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Mobile Photography – Streets Ahead Interview with Lee Atwell

The Women’s Mobile Street Photography Collective (Streets Ahead) is extremely pleased and honored to feature Lee Atwell in this week’s interview.

When I first learned about Lee’s work, it was immediately clear to me that she is an artist who definitely walks around with a pair of keen and sensitive eyes… because each one of her images is made up of beautiful compositions, textures and colors. Yet at the same time, she touches upon (and brings out) an emotional, almost spiritual, “feel” to her subjects and landscapes. It is has been a real joy and privilege getting to know Lee and work more completely… and it is highly recommended that after reading her interview, you head on over to Flickr and EyeEm to enjoy a more complete sampling of Lee Atwell’s work.





© Lee Atwell, “Self portrait”



Please share a little bit about yourself…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Have you always been interested in photography? Are you (or have you been) involved in any other art medium… such as painting, sculpture, writing, music?

Firstly, I am very honored to be interviewed by Streets Ahead! I adore The App Whisperer and this woman’s collective as I am so inspired by the photos and articles that are published here.

I was born in Vancouver, Canada and from a young age I have been interested in photography as both my parents were avid amateur photographers in Winnipeg in the late 1940s to early 1960s. They loved photography, had their own darkroom, and my dad used to submit photos to local exhibits and competitions at that time, too. When the children were born, their hobby was not pursued as much, except for family photos on vacation. However, I was lucky that they were very supportive of my interest in photography and when one of my eclectic teachers offered photography as an elective at school – my parents were thrilled! It was in that class that we developed our own photos in a darkroom. It was also then that my dad turned our small bathroom into a darkroom and using his old equipment, and with his guidance, that I was able to play and experiment in a darkroom at home. The process of taking photos and developing them transfixed me and I loved the art and science of photography.

More recently I returned to photography with a passion when I received my first iPhone and realized how great the camera was!

Our whole family was artistic and we have attributed it to the influence our grandfather had on us as he was a commercial graphic artist and landscape painter in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Manitoba. We all loved to draw, paint and work with ceramics and were encouraged to do so.

Which mobile device do you use?


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Which mobile device do you use to take (and process) your photographs?

Today I use an iPhone 4 for taking photos and for doing most of my editing. However, I also have an iPad mini and use it for processing some of the images as it has the ‘Procreate’ app which I love and is not available on an iPhone. I also find the larger screen easier to app photos.

How did it all start?


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


How did you get involved in mobile street photography? And is this a genre that you predominantly focus on in your work?

I became more recently involved in street photography when I was part of a great photography group on Facebook called ‘Social Culture Café’ which Roberto Murgia started, which inspired me to take more photos in urban settings. Although we live in Seattle, I feel very rural at heart and had gravitated more to rural subjects and natural settings for photography in the past. However, taking photos in the city streets has been such a wonderful way for me to embrace our urban existence in a whole new way.

At least once a week I love to wander the city streets with my iPhone in search of opportunities to capture.

Street Photography Ethics…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


There is a general question among some people about the morals and ethics of taking pictures of strangers in a public environment. Many think that this is an infringement of an individual’s rights and privacy. What are your thoughts on this? Has the question about “privacy” been an issue for you in your work? Have you had any negative experiences taking street photographs in your home country or whilst traveling abroad? How did you handle them?

In general, I ask myself before I post a picture “if someone took this photo of me would I be okay with them posting it for the world to see?” I think because photos are so easily shared these days, more people are increasingly wary of having their photos taken than in the past – with the uncertainty as to where it will be used and how it will be shared.

Personal guidelines while in the streets…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Do you have any rules in place when you are on the street photographing? For example: are there certain “things” or situations that you personally feel are “off limits” in your photography? Can you explain why?

Currently I prefer not to post recognizable faces of children as a focal point in street photography images as I think that it is inappropriate without parental permission.

Personal preferences while on a photo shoot…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


What kind of situations, characters, and/or environments appeal to you? Why?

It is hard to answer this question as it is hard to say if there is anything specifically that appeals to me more than something else – often it is the person themselves – an air about them that I pick up on in a brief moment that touches my soul, or their attire that seems to capture their personality in a way that transcends words, or a place that provides a captivating backdrop or incredible light, that helps to frame the person or people in the photo in such a way that somehow speaks of our connection to a certain time and place, that emotes an unexpected feeling that may have been unnoticed before.

I do have a huge concern about environmental issues and have been drawn to capture street images from rallies in the past – I feel that taking street photos in these situations can document an important aspect of our existence on our planet as we face devastating effects of global climate change. I am moved by the passion of the people that attend these rallies – to be seen and heard – to take photos of them feels like is somehow validating the strength of their concern.

Women’s perspective in street photography…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Do you think that women bring to photography, especially street photography, a certain perspective that is not necessarily shared by many male photographers? If so, can you elaborate on your thoughts?

I have seen such amazing street photography by both men and women that documents life on the street – the beauty, the harshness, the sweetness, the pathos, and the rawness of our everyday urban existence, which captures the souls of the subjects and pulls the heartstrings of the viewer.

