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Talya and TommyPhotography by Gabriel Chiu

Gabriel Chiu’s dreamy portraits of Asian-American youth

The photographer ongoing photo series, ‘Asian Kids’, documents the everyday lives of a group of New York City teenagers

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Chinese parents, Gabriel Chiu is a young photographer and art director living in New York City. Growing up in the US as an Asian American, the artist recalls struggling to find any media portrayals that offered any true-to-life representation of his community. “Mainstream media always depict us as conservative and scholarly, and there’s a lack of portrayals that break free from such stereotypes,” Chiu tells Dazed. He explains that his new photography project, Asian Kids, is an attempt “to fill in that gap and shed new light on today’s American culture, by showcasing the typically unseen face of Asian teenagers.”

Whether they’re hanging around at a local skatepark, rolling joints and enjoying beer on a rooftop, sleeping after a night out, or simply cuddling in the comfort of their homes, the protagonists of Chiu’s latest story – a bunch of kids he met “from working or just socialising” – look like characters from Larry Clark’s controversial but nonetheless seminal coming-of-age film Kids (1995). “Though there aren’t any Asian people in [the original film], Kids was a huge inspiration for this series,” the photographer says. “It’s such an iconic film based in New York City, a film whose characters I could always resonate with despite my background, while people who looked like me in other films had nothing to do with the person I am.”

Like many other creatives who moved to New York hoping to fulfil their dreams, Chiu relies on his photography as both a vehicle for self-expression, and as a tool to examine his own sense of identity. In fact, his creative efforts have already been rewarded with prestigious brand collaborations, including Lanvin and Ksubi, and an internship at Mario Sorrenti’s studio. However, the tension between his Asian roots and his American upbringing is something Chiu is constantly exploring. “I grew up in a conservative household with my mom, dad, sister, grandparents, and cousin,” he says. “My parents moved from Hong Kong to America for university and a better life. They ended up meeting in Boston.”

“They were never particularly affectionate and always worked a lot, so I spent most of my childhood with my extended family or on my own,” Chiu continues. “I discovered photography while playing with my dad’s camcorders aged eight, and fell in love with it after buying a film camera on eBay when I was a teenager. My parents, or anyone else, weren’t much of an influence in the process and I like to think that led to my work being more honest and unfiltered.” 

“I’m not Asian enough to be seen as ‘Asian’ and not western enough to be considered ‘American,’” he says. “My views differ from those of my parents and grandparents, but also from the traditional American people’s or the media. I am not the only one to feel this way – we’re nearly 20 million people in the US – which is why it’s important for our stories, perspectives, and experiences to be told and heard.” 

In his authentic visual exploration of Asian-American youth culture, Chiu chronicles the juvenile adventures of his peers as a way of reminding everyone of the importance of countering stereotypical depictions of the Asian community. “Each one of the subjects portrayed in Asian Kids, with their personal story and background, is a protagonist in their own way,” he says. “I want all young Asian Americans to look at this series and find the courage to break free from any stereotypes they don’t feel represented by. To be comfortable and confident in themselves. More than anything, to just be themselves.”