All Articles
All Articles

Michael Jang's Vintage Family Photos

Candid shots of the photographer's Chinese-American family in the '70s on show in LA

by Julie Wolfson
on 16 May 2014

While SF-based photographer Michael Jang has taken famous black-and-white shots of Jimi Hendrix, Ronald Reagan and David Bowie, he's become well-known for doing what people do everyday all over the world: taking photos of their family. Jang began documenting his relatives in the summer of 1973, in Pacifica, California, when he was a student at the California Institute of the Arts. Jang spent the summer documenting the lives of his Aunt Lucy, Uncle Monroe, and cousins. Later he began taking photos of his extended family. Jang kept the images private for many years until in 2003, when he submitted some of them to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. The museum then acquired several photos from The Jangs series for their permanent collection.


In one image, adults, kids and pets all share a room lounging, talking on the phone and reading while in another a boy wears a Santa beard and hat. Some photos show boys sitting in front of a wall of layered with posters of professional football players or with a record collection. Jang reveals the jovial spirit of his family by capturing moments of laughter, dancing and playful dress-up. The images are all black and white, yet the colorful nature of the characters and clothing come through with vibrant energy. He's described these photographs in an interview as "an often humorous look into the life of an Asian family trying to assimilate into the American mainstream of the '70s." Jang is also known for his own atypical, humorous approach to everyday things, including his former portfolio website, which he set up to mimic a Google Search page.

Since that time The Jangs series has garnered a following for being an entertaining and endearing portrayal of the life of a Chinese family in the '70s. And now, for the first time ever, a catalogue—The Jangs X Los Angeles"—will be available for purchase. Designed by the Berlin based Capucine Labarthe, the 48-page catalogue (available in a first edition of just 400) was published and directed by Pascale Georgiev and Kingston Trinder, and was printed at Milk Digital Los Angeles on 100% recycled paper.

We spoke with the photographer about bringing these images back to LA for "The Jangs X Los Angeles" and exhibiting them there for the first time.

What originally drew you to photographing your family?

We all take pictures of our family, but we don’t all have a Leica and study the History of Photography in college. That’s where it all started. I needed something to photograph and began to see how strange things could be right at home with easy access. That’s always a plus when taking on a project.

How did your images from that summer develop into the whole series? Did you ever direct any of your family members or purely document their natural activities?

You never want to say, “Hold that right there” because then the moment is really gone and you’re just trying to save it because you missed it in the first place. I tried to be ready all the time and anticipate. Certainly there was cooperation or posing at times. That’s not something I dwell on. A good picture is a good picture.

As I know, there isn’t any documentation of Chinese in the '70s looking like the Brady Bunch.
Why do you think people find these images of your family compelling?

Well for one, as far as I know, there isn’t any documentation of Chinese in the '70s looking like the Brady Bunch. Humor is rare in the fine art world.

What prompted you to reveal the family images in 2003?

I had three decades in a box. It was time to get out and see if the world would be receptive.

Who are some of the photographers that inspire you?

There is a lineage that I absorbed in art school that is Atget, Evans and Frank. Throw in some Friedlander, Arbus, Winogrand and Eggleston, and you have all that you need.

How do you feel about showing these images of your family in Los Angeles at KesselsKramer and where they are located in Chinatown on Chung King Road?

The Jangs in Chinatown, isn’t that great? And I hear the exterior of the place still has a vintage look with a Happy Lion Arts and Gifts marquee.

How did you approach putting together the catalogue? How did you organize the image?

This whole project was a result of meeting the great team of Pascale Georgiev and Kingston Trinder. I felt that if this was to be a true collaboration I would give them free reign with the show’s concept, catalog and design. It’s a recontextualization of images made 40 years ago for today.


The first edition of "The Jangs X Los Angeles" is currently available online for $16.

"The Jangs X Los Angeles" will be on view at KesselsKramer (963 Chung King Road, LA) from 17 May through 13 June 2014. The opening reception is on Saturday, 17 May, from 7PM.

Images courtesy of Michael Jang

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue
Loading More...