Multimedia Laboratory

Interview with photographer | Peter Ash Lee

When did you first become involved in photography and why?

I actually majored in psychology and human resources business during my undergrad in Canada. One summer I got an internship working in Seoul at Samsung in their HR department and absolutely hated it. So I quit the internship and called up a cousin who I heard was working as a still-life photographer at a studio in Korea. I followed him around all summer and at the end of it he handed me a backup Hasselblad as a gift, and I haven’t put it down since.

Who are some of your favorite photographers and why do you admire their work?

There are so many photographers I admire for various reasons, but I guess the ones that have directly influenced my work include Hellen Van Meene, Richard Avedon, Hiroh Kikai, and Alec Soth. I think their works have definitely shaped the way I look at subjects and also what I’m attracted to.

What is your greatest experience as a photographer?

I can’t say that I can pinpoint a single experience as being the greatest, but I think the main thing that I love about what I do is the amazing people I get to meet and work with. Whether it’s a young talented actress or an 86-year-old umbrella maker, the opportunity to interact with these people that I’d normally not have a reason to meet is very interesting.

What equipment do you prefer to use and why?

I mainly work with a Hasselblad 503CW. I also love my Contax G2.

Describe your editing process (i.e. How do you go about selecting, retouching and printing your photographs?)

I prefer collaborating with other people I trust to help edit my work, only because I think as a photographer, you can get very attached to the images you take. Especially shooting on 120 film, you’re really thinking about each shot you take, as you get only 12 shots per roll so you better make sure each one counts. So I think it helps to have an outside eye to help provide a second opinion. But of course there are some images that I look at and just know that I love and no one can change my mind.

As far as retouching goes, I keep things pretty minimal and natural. I’m not a fan of over retouching especially when you’re dealing with portraits. Of course with fashion photography I think retouching is essential in creating a fantasy, but when you’re talking about portraits in the classic sense, I think it should represent the individual fairly accurately. Besides, I think it’s the wrinkles, creases, and the individual idiosyncrasies that make a person beautiful and special.

What sets your work apart from that of others?

I hope that my work has a specific aesthetic that sets itself apart from other photographers. Perhaps the natural light and the minimalism is a distinguishing characteristic in my work. Also working in the editorial/celebrity field, the most frequent comment I get from talent and publicists is their surprise at the fact that I still shoot with film. I guess it is becoming more of a rarity with the rapid development of digital technology.

What are your photographic plans and aspirations for the future?

To be honest, I’ll be happy if I’m always shooting and working with interesting and passionate people. I’d also like more opportunities to spend time on personal work and projects outside the commercial/editorial realm and work with galleries. I recently returned from Italy shooting a series of portraits of Neapolitan tailors which I’m very happy with, and I’d love to see those images hanging in a gallery one day.

You’ve photographed quite a few well-known actors; is there anyone whom you’ve particularly enjoyed working with?

Most recently I photographed Anjelica Huston in Venice, California, and she had to be one of the most incredible women to work with. The way she moved and carried herself in front of the camera was just so elegant and beautiful. The entire experience from the space to the old French music she had brought with her to play during the shoot was very different from any other shoot I’ve done, and it felt as though I had gone back in time to what I imagine a photo shoot in the 40s would have felt like.

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