A conversation about identity

Identity has become an increasingly important topic for artists and designers, particularly as social media and movements for change have opened up opportunities for new voices to be heard. We brought together two photographers, Alexander Coggin and Tommy Kha, to discuss what it means to them and the work that they make

For this conversation, our participants met on the phone. Their work is visually very different – Tommy Kha, an Asian-American who grew up in Memphis but now resides in New York, uses his work to look at “the self in self-portrait, the portrait in self-portrait and the hyphen in self-portrait”. His work often features elements of staging and performance.

Alexander Coggin, by contrast, shoots mostly in a documentary style, but then elevates his images into a form of what he describes as “magical realism” with the use of flash and saturated colours. Coggin was also born in America but has lived in Europe – previously in Berlin and now in London – for several years. Both artists identify as queer.

Coggin: Hi Tommy. My name’s Alex and I’m also American, living in London. I’ve been here three years and I am a photographer, although I think I would identify as a voyeur and an artist first.

Photography is just sort of the tool that I’m using now. I do a lot of kinds of shooting, which is quite nice. I have big bodies of personal work, and then I have a pretty strong editorial career – not fashion, more like news editorial and doing portraits and photo essays. That’s how my career has taken shape.

This question of identity is very interesting to me and got me thinking a lot about a tier-system of identity, thinking what are the things I identify with the most, in order of importance. Voyeur keeps coming up! I just have an insane interest in the lives of other people and their character.

Kha: I can see that in your work.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

London, EC3R

SENIOR DESIGNER

Guildford, Surrey