However, I also feel that there is a certain flavor that women street photographers capture that is unique and that I love and that is hard for me to put my finger on exactly… except, that it feels as though it somehow stems from how we may view the world and our surroundings – that what we choose to focus on and our relationship to our surroundings may be different. I read recently an example of the difference (I am sorry not to remember where) – imagine if a man and woman photographer were in a war torn city to document life there – what would each choose to focus on? I think that is interesting to contemplate.

Women street photographers who have influenced you…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Are there any women street photographers/photo journalists who have inspired you in your work? If so, who are they? And what inspires you about their work?

I believe that what we are exposed to at an early age can have far-reaching effects on our experiences and what influences us as adults. Last year when we sold our childhood home and had to clear out all the cupboards I was reminded of my photography influences as a child – specifically the ‘Photography Journals’ (a yearly selection of the world’s greatest photographs compiled by the editors of ‘Popular Photography’ magazine) from the 50s and 60s that my parents collected. I remember how much I enjoyed and admired the photos within those covers… and so many images such as the ones by ‘Esther Bubley‘ captivated me then, and in reflection, still inspire me today. (Click here for video on Esther Bubley)

Another book that I remember so vividly as a child was ‘The Sweet Flypaper of Life’ with the photographs of Roy DeCarava (click here for book review), although obviously not a woman, depict so many gorgeous images of women in the streets of Harlem in the 1950s. I adore how the images capture a time in women’s history that have been permanently recorded through such thoughtful eyes. I admire the way he captured the souls of the women and the life of the ordinary person in such an extraordinary way. An exhibit of his is coming soon to Ohio – (Exhibition Link ).

Another more recently discovered photographer I am so curious about is Vivian Maier (Vivian Maier’s website) . I am fascinated by her story and enthralled by her photos of street photography. There is something so pure in her art expression as she was such a private person and took photos for taking photos sake – not to be recognized or for notoriety.

Role that mobile devices play with women and photography…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Do you think that more women are getting involved in this genre because of the democracy and immediacy of mobile devices? What are your thoughts on this?

Yes – I think so very much! It seems that using a mobile device for photography allows the photographer to be much more unnoticed – this has encouraged me to be braver in street settings, too.

Also, in general, I think women love to create and long to be creative to feel balanced in our often too busy lives. Mobile street photography allows women to be creative so spontaneously – from waiting at a bus stop, to walking down the street on the way to work, to staying up way too late apping photos from the day – mobile photography allows so much freedom for women to be creative at any time. Also, social networking can inspire so much as well – from viewing other’s photos, to being able to share images worldwide in an instant, to getting feedback on your photos – all can be very encouraging as an artist.

Post processing images…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


What are your thoughts on post-processing mobile street images? Do you post process your own images? Can you share with us an example of your workflow process?

One of my first apps was ‘Hipstamatic’ almost 2 years ago, and what I love about it is the ability to change lenses, filters, and flashes to create images that to me feel very reminiscent of photography from eras gone by. I somehow feel very drawn to vintage photos – I think mostly from growing up viewing my mom and dad’s photos and also their old ‘Photography Journals’.

Often I am very happy with the result of the finished photo without post-processing a ‘Hipstamatic’ image (however, acknowledging that the app processes the image from the beginning) and in fact, when I have tried to post-process it has been quite disastrous! I feel the app creators have really mastered how to attain the best effects with combining the lenses and films.

However, I have begun to manipulate my photos a little more lately however, as I have been playing more with different apps. I like ‘Snapseed,’ for example, which allows you to fine-tune an image, apply a ‘tilt-shift’ focus, crop etc.

Post processing with street photography reminds me of being in a darkroom – where you are able to enhance an image by cropping, increasing the contrast, darken or lighten an area for example. As much as I admire artists who do not post process their street images, I also appreciate and am often in awe of the complex and extraordinary art involved in post processing as well.

Please share some images and what your thoughts about them are…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”

Lee: “It was a foggy day on the coast in Santa Cruz California and it wasn’t until the sun was near setting that it began to break through. I was struck by the shadows from the vintage building at the board walk and was surprised when this elderly couple stepped out of the shadows adding to the vintage feel of the place.


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”

Lee: This is one of my dad’s street photos. (I had to google the date to find out the story behind the photo.) There was a huge fire at the ‘Time Building’ in Winnipeg on june 8th, 1954 with millions of dollars worth of damage, even in that era. Apparently it happened in the midst of a rain storm with gusts of 75 mph. I love how my dad focused on the people – the ones in the foreground with hands in their pockets, the trench coats and hats… the cluster of men in the distance in the same attire, the burned building as a frame, the reflection in the puddle to the right… and everyone looking and moving to the left – except the one man looking towards my father on the right…I love the story within the image.

Artistic goals and aspirations…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


What are your artistic goals and aspirations?

At this point in my life I feel I am quite addicted to mobile photography and my goals are just to keep on taking photos and being inspired by others… and to keep sharing my love of the art. I am quite excited to think about where photography may evolve to in our future. It was not that long ago that the idea of taking a quality photo with a phone seemed ridiculous!

