We had the good fortune of connecting with Sean Niu and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sean, what makes you happy? Why?
I’m very wary of using happiness as a guiding principle for navigating my life, because it can be difficult to differentiate between short-term happiness and long-term fulfillment. However, I do think about the latter a lot. That’s probably why I’ve switched careers twice already, because I’m still trying to find a lifestyle that I’m comfortable with and that makes me feel fulfilled. Right now, I can say that creative expression gives me the most personal fulfillment. Over the last year, I’ve spent most of my time exploring which mediums resonate the most with me. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’d say right now photography and writing give me the most joy.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I produce and host a podcast, The Electric Image Express which examines and celebrates Asian American identity through Asian American film. My photography can be found at my Instagram: @seamseanniulook. If you’re interested in a portrait or any prints of my work, feel free to dm me! I typically shoot cityscapes and portraits that invoke a nostalgic or ominous cinematic feeling. A lot of my photography captures strangely empty locales around Southern California that invoke the loneliness we’ve felt over the last 12 months. I also use my photography as inspiration for the screenplays I write. I took basically the longest route possible to becoming a creative. I started my career 10+ years ago in finance, before moving into consumer tech and getting my MBA along the way. Each change forced me to reevaluate my priorities and each time I felt more drawn to a field where I can express my own creativity. I guess I didn’t feel comfortable diving straight into the deep end before building a resume, for better or worse. I couldn’t have made that jump without seeing other successful Asian American creatives who have found success along a similar path, so I owe a lot to them. I think the biggest struggle in this unstructured part of my career is with focus. Focus on my own work, and not comparing myself with my peers in different professions that have more linear progression, and prioritizing on the work that is important when there are a million smaller responsibilities and/or distractions that you can attend to instead. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to always have a bias for action. Every time you try, you gain information and experience, which is exponentially more valuable than noodling around a concept in your head for months or years.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’ve used the pandemic as an opportunity to explore many local attractions outside of our large cities, so I feel pretty qualified to answer this question! I would first rent a campervan looping South first through Idylwild Pine Cove, with a stop at the post-apocalyptic looking Bombay Beach in the Salton Sea before stopping at Joshua Tree. Then I’d head up to Alabama Hills, with the most beautiful starry sky I’ve ever witnessed, stop at Manzanar to pay my respects at an important remnant of Asian American history, before making my way to the wild hot springs near Mammoth. (Hint: there are some off the grid near the more famous ones on the map that are much less crowded, look around Warm Lake) On the way back down to LA I’d stop for some amazing sandwiches (and bread) at Erick Schat’s Bakerÿ before finishing the week by eating through the city including tacos and ceviche at Mariscos Jalisco, croissants at Proof Bakery, shul lung tang at Han Bat Shul Lung Tang, fan tuan at Huge Tree Pastry and motsunabe at Hakata Izakaya Hero.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My parents deserve so much credit for my success. They have offered invaluable love, support and mentorship throughout my career while not placing any artificial restrictions on which paths I can take. They are always incredible reminders that one can find success by being kind and generous people first and foremost, even when coming to a country as immigrants with few resources.