The Shadow Photographers #6: Minyoung Lee

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Hey guys, I know I haven’t been writing as much. But you see, I’ve been productive. I’ll be writing a smashing article about shooting street photography in SF very, very soon.

But today we have a new guest shadow photographer– Minyoung Lee! She exhibits very interesting colors and patterns with none other than her lomography camera, the Lomo LC-A! Hopefully she can inspire you to shoot film on a very, very low budget. (She also has a very unhealthy obsession with her cat, who is a frequent subject for her photography.) But don’t laugh at the toy camera until you have seen her pictures– they are astounding.

Without further ado, here is Minyoung Lee.

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Q.Brief introduction!

I earn a living as a facility engineer for a major oil and gas company in the New Orleans area. My day job consists of talking to operators and fixing broken equipment for an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. I love learning new things, seeing new sights, hearing new stories, and snuggling with my not-new cat. Just your normal, right brain dominated, super-analytical, suburban hipster engineer.

 Q. How did you get into photography?

I was always a very artistic person. Some of my earliest memories consist of drawing animals for my friends and family or writing the next great classic novel. Naturally, I also tried experimenting with photography. I joined a photography club in middle school and started shooting with my father’s camera. I think I won a few awards from my school art contest with the camera, but I was not able to actually fall in love. I had a hard time grasping the concept of composition and editing. Frankly, I was very bad at it. My photos never seemed to “look good.” It was only after I learned about toy cameras that I actually started enjoying photography. The images were very unpredictable. I was finally able to relax a bit and have some fun with shooting photos. The photo was creating itself instead of me trying to force it out of the machine.

Q. What’s it like being a Lomographer? It’s a very analogue and “unprofessional” path, not to mention very uncommon.

Quite honestly, I do not consider myself as a photographer at all, nor do I take myself very seriously. The photos I take are horrible in professional standards. For me, taking photos is more like a therapy session. Taking photos with a toy camera takes a lot of time and patience. Not only am I unable to see the photos at the site where it is taken, but also I actually wait for the entire roll to finish, take the photos to the lab to be developed, and scan the said photos on to a computer to actually see them. It could be weeks or months before I actually see the photos that I have taken. The whole process is laughingly inefficient in today’s digital standards. So many steps to go through, so much trust put on random strangers’ abilities. This whole process of trusting the lab tech not screw up photos, the process of waiting, the process of realizing a photo turned out completely differently to how I planned it to be—all of this goes directly against what an efficient modern professional is expected to be. Taking time to let go, letting things be, and savoring the beauty in the imperfect—Lomography is the best therapist as it taught me all this.

Q. What’s different about lomography, as opposed to just a normal point-and-shoot (e.g. with a cellphone cam)? Or vs a DSLR?

Lomography images reflect a memory of a situation better than a normal camera would. I always felt that photos taken with a normal camera felt very cold, and now I realize why this is so. When I remember something, I do not remember it crystal clear, like how a camera would remember something. A memory is hazy and distorted. Sometimes, someone else can add something into the memory and change what really happened. Much like an image shot with a toy camera. The images can arrive to you out of focus with light leaking in, or scratched at the edges by an inexperienced lab tech.

Q.What do you think about when you shoot (if at all)? What is your strategy for when you take out your camera to shoot?

I try to take my camera and film everywhere I go, just in case I run into something interesting. I used to forget and regret this all the time, so I finally made myself a small camera bag with all my three toy cameras and tons of film. The bag always sits right at my doorstep and is the last thing I grab before heading outside. As with what I think when I shoot, I try not to think of anything, which can be hard for someone who thinks for a living.

Q.How do you identify with “street photography”? What does it mean to you?

I do not believe in setting a stage for a photo, especially since the world is already full of interesting things and situations just ready to be captured in an image. Having a camera ready lets one become more aware of one’s surroundings rather than just speeding past it day by day. There is just so much beauty all around us that can be missed and I try to capture as much of it as I can before it withers back into hiding place.

Q.What’s the happiest moment you’ve had while shooting/printing your photos?

I absolutely love scanning photos. The whole process of turning brown negatives into something colorful on screen is absolutely enchanting. I mean, how can all those different shades of brown transfer into so much information? After the photos are done scanning, I barely even look at the stuff that actually comes onto the screen. Only after some time when I start looking through archives for some home decoration project or for a photo-blog interview do I realize, hey some of these photos turned out really cool! I guess realizing your photos did turn out pretty cool is also a pretty cool feeling.

Q.A word of advice to budding photographers who are afraid to try out film/lomography?

Have fun! Film is one of those interesting media in that you can either chose to have complete control in your photo, or you can completely let go. Different types of film will interact with different camera bodies in so many different ways. It is almost as if you have an infinite number of cameras to play with. Shooting with film does cost a lot more compared to digital since you would have to buy the film (usually online), then process and print the photos (also available online or at your local lab/drugstore), but once you realize the dept and integrity of color you can produce from film, it will be very difficult to go back to digital.

Q. Any interesting stories from your shootings? (w/ people, or doesn’t have to be!)

During the Tennessee Williams Festival, I was walking down a random street on the edges of the French Quarter, trying to find where I parked my car. I came across a street performer using the tinted window of his Honda Pilot to put on make up for a show that evening. He was one of those performers who paint their entire bodies gray/silver and pretend to be dancing statues whenever someone places a dollar into his bucket. The moment was so candid and delicate, but I unfortunately broke it by scrambling to find my camera from my oversized bag. (I did not have my handy camera bag ready at this time.) I did ask the guy for a photo and he posed (for free) for me. He gave me a V sign on the photo but he did mention his normal was to give everyone there a big Finger. He also offered me some weed but I graciously declined. Honestly, the photo would have turned out awesome if I was able to take that candid moment, but then I probably would not have been offered any drugs.

Q. Do the colors of lomography films inspire you to shoot in a certain way or certain subjects?

When I first started shooting film, I just bought the cheapest film possible and did not really care. Now that I experimented with different types of film, I realize that the film affects the photo even more so than the camera does in every aspect. I try to take the “right” type of film when I am going on planned photo shoots to what I am trying to take. If I run across a situation that is perfect for the film that is loaded onto my camera, I commence a wild shooting frenzy. Expired film is also fun in that they tend to produce really wild images that cannot be forecast at all. Sometimes they turn out with a lime green tint, sometimes neon orange, sometimes they have giant holes punched in a random location. There is never a wrong situation for expired film.

Q. What inspires your photography?

Contrasting color, furry animals, and old things. Film photos, regardless of the manufacturer, are layered with warm color, and the depths you can achieve from the film are just very difficult to duplicate with digital images. I do not think I have to justify my love for shooting furry animals. Furry animals are cute. In terms of old things, I am especially fond of ruins, graffiti, and old architecture. I could not have chosen a better place to live than New Orleans.

Shameless plug:

I consider myself a non-public persona who is too lazy to keep a website or blog, so I do not really have a public portfolio or anything available right now. However, I have a very public private Facebook life. If you would like to get to know me better, feel free to send me a message via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/twotwobird). If you would like to offer me an awesome engineering job, search for me on Linkedin (hint hint).

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&&Phil: Comment, Like, or Tweet. The choice is yours. Your reward? A delicious cookie.

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