Interview: Natalie Yang


By Natalie Leonard


Natalie Yang, a contributor to POND over the past year, has featured beautiful, no-holds-barred photos of females confronting their sexuality. In her newest series, “Growing Up”, the premise is simple. She photographs her friends, a beautiful crowd of young adults, hanging out, smoking, skating, falling in love, doing stuff, being stuff, figuring stuff out . Those few years of adolescence are often glamourised as a time of exploration, passion, sex and discovery - which in some cases is very true. But amidst the excitement brewing for a long life ahead, there's often a lot of waiting around. Waiting for school to be out forever, waiting for a friend to pick you up, waiting to legally be able to buy alcohol, waiting for someone you have a crush on to have a crush on you back. Natalie Yang captures every moment exactly how you want to remember it, sun-drenched and care free. I caught up with Natalie about her newest series and the vague haze surrounding it all.

POND (Nat Leonard): Hi Natalie. Let’s start with a little background for our readers – who are you and what do you do?
Natalie Yang: I am a photographer/artist living and studying in Santa Cruz, California. I’ve lived on the California coast for most of my life and I spend most of my free time documenting the people and the places I am surrounded by as well as creating my own narratives within these relationships / experiences.  

POND: When did your interest in photography start?
Natalie: My curiosity with the camera began when I was around fifteen or sixteen. I would play around with film and darkroom practices but not very seriously. Last year I went on a trip to the Mojave desert with the photo department at my school and that’s when I realized for real that photography is what I’m meant to be doing.

POND: Could you describe the dreamworld that you talk so much about with your photography? And how photography has become a sort of portal into that dreamworld for you?
Natalie: This dreamworld I talk about is the California coast, my home. I’ve spent the entirety of my youth with the Pacific Ocean by my side, driving up and down the northern shores exploring and running around with special people. I grew up on a mountain that is often recognized for its resemblance to a sleeping lady, she is my first love. Every single part of me has been influenced by the nature and the people I grew up surrounded by. Photography has become a way for me to communicate my feelings. The camera allows me to invite an audience into my attachments and into my relationships and into my love and into my stories, which all make up this “dreamworld” I talk so much about.

POND: I remember when you first started contributing work to POND, we talked about the female figure having a dominant role in your work. What about the male figure? Does he play a role at all?
Natalie: Not yet, but he’s something I’ve been thinking more about.

POND: There are moments in your “Growing Up” series that are so authentic and so real about adolescence and the very strange transition of becoming a young adult, what was your process in creating this series?
Natalie: I’m constantly surrounded by my friends. We live together, eat together, play together, everything. Sometimes though, I find myself feeling like I am outside of the group because I spent a lot of time observing and watching, not doing. Photography is my way of doing, participating. I wouldn’t say the making of “Growing Up” really had a process, I just kind of carried my camera around all the time and when I had a certain location or idea I wanted to shoot, I would just play dress up with my friends and have them pose for me.

POND: There is an interesting juxtaposition of candids vs. posed photos, do you always carry your camera with you?
Natalie: Yes, I almost always bring a camera wherever I go.

POND: Looking back on this series now, is there anything you have learned about yourself through these photos of your friends?
Natalie: Yes! Growing Up is all about my own feelings toward my friends and our lives, together but apart at the same time. We spend so much time together but we’re all on our own little pathways running parallel for the moment but bound to go off in different directions. Growing Up is my ode to us, it’s my way of immortalizing these years we have spent changing each other’s lives. This project helped me realize a lot of the reasons why I feel an impulsive need to photograph things and moments and people.

POND: Do you have a favorite image in the series that evokes a strong memory or feeling?
Natalie: All of them!!

POND: Do you plan on continuing and adding to this series or do you think it’s complete?
Natalie: I haven’t decided yet, but if I continue the series I’ll have it be a Part II.

POND: Besides your friends and the people you surround yourself with, what would you say you look to for inspiration?
Natalie: The landscapes of California and the Pacific Ocean. Also brightly colored buildings make me feel really excited and happy, and other artists! There are so many talented young creators in the world and it’s so so cool to see and experience and connect with other artists who share a love for creating things.

POND: Could you talk a little about the Sand Castle Collective?
Natalie: Sand Castle Collective is an all ladies artist collective I started in January. I wanted to create a space for young women who are inspired by the beauty of mama earth to share their works and connect with one another.

POND: Who is your dream muse?
Natalie: Rachel Rutt or Teresa Oman

POND: What is your favorite 2000s movie?
Natalie: Lords of Dogtown

Continue scrolling to see the rest of Growing Up. Find more of Natalie's work on her website.