Oh, That's Rough
An Abstract Web Exclusive
Text by Nikki Nocturnal // Images by Jhune Liwanag & Nikki Nocturnal
I had first heard of Jhune Liwanag about three years ago when a mutual friend blogged about some images from local photographers. That’s when I got my first glimpse of her work: elegance juxtaposed with the grungy or the decrepit. In recent photo sets on her website or in her handmade produced zines, models sit elegantly on rooftops, down grungy alleys, and in parking lot fire escape staircases. A majority of Liwanag's photographs are shot in these types of environments and I can’t help but wonder, why here?
And yet now, sitting with Liwanag at Fresh Cafe Downtown (in the spot of the former Indigo), I can see outside the beautiful Chinatown architecture and old buildings, with trash cans and the homeless’ shopping carts strewn at their foundations.
I had arrived late (blame the street parking in Chinatown) and despite following Liwanag’s work online for years, we had never before met in person. When we do, it’s an instant connection, and the conversation shifts between photography, growing up as a teenager in the early 2000s and the local punk music scene. She slides over the latest issue of her handmade zine. “GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!" is her sophomore issue and includes a series of photographs she compiled from the beginning of 2015. Shot on 35mm film, Liwanag’s images have a vivid and restless quality to them. The images, she tells me, seeks to capture the chic side of Honolulu’s underbelly. They feature associated acts ranging from the DIY punk art of NO LOVE to the urban 808 clothing brand Ditch Life. I ask Liwanag to sum up her aesthetic with just three words.
“Oh, that’s rough,” she says, pausing. She giggles nervously and says, “Candid But Not Really. Wait! That was four words!”
It’s okay, I say, having another sip of coffee. What’s the zine making process like? I’m personally a fan of printmaking and am thoroughly pleased to see more of this medium. It’s not the conventional, but neither is Liwanag’s work.
“First, you need to find all the photos you want. Next you need to narrow it down to the ones you really, really want,” says Liwanag. “Then you lay everything out on Photoshop, print it, fold it up, and stitch the pages together, then BAM!”
Bam! We finish our coffees and head over to Downbeat Diner for lunch and to continue the conversation. Liwanag tells me about a few of the projects she’s currently involved with--specially a grassroots concert promotion entity called “Failed Orbit Records.” So far, her and her crew have brought down Benny the Jet Rodriguez, The Audacity, and this August they will be hosting Jersey’s very own Screaming Females.
I marvel at Liwanag, who is filled with passion for her art and feel immediately compelled to volunteer somehow to assist in the progression of this up-and-coming movement. This is the kind of energy that Liwanag both carries and conveys, whether her focus is photography, music, magazines--or even just making an observation about beauty and decay. I ask Liwanag where she sees herself in the next five years.
The question catches her off-guard, but she thinks and details out a dream. She wants to continue with the zines, but ultimately wants to focus on Failed Orbit; to hopefully put on more all-ages shows where hardworking bands get to perform (and to get compensated for doing so). It’s a massive undertaking, but considering the scope of Liwanag’s work, I’m confident she’ll succeed.
Imagine a scene where artists can create, perform, and share in a nonjudgmental environment. So yes, you CAN sit with us, we’ve been saving you a seat! Liwanag and others like her are trying to build a community of creatives who demonstrate mutual respect for one another. Are you ready for this movement?