Sean Maung set up a photo studio to document its most captivating characters – from Vince Staples to the city’s hustlers, sex workers, and skaters
Los Angeles native and photographer Sean Maung is releasing his eleventh zine, All Knowing, a love letter to the people of his hometown. From block parties in Venice to alleys on Skid Row and Paisa bars in East Hollywood, Maung celebrates the skaters, sex workers, gangsters, hippies, and working class folks that give the city its flavor.
For All Knowing, Maung set up a makeshift photo studio on the corners of major intersections at Crenshaw & Slauson, Normandy & Beverly, and Santa Monica & Western. He invited anyone who caught his eye to pose for a portrait, his way of showing love for the people who inspire his quest for the perfect shot.
In addition to the street portraits and snapshots of daily life, Maung hooked up with local personalities like rapper Vince Staples, Spanto, founder of Born x Raised, IG personality Isabella Ferrada, and hustlers like Casanova, who is trying to make it in the world of R&B. No matter where he goes, Maung easily connects with people form all walks of life as his day job teaching substance abuse classes to parolees keeps him on point. Ahead of the zine release, we speak to Maung about his love for LA’s live side.
All Knowing feels like a love letter to LA. How would you describe your relationship with the city? How does it inspire you as an artist?
Sean Maung: It's fertile out here. I know a man that climbs trees to collect avocados to sell to markets. My friend drops seeds from a jalapeño and a tree is born. Banana trees are in the backyard. That's ecological fertility.
Socially, I'm constantly absorbing the people. Swap meets with barbershops and nachos, gay paisa cowboy clubs, hourly motels with beautiful neon signs on Figueroa. When it's hot, Venice and Santa Monica got everybody wanting to get naked. Girls like to get ratchet for the people at clubs, poppin’ with no discretion. Streetwalkers looking fly and in their colorful lingerie for the men in cars. So yea I'm curious out here.
I love the way you go to different hoods and connect with different people from all walks of life. How do your interactions with so many different types of people help you grow as an artist?
Sean Maung: To make connections with people is a mix for me. It's about humanity and its essence, like eye contact, sincerity, respect, and love mixed along with a social awareness of the cultural layers of a place like LA. I try and weave those elements together to find a common connection and hopefully we create an epic photo together.
There's a very strong street element to LA, which is interesting because I think of LA as a car town. Please talk about street culture in LA: how would you describe it?
Sean Maung: It's alive and well. Whatever element you want to manifest, it will be there in these streets. There isn't too much hidden if you know what you want and what you are looking for. But you are also correct, it's not an easy to figure out and I find many photographers struggling to understand the street out here because of a reliance on the car. But it's never a dull moment when you ride these buses, take these trains, or walk them streets!
“It’s about humanity and its essence, like eye contact, sincerity, respect, and love mixed along with a social awareness of the cultural layers of a place like LA” – Sean Maung
Please talk about your shoot in Compton. How did you come up on such a hot block?
Sean Maung: I was cruising Rosecrans with my camera by my side. I turned onto a real active block. They had the block set up so no one could speed through and pop something. Cars were parked all over the street so I had to drive real slow. At the time I was working for Uber and I had the sign. One of the dudes thought I was picking someone up. I said no but told him to look through my photo book. They were vibing with it and I asked if I could shoot the block. The youngsters were real bout it, but after 10 minutes the big OG of the block told me it was time to go.
Your day job is teaching substance abuse classes to parolees – how does this prepare you for engaging with and photographing strangers?
Sean Maung: Being an educator and being a street photographer aren't too different. In the classroom, I have to acknowledge and be aware of students learning styles and personalities and find a way to teach them. On the street, with my camera, it's also about coming to an understanding with someone, being aware of that individual, and finding a way to reach them to take their photo.
What was the idea behind making this zine?
Sean Maung: This is how I want people to see my art: in the flesh, through print, through zines, through books. It's something someone can hold onto until whatever time.
All Knowing officially launches at Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair, February 24-26, 2017