Student Mini Grant: sweat, tears, or the sea

photo that is representative of the sweat, tears, or the sea art project

Sweat, tears, or the sea is a photo-series that comments on the physical space of Asian Americans. I want to capture the tenderness, beauty, and portraits of the children of immigrants to create an identity of what it means for them to know that their family has chosen the path of “sweat, tears, or the sea” in America. I used a collection of 4 images per photo for the individual to be able to know that there is a commonality amongst each of the photos together and that we are all intertwined in the emotions and stories we carry as Asian Americans.

image that is representative of the art project











I was able to gather images of friends, families, and acquaintances for this project. My initial proposal for this project was to use film cameras, in which the majority of the photos have been captured on film and have been developed. I also used my iPhone to capture images that are "at the moment” and a quick snapshot of what was happening during that moment. I was able to take portraits of friends and families in settings that reflected their personalities and setting, whether it was at the beach or the dry cleaners. The quality of the images has a rustic, saturated tone to them. Those are the results I was looking for when I was brainstorming this photo-series.

My anticipated results are trying to capture at least hundreds of images to look from to form a collective body. The photos have been developed, but I will scan them and edit the photos (focus, clarity, colors). I also wanted to collect more photos within this project, but due to COVID-19, it was hard to meet individuals to take more photos of.

photo that is representative of the project











Next Steps

I had also planned on publishing these photos with Candor Arts, a small art publishing company in Chicago, but it got postponed because of the pandemic. It would’ve been really exciting to see these photos come to life - adding another element of texture to the photos. I plan on continuing this project, growing images, meeting new individuals, and ultimately be able to publish this photo-series. I believe with age and time, it will be carrying a meaningful photo-series to be discussed and shared. I plan on working with this publication company once life seems like what it used to be. When I do, I will be able to show a broader frame of work of art in the future. I have also been gathering letters from my friends and families on what it means to be Asian American, wanting to incorporate those bodies of literature into this project. I hope to in the next year or so to be able to publish this project via art books and have a show.

photo that is representative of the art project











Another next step for this project is shifting the trajectory of the stories of these photos. I am interested in taking photos of the same individuals throughout the many years to come, capturing their life transitions and how 1) physically and 2) location have changed. I ordered films for this project and have utilized about 6 rolls of film. The film has not been the cheapest product, but it is a different experience once you use a film camera. I bought a softbox light to be able to capture the lighting of the portraits and setting I was in. I utilized a vast majority of my grant to print the photos - taking them to a photo studio and having them developed and printed. The process of developing photos have gotten more expensive, due to digital cameras being more of the format and individuals not “printing” as many photos as they used to.

Thank you to my library mentor Jamie Vander Broek to opening my eyes to resources that I did not know the University of Michigan had! Especially the Rihanna art book! She introduced me to a view publication company in which I reached out to and am hoping in the future to publish an art book to one of them. I was introduced to a whole range of new artists, publishers, and art books that I didn’t know the university had to offer. I received support through the University of Michigan Library with the library mini-grant, which allowed me to work on this project more extensively and more freedom without the financial restriction that comes with funding your own project. Thank you to my friends, Michigan Library, family, and everyone in between who knew and supported this project. To the Asian American community: I love you and let’s get the bread.

picture of Han Nah Shin
Han Na Shin is a
PhD candidate at the
U-M School of Information