INTERVIEW // Photographer Zun Lee

1) You say this in your bio: ” I was trained in a profession in which humans at their most vulnerable grant permission to a stranger to invade their privacy. As a result, I have always had an intense interest in the dynamics of power, trust and control when it comes to human interaction.” What profession is that? Are you referring to photography? Is this sense of vulnerability in the back of your mind every time you photograph someone – stranger or friend?

Being a physician definitely plays a part in how I go about interacting with people on the street. I’m not referring primarily to photography. For me, being a photographer is not something you “do”, it’s who you “are” as an artist and as a human being. So, yes, this notion of interaction and exploring aspects of vulnerability is constantly in the back of my mind.

When I refer to interaction between the photographer and the subject, I don’t necessary mean actual verbal communication taking place between two human beings. Even in street scenes or portraits featuring a single human being, the “subject” isn’t necessarily that human being. Our thoughts and behaviors are affected by how we move through the world, so the environment and how one relates to it at any given moment in time also play a part in that interaction.

Of course, the kind of interaction I seek on the street can take the form of actual verbal exchanges, and it is often the case for me. Sometimes, it’s subtler – a nod, a glance. But most of it happens invisibly – A feeling, emotion or state of mind you may become aware of in a particular moment and that you project into the world: in some cases, curiosity, empathy, love, optimism. In other cases discomfort, fear, doubt. Folks that know me personally often hear me talk about “energy”, something you intuitively feel in your gut as you survey your environment for picture-making opportunities.

Photographing people on the street, no matter how “interesting” or “beautiful” the subject, that alone doesn’t do it for me. I would like for the viewer to be able to discern what kinds of thoughts or emotions were involved when I pressed the shutter. Or at the very least, make up their own story about what is unfolding.


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