Visual Artist Spotlight: Justin Woo

Justin Woo is a Rutgers graduate, Jersey City resident, and Chinese-American poet, theatre artist, and DJ. He has performed at universities, theaters, and slam venues throughout the Northeast including the 2007 NYC Fringe Festival and the Tony Award-winning Crossroads Theatre.

He was a member of the 2011 and 2012 JC Slam team, and is a slam committee member and resident DJ at JC Slam.His goal is to encourage positive social and political change through the creation and performance of startling, extraordinary poetry and theatre.


How do you start a piece of art?

Something really needs to catch my eye for me to want to shoot it. I was living in this godawful house in Jersey City during one of the most unhappy years of my life. The landlord left a giant pile of garbage in our backyard from the day we moved in until two months before we moved out, but amongst that garbage, a bunch of these morning glories shot up. It gave me a little bit of hope, and I wanted to capture that. Finding a morning glory with a caterpillar inside was an added treat.

What does your process look like?

I'm not really a photographer by trade, so "shoot and hope" is probably the most apt description of my photographic process. I shoot and shoot and shoot until I find just the right composition and settings, and I delete the bad photos when I get home.  

At what point did you consider yourself an artist?

Probably sometime in high school or college I got comfortable enough with the work I was creating (which was poetry, which is my main form) to call myself an artist. 

Which of your own pieces of art is your favorite and why?

I'm working on a short film about the 2016 Jersey City Slam team. It's going to have a bit of a DA Pennebaker vibe to it, and I've got full control over the whole thing, so that's really exciting. I'm also really proud of the poem "Soldiers" that I wrote with Jacob Victorine when I was on the 2011 team. 

How do you know when a piece of art is not working, what do you do about it?

If I don't feel anything and my friends don't feel anything when they see / hear / read the work, I know something's wrong. If it's visual, I often start over entirely. I shoot again (if we're talking photography) or craft a brand new sequence (if we're talking film). If it's literary, I may start to freewrite or I may look for prompts related to the subject matter. I also have a few trusted readers who give me great feedback, which is usually enough to kickstart things. 

How do you know when a piece of art is finished?

When either my client is satisfied (in the case of film or photography) or when I feel like I've taken it as far as it can go (in the case of writing). 

How do you accept critiques?

With gratitude, usually. Not every critique is the right critique, but you never know when someone else's thoughts will send your work spinning in a new and more interesting direction.

What’s the hardest part about creating for you?

Staying focused. At 33, it's hard to balance a marriage, a day job, client work, and my own projects. It's easy to let things fall by the wayside. But I'm happiest when I don't, and there's a finished project at the end. 

Has your idea of what art is changed since you began writing/studying photography?

I've decided I hate that question. Not your question, but the question "What is art?" It's a question that's usually used to exclude people of color, women, queer people, colonized people, poor people, and other marginalized communities. The question "Is it art / what is art?" is deeply arbitrary and usually informed by one's own biases, and those claiming to be the most rational on the topic of this question are often the most biased. The better question is twofold: "Is this art good?" and "What does this art make me feel?" The former has some objectivity to it and can be debated and discussed with some credibility. The latter is subjective and personal and helps you analyze your own feelings and reactions.  

You can follow Justin on his Blog like an open book and be sure to check out his amazing photography skills in Issue Two of Pelorus Press!