Billy Dinh

Profile Billy Dinh

© Billy Dinh

“I can walk down the same streets every day for a month and see something different each time.” – Billy Dinh

─── by Josh Bright, March 12, 2024
  • Billy Dinh is an American photographer who transforms moments of everyday life into compelling, cinematic images, suffused with a potent blend of drama and intrigue.

    Kolkata: A group of men—two seated in the trailer attached to a bicycle, two standing—chat in the afternoon heat. Beyond them, passersby and a yellow taxi navigate the busy street, while further still, the city gradually fades into the distance. In the foreground, we see the edge of a pair of plastic water butts. Between them emerges the head of a seemingly crouching man, covered in lathered soap, staring at us through his one open eye.

    This striking and somewhat surreal scene was captured by Billy Dinh during his trip to the Indian city. Selected as the 1st prize-winning image of our 2023 People Photography Award by renowned National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita, it is an image that first brought Dinh’s talent to our attention and led us to further explore his impressive oeuvre.

    street color photo of people in Kolkata, India by Billy Dinh
    © Billy Dinh

    Born and raised in Philadelphia, Dinh had a creative streak from a young age, dabbling with illustration and painting, but happened upon photography, in his own words, “by accident,” as a means of preserving his youthful memories. It wasn’t until he grew older and began traveling that the camera became a tool to “document these interesting places and share the lives of others.” Though initially a hobby, mainly using a smartphone, Dinh recalls that, even then, he had a strong focus on composition, subjects, and lighting.

    Interestingly, the turning point in his photographic journey came from a stroke of bad luck. Though he also owned a DSLR, he used it mostly for photographing his illustrations, until one day, his apartment was broken into and the camera stolen. While shopping for a new one with the help of a street photographer friend, he was encouraged to take his new camera on his trips, thus marking a transformative moment in his career.

    color travel photo of men bathing in river in Kolkata, India by Billy Dinh

    Armed with this new tool, Dinh began experimenting with different styles, though never truly connected with any as he did with street photography.

    “I think a lot of it has to do with my personal experiences, my interests, and my past experiences in illustrating people that made me gravitate towards street photography. I enjoy the ability to connect more with how people are and how they behave with each other and the world. It’s also new each time. I can walk down the same streets every day for a month and see something different each time.”

    Inspired by masters of the genre and color pioneers, Saul Leiter, Harry Gruyaert, Ernst Haas, Fred Herzog and Fan Ho (among others)—as well as titans of modern travel photography like Steve McCurry and Michael Yamashita, and the realist paintings of Edward Hopper, he took to the streets, framing moments of everyday life with artistry, acumen and skill. 

    Color street photography by Billy Dinh

    He has photographed across the globe, finding particular interest in ‘busier and more hectic’ urban centres in places like India, Ethiopia and Vietnam, as well as closer to home in his adopted New York City. His process generally involves wandering the streets in search of moments of life to frame, though occasionally, if he finds a good location, he’ll wait patiently “for something interesting to fall into place.” His images are captivating, imbued with cinematic intensity thanks to his create use of shadows, slow shutter speed, and unusual angles, which engenders captivating imagery that demonstrate an impressive understanding of composition and light and a keen eye for color.

    His recent rise in prominence can be attributed, at least in part, to a shift in attitude. He acknowledges that he has always been quite self-critical when it comes to his work. However, last year, he made a conscious decision to step out of his comfort zone and share his images more extensively, resulting in well-deserved recognition and accolades, including publications on various platforms, collaborations with numerous international clients, and participation in several exhibitions (with more on the horizon this year).

    His success in our People Award was a particular high point, as the judge was Michael Yamashita, a photographer whom Dinh has always deeply admired.

    “As a fellow Asian-American photographer, his work and career have been incredibly inspirational to me. Winning this award has validated my journey and reaffirmed that I’m on the right path.”

    2024, looks set to be an exciting year for Dinh. I think I speak for all of us here at The Independent Photographer when I say we look forward to following his journey.


    All images © Billy Dinh