There is Broadway, which has all the old school theaters mixed in with botanicas, taquerias, jewelry stores, cheap electronic stores and people with microphones trying to hustle you into there business.
Los Angeles Street is the border; first you have the toy district, and Mexican and Central American Mom & Pop shops selling almost everything. A couple blocks East, you have Skid Row, where it’s legal to sell and use drugs. I don’t know of a more intense environment in this country.
You have a great mix of street photography and portrait work. What do you like about these genres, and how does each of them allow you to learn something deeper about your subject?
In my head, I consider them the same thing. Most of my pictures are random and spontaneous from my interactions on the street. I prefer to do portraiture, because the main reason I take pictures is for the interaction. I know some people consider street photography that straight up, in the moment, candid shot but to me that will limit how far you will go with the subject you are shooting. Because I make an effort to communicate with the subject, there are chances to get a lot deeper and be able to explore more personal worlds with the subject in comparison to that candid shot with no interaction.
What is your goal for publishing the zines: what would you like your work to achieve ?
My goal has been to get my work out to people in an alternative way. I know photography as a medium is huge on the Internet, but I love the impact of photos through actual printed matter. I hope people can see my work and see a perspective on everyday, particularly working class urban life that doesn’t really get depicted in the media. I also hope my zines will inspire people to imagine and shoot and get out and make meaningful connections with people from all walks of life.
All photos © Sean Maung.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.