Another goal is to take more time to delete and trash photos! Both my computer and iPhone regularly tell me to delete files, or that my storage is full! The iPhone message often appears when I am out just about to capture a photo – and then I have to take timeout to delete, delete, delete… missing the moment completely. 🙂

Social Media platforms…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Where do you show your work? What social networks are you on? On which platforms are you most involved?

I share my photos mainly via internet sites such as Flickr and EyeEm (and groups linked to them). I also enjoy so much being a part of Facebook photography groups that offer ‘weekly challenges’ or themes, such as ‘Hipstamatic Sardinia’, where I have learned so much about the app in such a fun and supportive environment of friends.

I love The App Whisperer for its remarkable resource for learning about the apps and to be inspired by other’s work. And of course ‘Streets Ahead’ pulls at my heartstrings as I am fascinated and love the challenge of the genre.

I am thrilled about the new addition of ‘Streets Ahead’ on Facebook – another great way to keep in touch with the collective.

I tend to enter photos into online contests as well, as I enjoy sharing my work in those realms, too.

Personal tips…


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Do you have any mobile street photography tips or tricks that you’d like to share with us?

I find that taking photos of street performers is a great way to begin to feel comfortable about taking pictures in the street as the performers are usually so open and accepting of having their photos taken.

Anything else?


© Lee Atwell, “Untitled”


Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

What I adore about street photography is the spontaneity and challenge of it. I love heading out into the city for photography adventures (often with my husband who loves to photograph, too) and not knowing what subject matter will present itself… and being completely open to the element of surprise and capturing whatever presents itself in an instant.

I love that you have to expect the unexpected in street photography – to be prepared with your camera phone all set and to be open to the environment and what shows up when you least expect it – such as the immediate exchanges between people, or a fleeting glance or gesture. It has also enabled me to see the city and the people within it in such a different way – capturing individual moments, moment to moment, instead of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the city as a whole.

I appreciate so much that the images are candid, un-posed and that they can document the beautiful, ugly, humorous, pathos, irony, and tragedy of life as it is.

I also enjoy viewing other people’s street images as they so often tell such amazing stories – from the capture of such a brief moment in time. I like the idea of how street photos hold up a mirror to ourselves, our society, our lives, our cultures… and allow us to peer into these often personal places – that allow us to feel more connected to one another and the current era in which we live in an intimate way.

Also, being in my fifties I feel I am straddling a generation of photographers that is slipping away and a younger generation that is growing up with mobile devices in their hands from the moment they can hold it – and I feel it is important to acknowledge, honor and recognize the women photographers that have come before us that opened the doors for us today, that inspire us to be courageous and to take photos in the street as we do today. I think it is good to remember that it was not that long ago that photography was an overwhelmingly male dominated art.

I also like the idea of future generations looking back at our photos today in the same way we look back at past generations – often in awe and wonder – to see the lives we are leading at this time and what is reflected in the photos that in the future will seem outdated.

I am so happy to be a part of this collective and feel fortunate that the more we as women photographers, as a genre, are exposed to one another’s street photographs and styles, the braver we can become to capture day to day moments in our lives – moments that make us stop in our visual tracks and make us feel something – that remind us what it is to be fully human.

JQ's background is in painting and printmaking at the Pratt Institute, she also owned and operated a Books Arts & Textiles Studio in NYC. Three years ago JQ discovered mobile photography and her work has been exhibited in a number of exhibitions around the world.


  • gina costa

    I am huge fan of Lee’s work! This is a wonderful interview with a woman who has such a brilliant eye.

    Thank you! Inspirational interview!

    • lee atwell

      Thank you, Gina! I am very touched by your comment and your support means so much to me!

  • Janine Graf

    I’m so in awe of you Lee! Thank you so much for interviewing her JQ! 😀

    • lee atwell

      Thank you so much Janine! I am such a fan of you and your creative, whimsical, powerful
      and stunning images!

  • Stef LP

    @lee atwell really appreciated your thoughts here. Especially your closing thoughts.
    Such a thoughtful and insightful perception.
    Indeed a wonderful collective this groups feeds.

    Loved this read. @jq Gaines and @joanne thanks for providing a platform to share this.
    It holds alot of weight n empowerment for woman.

    Thanks also for the links …many of whom will be a nice armchair journey to consider.

    • lee atwell

      Your kind words and taking the time to comment mean a lot to me, Stef! I am so happy and honored to be a part of this collective, too! I wholeheartedly agree that this platform for street photography created by Joanne and JQ is such a supportive environment for us all <3

  • Veevs

    Lee such a wonderful interview and amazing photography history! Loved your Dad’s old photo! Big hugs girlie!

    • lee atwell

      Heart-full thank you Veevs! I am glad my dad’s photo struck a chord with you – I was so thrilled to be able to share it… all of his photos have been hidden away in boxes for decades and I often wonder the best way to resurrect them and honor him…
      A warm hug back to you!

  • Tracy Mitchell Griggs

    Wow. Thanks for the great interview and to see the real face behind the image. A thoughtful interview with great insight. Happy to see the gallery here – quite prolific and a great talent you have overall, but especially the “street” images.
    Cheers! Happy iShooting~