I found Yan's work originally through another (super) favorite, Tara Whitney. I've never met her in person, but there are some photographers who you know you'd love just based on the amount of connection and honesty that shows up in their photos. I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did. And scroll to the bottom for info on her incredible workshops! I am kind of dying to try to make it to the Kuala Lumpur one. - xo Maile
Have you ever felt burned out? If so, what do you do to get re-inspired?
On the regular! Two years ago i tried to get a semi "real job," to glide away from this business but then i got fired, so i had to re-dedicate. True story! Getting re-inspired for me requires constantly reminding myself to not take things too seriously. To re-calibrate with my heart and with hustle and seek out opportunities where i don't know quite what the hell I'm doing (in other words keep myself vulnerable) in order to keep myself motivated and challenged. Often stepping way way way back from people and the industry as a whole is the best way for me to do this. I dive into books and movies and music and fresh air and everything not photo related to remember who I am.
What's a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me is routine-less, ha! Sometimes i wish it wasn't but i am what i am. It's me listening to my rhythms and trying to honor my soul/body/spirit needs as they come--- while at the same time knowing i need to balance that rhythm with the harmonies of those around and dependent on me; my children, my clients, my loved ones. The things i try to MAKE sure i do are get out side into light or nature for at least a few minutes, look into my kids eyes for at least an extended few minutes per kid per day, move my body around enough to tire it out and feel like I'm exercising, read a little bit of something, check my phone more times than I'm proud of, laugh at myself or something my kids do, fall asleep for a few minutes when i really shouldn't, eat at least one thing i really find delicious, annoy other people on the road with my bad driving as i take my kids around, check out a podcast or a person i'm trying to figure out, ask my assistant lisa to save me in one way or another, sing a song and read a book to put the kids in bed, watch something purely for entertainment value on my computer, tell the man i love i love him, or show it to him, wink wink, and go to bed. it looks a little different every time. the song is always changing, but the melody is familiar (CHEESY!). a typical day does not include housework, laundry or cooking, and consequently feeling organized in any way shape or form.
Something you're still learning?
Everything! how to be sincere while honoring the constant change and complexity of self. how to let others do the same. how to love throughout.
Favorite piece of gear? My eyeballs.
"I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by it's power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know - unless it be to share our laughter. We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love. For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves." - James Kavanaugh
ohhhhh it changes according to season, and year, and who i'm with! i think portland was the first city i ever felt both in awe of and at home in.
Your work is so real, can you give us a few tips for how you capture such real moments of connection between people?
I love them. i let them see me first. all my own vulnerabilities, without putting on any airs. I give them ways to love and interact with each other so they know what to do with themselves without compromising the authenticity of their emotions, then make sure i am positioned ready to anticipate the perfect fall apart of the moment. I include as much motion as possible, from small to large gestures.
You've built a great business photographing families all over the world. For others looking to expand their client base geographically, do you have any advice?
So much advice. Be hopeful but careful. Suss out where the demand for your actual work may be before hand - establish a no refund policy, collect up front and make sure you are charging enough, to cover costs and make a profit. Bring someone in who can help plan and shape itineraries and do the stuff you'll be too busy to do. Anticipate loneliness, loveliness and surprises, be adaptable to all three.
What is one of your favorite photographs, and the story behind it.
I haven't taken it yet. ;) but i'll share one i like? Its an older photo. but will always be special because this was a breakthrough moment for me. i felt so flustered as i was taking it. None of my "tricks," were working. the kids were wiggling away, i wasn't sure of my settings since i was new to shooting film---then as soon as i got this photo I realized how little of that mattered. I saw in it the part of the story that I am currently living. That even though the kids aren't doing quite what mama wants or needs or is predictable, she is present, she is connected to them, she isn't forcing anything, but she is strong and beautiful just by being there.
Best 3 tips for someone starting out?
1. Don't trust anyone who claims to have the answers. 2. But at the same time realize you can learn something from EVERYONE if you stay humble enough to ask questions. 3. There are no rules. Make is up as you go along according to your own strengths and weaknesses because I promise that's what all the greats at every level have done.
You have several upcoming photography workshops scheduled around the world this year. Can you tell us a bit about them, and what sorts of topics you cover etc.?
Gosh - that's a loaded question! To name a few: connection, finding the light, searching for your voice, finding a way to shoot the way you want and not the way others expect you to. No two workshops are alike because honestly it's the students that help guide where the content goes and I have the honor of guiding them along that journey.
But I think a comment from a past student sums up what I want my students to take away from their time with me.
"I serendipitously discovered Yan long before we met, at exactly the right time in my life. I was in the darkest place I'd ever been, in the middle of a divorce, when a friend sent me a link to her blog. She had just written a long post about her own divorce, and about a project she was doing to help her heal. Her words and images were so honest and vulnerable, filled with pain but also hope. I felt instantly connected to her. Fast forward a year, when I saw that she was starting to teach workshops. I had been thinking about photographing families in addition to my wedding work, but I was hesitant. I wanted my sessions to be completely different from the norm and true to myself, but I wasn’t sure where to start. The funny thing is that our work couldn’t be more opposite. My aesthetic, mood, style, even my approach to shooting is totally unlike hers, but that was the beauty of the way she teaches. It didn’t really matter. She took the time to understand me and the trajectory of my journey. She helped me to trust my instinct and inner voice, and she pushed me in ways I needed to be pushed. My experience that day was deeply profound on many levels. Yan pours her big beautiful heart and soul into her workshops, and her gift for teaching is truly unique." - Rachelle D.