Photographer: Sean Marc Lee
Whats your issue with “street” photographers?
I don’t really have an issue with street photography as a type of photography per se, but it’s more so the use of the term and the prevalence of it on the internet that really bugs me. It’s this circle jerk club of people who only believe a street photographer can use a Leica to shoot and it always has to be some form of a) a person in mid motion or standing “juxtaposed” (i hate that word) with an advertisement or store window behind them b) some form of dutch angle with somebody peaking with just their eyes from the corner of the frame c) some really in your face flash photography of homeless/people of color/tattoos/kids. It’s this notion that street photography can only be one thing which is such bullshit because the very notion of photography is to uniquely capture what you see as a person, not what everyone else thinks should be considered photography. Set the camera at F5.6–8, zone focus and just blind fire at people who don’t know you are taking your picture. It’s almost a sheer game of numbers to these people to get a good frame. This circle jerk of bloggers will also constantly pat themselves on the back for everything they upload on the internet while at the same time blog about inane topics about “not caring about likes” or endless lists of how to get better or what gear they use, or how to win at social media, yet no one ever asks themselves the serious questions of why or how to see differently and what their personal experiences can bring to the table. They will make endless lists of quotes from the “masters” of street photography, i.e. Bresson, Capa, Winogrand and Frank who will drive more traffic to their site. At the end of the day, it doesn’t affect me at a professional level, because most of these people will never secede out of the tropes they are stuck in.
What about “the decisive moment?”
In the context of when Bresson coined the term, sure I’ll buy into it as a way of describing photography as an “art” for that time period. But we’ve come so far visually culturally that I don’t think it necessarily applies anymore. It’s like the terms in cinema of jump cutting, flashbacks, montages and dolly shots, they’ve all become tropes to use in trying to describe something visual artistically. There has to be more than just those tropes. I feel this “decisive moment” doesn’t mean anything anymore especially in a day in age when the fastest DSLR snaps 12 frames a second. The context he created with that term applies to when he used old manual Leica’s limited to 36 exposures. Seeing someone jump across a pond just doesn’t interest me anymore (in reference to one of Bresson’s photos).
How do you approach subjects on the streets for a photo?
Here in Taipei, my mandarin is limited so it usually starts with me saying “excuse me do you speak english?” 80% of the time they speak enough. Usually I’m with my girlfriend or a friend who speaks fluent mandarin more or less helps break the ice (I find having a female approach other females seems less creepy). We just explain I shoot street fashion photography for The Wall Street Journal, tell them we think they look awesome, like their style, etc. In the three years I’ve been doing this, only been rejected three times, twice by guys, and once by a girl. Generally speaking, I find people who put some thought in their clothes are welcoming to being shot and from other fashion blogs I’ve seen in and around Taipei, it seems to be the same people popping up in them.
How has being a pervert affected your photography?
Hah!I think to shoot people, be it male or female, you have to certainly fall in love with them or crush on them a certain way. It’s about noticing things they do, be it gestures or their movements or say the way their hair covers their eyes. I’ve a thing for earlobes, jawlines and necklines and certainly, being a straight male I am naturally drawn to females. If anything I’m more a pervert for the memory of people and shared experiences for that one moment in time. I think Araki said it best: “…I take a photograph of each woman out of a lingering attachment…because a photograph expresses a desire to make that woman mine. But, the women all leave me. Anyway, the intrinsic nature of photographs is lingering attachment. The desire to preserve something in the form of a photograph is the basic instinct, or physiology of photography.” It’s part lust, part love, and part unrequited desire to preserve the memory of them in your own way.
How has your drinking problem, I mean habit, affected your career?
I write this as I am sipping on some whiskey. In all honestly, it’s only been positive. I’ve met everything from art directors to marketing heads from drinking at bars. It seems a lot of creatives have a shared love for the drink and conversation can lead to interesting collaborations as well as new friendships. I also don’t trust creative types who don’t drink or enjoy the drink. I think we should all bring back the afternoon martini.
Your dad is an interesting subject!
Daddy_lee, what can I say. He’s a forever inspiration in my life for me, my family and in ways, my friends. He’s the reason my brother, sister and I will forever perceive the world in a childlike wonder. He’s the reason why I fell in love with films and the reason why I started photography with his Minolta in high school. In the beginning he didn’t take it seriously that I wanted to take his photos, but in the recent years he would take direction well and enjoy it, knowing people liked his photos and he was sorta a semi-celebrity amongst my friends. Yeah, he’s way cooler than I am.
What are the conditions best for capturing a great photo?
What do you want to shoot more of?
My dad. Because no matter what I tell him to do, he will always crack his toothy smile and say out loud “chi-seen” in Cantonese which more or less means “fucking ridiculous!” And he will love it. Oh, Kiko Mizuhara and Aoi Yu too. Hah!
You found an assisting job for a Nat-Geo photographer on Craigslist?
Random dumb luck. “National Geographic photographer seeking retoucher and assistant here in Taipei, Taiwan.” I sent my resume and a short email, went in for an interview and started the week after. I pretty much worked for him as a retoucher and then more a studio manager for the last three years while freelancing on the side. It was an interesting experience and I did learn a lot from the business side of things.
Your message to photographers you hate:
Get off my lawn.
Sean Marc Lee is a photographer currently based in Taipei, Taiwan