Q&A: Irene Kim on learning by doing, her favorite emoji, and finding jobs she never knew existed, camera in hand

March 31, 2015

Irene Kim

At Roadtrip Nation, we’ve been known to harbor some major Instagram crushes. So when we started working on our new book, Roadmap, with Chronicle Books, we fell hard for Visual Content Coordinator Irene Kim’s dreamy, light-filled feed (she’s also killing it running Chronicle’s Instagram). Even more so when we learned that she’s basically made a job for herself as a photographer-designer-Instagrammer-aesthete-storyteller-branding guru by cultivating her interests in school–and out–to find fulfilling work that combines all the things she likes best. We recently got a chance to ask her some hard (favorite color!) and harder (how do you handle self-doubt?!) questions, so we covered everything from favorite book to choosing majors and soaked up her spot-on advice.


Let’s start simple: coffee, tea or neither? Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

Favorite food? Oh gosh, too hard. Random favorites popping into my head: papayas, tacos, and kimchi.

Favorite color? Again, too hard! But I do think there’s something to be said about pops of bright orange-red as an accent color.

Funfetti is a pretty great theme for a party. HBD @emzly!

A photo posted by Irene Kim (@irenekly) on

Favorite artist? You guys love asking tough questions. Joan Didion, for her artful way with words and emotion and the potter Ayumi Horie, for her thoughtful perspective on ceramics and connectivity.

Favorite day trip? A trip to Point Reyes! I love windy, foggy coasts.

Favorite book? Can’t answer for all-time. But at the moment, The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.

Favorite (or most-used) emoji? Sassy lady in red.

Favorite fellow aesthetes? These women are more like heroine aesthetes but: Beth Kirby, Nikole Herriott, Alice Gao, Bee Walker, and the ladies behind Saipua.

Where do you look for inspiration? Antique shops. You never know what you’re going to find!

  Musty antique shop goodness.   A photo posted by Irene Kim (@irenekly) on

If we handed you the keys to the Green RV, where would you go? Up the PNW!

If you could interview anyone, who would it be? Solange Knowles for sure.

Where did you grow up? What did you spend your free time doing when you were a kid? I grew up in the cookie-cutter suburbs of Orange County, and spent my free time as a kid playing in my many imaginary worlds and reading many books–the former quite often influencing the latter. I remember spending quite a lot of time making mud pies, creating fortresses for my stuffed animals, pretending I was a squirrel mama…the usual, crazy things kids do.

How do you describe what you do now? I’d say it’s a healthy mix of photography, styling, brand management, and social content creation.

What did you study in school? How did you decide? I studied English and media studies at UC Berkeley. The decision process was actually pretty straightforward: English was always my favorite subject and media studies seemed like a great counterpart major. I did have a period of time where I was considering minoring in visual arts and/or music. Can you tell I’m extremely right-brained?

Photography reads, lately ✨

A photo posted by Irene Kim (@irenekly) on

What was your path to what you do now? Definitely a providential one–doors opening other doors I never even knew existed! I’ve been taking photos for fun for a long time, but I never dreamed that I’d add “photographer” to what I do for a living. The path I’m on now is one that came from being open to trying different things, much like trying on jeans and figuring out which pair is best for me at this current juncture of life. From teaching myself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, to designing greeting cards, to keeping up watercoloring on the side, to being in love with books, to wanting to bring my ideas to life through photography…everything seems to be one tiny cog moving the other in the clock metaphor that is my life.

What’s your average day like? My average workday is spent running around Chronicle Books looking for the best light, books, props, with camera in hand. My favorite parts are collaborating with others on shoots, or brainstorming with my team on exciting campaigns. Non-workdays are also spent often with camera in hand, but I try to replace that camera with pen, paintbrush, or mixing spoon, too.

Props on props on props. #wwllt

A photo posted by Irene Kim (@irenekly) on

To do what you’re doing now, what skills did you already have and which did you have to pick up? Because I didn’t necessarily study photography or design in school, I had to learn by doing (which I think is how I learn best anyway). My eye is naturally drawn toward light, color, and form in a way that wasn’t explicitly taught, but I wonder if you could call that a skill? It’s more just how my brain works. I need to constantly challenge myself to keep expanding my visual ideas without losing my core aesthetic.

How do you handle moments of uncertainty or self-doubt? I try to remember. I think moments of uncertainty or self-doubt flare up when I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned so far and how supported I’ve been. It’s not like ticking off all those times I think I did something well and then feeling better about myself, but more remembering how every moment in my life seems to have been engineered to bring me to new places. I try to take a moment to pause, reflect, and think about the whole picture. I’m a very detail-driven person, but I need to remember the whole story in order to push through moments of self-doubt.

On my 2015 resolutions list: prioritizing reflection and rest.

A photo posted by Irene Kim (@irenekly) on

What’s your advice to someone who wants to do what you do? No need to wait until you feel like you’ve perfected your photography, editing, styling skills to get out there! I also need to remind myself of that often. There’s a lot of beauty in watching someone’s style develop over time. Another piece of advice: there’s an endless amount of visual content that we surround ourselves with these days, most often seen through our screens. I think stepping back and figuring out what can actually serve as inspiration and what simply numbs creativity is crucial.

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