An American of Vietnamese origin recently received huge global attention thanks to his powerful photo capturing the moment when a police officer in Portland, Oregon shared a tearful hug with a protester during a Ferguson rally on November 25.
The photo, shot by freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen who is a Vietnamese American, shows police officer Bret Barnum hugging 12-year-old Devonte Hart, who burst into tears during the Ferguson demonstration.
The rally was part of nationwide protests after Darren Wilson, a white police officer, was not indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American, in Ferguson, a city in St. Louis County, Missouri.
Wilson killed Brown, who was unarmed, with 12 gun shots in the middle of a street on August 9.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper had a short interview with the freelance photographer about his stunning photo.
Your photo on Oregonlive has reached more than one million views and about 500,000 shares on Facebook, with thousands of positive comments, and even appeared on CNN. To many readers, it speaks louder than any action and greatly heals the present sorrow. What do you think about all of this?
It’s been an honor as a photographer for my photo to reach this worldwide recognition. However, it’s more of an honor as a human being and a contributing member of society to use photography as a tool to capture moments like these. To be able to communicate my photo and my message behind it at such a large-scale has been surreal, and I’ve gotten so much great, positive feedback from people all over the world. People have told me how beautifully positive it’s been to see a photo like this in the midst of all the negative photos that depict violence, anger, people getting tear gassed, that sort of thing. People have told me it’s become a beacon of hope, a light in the darkness. It’s brought a wave of positivity that our country has needed to see. I’m beyond happy to see that’s what this photo has done.
How has your life changed in the past few days? Sleepless, or sleeping better than ever? What did your family and friends think about this?
It’s honestly a combination of both. It’s a great combination, to say the least. I’ve been getting loads of e-mails, so I’m up all night replying to them, so I lose sleep. But when I do find my way to my bed, I’m going to bed with a smile, a sense of pride, and a sense of accomplishment. So I guess when I do sleep, I sleep pretty well, even if it’s only for four hours!
My friends and family are very proud of me. Especially my family – they’ve been so supportive.
As far as we know, you are a 20-year-old freelance photographer. But could you share with us a bit more about yourself?
I was born in Vancouver, Washington, on December 24th, 1993, but moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was about 11 years old, so I’m a Portlander – definitely a Portlander! I’ve been to Vietnam three times, but when I was young, and back then, I didn’t really understand the significance of traveling to Vietnam. Now that I’m older, I would really love to travel back, to really get to know where I’m from, and of course, to photograph our country.
My daily life consists mostly of taking photos, editing photos, drinking coffee and listening to music. When I’m not doing that, I’m with my family; and when I’m with my friends, we usually just hang out and watch movies!
Through your blog, we read “Deleted a whole gallery of work in the recent past” and “In the end, it’s all about progression. Just don’t plan to stay stagnant nor take the easy way out.” Why are you so strict on yourself, especially when you are just 20 years old? Is art the most important thing in your life?
I don’t know why it is, but I’m very hard on myself. But, I think that’s a blessing. I continue to strive for excellence, even if that means deleting, erasing, and backspacing things out of my life. If they distract me, and if I feel they aren’t doing me well in my path towards the success of my goals, then I never hesitate to take action. I guess I’m just really focused because I know how precious life is, and I don’t want to waste a day doing things I don’t want to do. In the end, I just want to progress as an artist, a son, a brother, and a human being. Age is nothing but a number. I never let my age hold me back from getting what I want!
Art is the second most important thing in my life. The first thing most important to me is my family; my mother Hao, my little sister Tiffany, my little brother An, and my brother Loc. Everything I do is with this drive in my heart to make my family happy and so they can have whatever they want and need.
Psy, the famous Korean artist, once said that he was under immeasurable pressure after his huge success thanks to “Gangnam Style.” He is afraid of becoming a one-hit wonder. How about you?
No, absolutely not. People can forget about me, and that’s completely okay – as long as they don’t forget the photo and the message behind it. The message of love, compassion, hope, humanity, togetherness… I want people to remember my photo when things go downhill in our country. I want them to remember that there is still goodness. If I’m a one-hit wonder, so be it. At the end of the day, I’ve always just been a guy with a camera who loves taking pictures.
As an Asian American, what do you think about racial discrimination? In your opinion, does it exist in the USA?
It’s without a doubt racial discrimination exists in the USA – in the world… As an Asian American, I’ve seen how it’s not so easy for Asian Americans to become a part of mainstream media… But, I don’t know… I can’t say anything else. All I can say is that I just hope everyone is simply proud of who they are, where they’re from, and never let those kinds of thing bog them down. Everyone is human. Everyone is equal. Everyone is worth everything – and never less because of where they’re from!