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This Asian American photographer helps people see their own beauty

AAPI photographer David Suh empowers people in front of the camera to embody everything they are.
Posted at 8:18 PM, May 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-23 20:18:29-04

With one click of a camera, Los Angeles photographer David Suh transforms everyday people into models.

"When we talk about being photogenic, a lot, people say, 'Oh, you're either born with it, or you're not.' But the thing is, when it comes to being attractive, at least for me, the definition of attractive is a lot more holistic than what's on the outside," Suh said.

Suh challenges what it means to be photogenic, what it means to be beautiful, and instead helps millions of his social media followers strike a pose.

"If you were to go out there and saw a beautiful sunset, many times, what happens? It's a terrible photo because it's not the easiest thing to capture," Suh said. "However, does that mean it's a ugly sunset? No. The beautiful sunset is still there, but we have failed to capture the essence of what we're seeing."

His goal is to capture that essence of a person, and sometimes that's turning the camera on himself.

Instead of accepting the lack of visual representation, Suh takes action. 

He describes a photo of himself as "based on the story of me wanting to see a desirable version of me, when many times in media, you don't get to see a lot of Asian men being championed as masculine guys. So I wanted to rewrite that for myself and reframe."

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Images and even films portraying Asian American males as sexually desirable are rare, so Suh, dressed in his Korean hanbok, wanted to show off this masculine side of his identity. That, in turn, inspired others to do so too.

One of his followers, Dylan, sent him a message, reading: "I am having struggles in finding myself desired."

"You have to realize it takes a lot of guts for another man to open up to another guy," Suh said.

So Suh took it as an opportunity to fly Dylan in for a photo shoot.

"Whether you're an Asian guy or not, like many of us, you won't see people exactly like us, whether it's physically, emotionally or what we desire on screen. So I think it's sharing more stories like that," Suh said.

The Jersey-born photographer empowers others by being himself. Sometimes that means bending gender norms, like putting on a dress to show other women how to pose or sharing his personal business journey.

What began as Suh's solo project in 2013, with a price tag of $50 per photo shoot, has now turned into shoots ranging between $4,800 to $12,000, with a team of people helping him.

"Everyone is a work of art ... because I can't photograph every single person realistically," Suh said. "At least what I can do is share your story and share a story that is empowering and championing the people that are unseen so that other people can look at that and say, 'Wow, I belong. I belong, too."

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