This week, the Women’s Street Photography Collective (Streets Ahead) is pleased and honoured to feature Heline Lam in our interview segment.
Heline’s street photography shows her ability to hone in on moments around her, capturing the essence of whatever city she happens to be in.
Her surreal images are different sides to her body of work. They combine her love of architecture and geometry with the human element that she captures on the street. You can see some of her work here:
Heline’s work has been featured in The App Whisperer’s Flickr group showcase as well as the Streets Ahead column, Mobiography, Art of Mob, EyeEm, The Phoblographer and We are Juxt-1000 words IPA. She exhibited at the Berlin Fotofestival 2013 – Berlin Calling Mobile Photography Award in the month of July 2013 (http://berlin-fotofestival.de/exhibition/heline-lam-2/), both as part of the main exhibition and a separate solo exhibition of her ‘Integration’ series. She also had a solo exhibition in Singapore last year (28 October to 15 November) where she exhibited her ‘Integration’ and ‘Onward’ series. Her photo, ‘One in a Million,’ was selected and exhibited at the Mobile Photography Awards (MPA) “Shadow Stories” exhibition in New York in May 2014.
I highly recommend a visit to her galleries
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Have you always been interested in photography?
I am originally from Canada and moved to Asia 17 years ago. I was previously a banker, subsequently moved into executive search and recruitment, which took me to living in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. Growing up, I had a keen interest in all forms of art including photography, and there was a period of time during secondary school that I would develop my own films. I was into drafting (I seriously considered studying architecture at university), painting and music (I performed and sang throughout secondary school and university).
I rediscovered photography more than two years ago after I had a difficult personal loss. When going through pain, it is easy to internalise it too much, losing sight of the world around us and what is truly important. I did not want that and needed to refocus (outside of my job), so photography opened up my horizon again, enabling me to see things differently with a new perspective. Furthermore, my husband has always been extremely supportive, and he really inspires me. He has always stayed true to himself, and I just could not be anything less.
‘Heline Lam’ – ©Heline Lam
Where do you currently live? Is this a place that gives you energy and inspiration for your street photography or do you have to travel to find it?
I currently split my time between Hong Kong and Singapore. Both places are beautiful and dynamic, and do provide me with enthusiasm for street photography. At times, inspiration does run thin when I stay at one place for too long, then I would regain my creativity from the travels.
‘Life is Beautiful’ – ©Heline Lam
Does your location, be it a big city, a small town, or the countryside, heavily inform all your photographs in general, not just your street photographs? How do you choose the places that you go to photograph?
I love architecture, lines and structures! So I am drawn towards big cities. I do not have a predisposed idea of where to photograph and I do not usually pick out places to shoot necessarily. I just let the moments lead me.
‘Life is Bananas’ – ©Heline Lam
What first drew you to street photography and how did you discover it? What is it about street photography that compels you go out to shoot on the street? What are the subjects that are of the greatest interest to you?
What drew me to street photography is the human element of it, capturing the different ways of life and most of the time trying to show how life is in harmony with its surrounding. Honestly though, I just photograph whatever interests me and catches my eye, and the photographs that I take normally reflect the state of mind that I am in at the moment.
‘Festivity’ – ©Heline Lam
Do you sometimes secretly pose or direct the subjects in your shots or do you always shoot spontaneously? Do you think there is a “right” way to take a street photograph? There are those who feel that a photograph is only good if it follows certain guidelines and fundamentals such as “the decisive moment” or that street photography should never be posed. How do you feel about this?
I would say 95% of the time I shoot spontaneously. In my humble opinion, in order for any art form to thrive and grow, there should not be so many restrictions and any connotations as to what the “right” way is. Of course, continuing to develop skill is important, for instance on composition, framing, light, etc. However, other than that, there really is no right or wrong. In any case, art is subjective.
‘Catwalk’ – ©Heline Lam
How do you feel about shooting from the hip as opposed to looking through the viewfinder?
I find it difficult to get a decent framed photo shooting from the hip. Plus I am always too curious to not look directly at my device. Looking through the viewfinder allows me more flexibility and accuracy on what I would like to convey in a shot.
‘Red’ – ©Heline Lam
These days, the genre raises many questions with regards to the morals and ethics of taking photographs of strangers in a public environment. It is becoming increasingly difficult to shoot freely as a street photographer. What are your thoughts on this? How do you feel about using model release forms and re-publication of images of the public? Are we morally, if not legally responsible?
From a moral and ethical stand-point, photographers need to be genuine in their approach, care for the subjects and show empathy in the work. A big part of street photography is to record life at a given period of time with the freedom to express artistically. So I do not agree with setting restrictions on street photography of images taken in public places. Restricting street photography’s ability to freely capture natural human emotions and relations is in fact a disservice to presenting collectively an honest picture of our current times and history.
‘Two Emotions’ – ©Heline Lam
Do you have any personal rules when it comes to street photography? For instance, are there any situations that you feel are morally unacceptable?
I do not photograph the homeless and the disabled. However, I do not have a problem when other photographers touch upon these subjects, especially when they are trying to raise social awareness.
‘A Scenic Walk’ – ©Heline Lam
Do you think women street photographers share a different perspective to men? If so, can you elaborate on your thoughts?
I do not think it is a matter of women street photographers sharing different perspective from men. Every photographer has a unique point of view and a message to convey, despite gender.
‘Sharing Secrets’ – ©Heline Lam
‘Wait’ – ©Heline Lam
As a woman street photographer, do you find yourself drawn to shooting other women and children or do you prefer to shoot men or is this irrelevant? Would you feel uncomfortable if a male street photographer were to take a photograph of you?
For me, it is not relevant. I shoot whenever the moment presents itself.
‘Chaotic Structure’ – ©Heline Lam
Do you think women street photographers are more accepted by the public when taking photographs or do you think they are more likely to be challenged? Do you have any experience of this?
I am not sure if women street photographers are more acceptable by the public as I have experienced stares, skeptical or even angry looks, and being waved off quite a bit myself when taking photographs!
‘Walker’ – ©Heline Lam
Which street photographers have influenced you?
I love the work by Fan Ho and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I also get inspired by our Streets Ahead community and I have seen wonderful street photography on EyeEm and Flickr as well. Other than street photographers though, I am influenced by paintings, news, music and movies. I highly recommend the movie, Ida, as it has a great story and each frame is beautifully shot.
‘The Street Performer’ – ©Heline Lam
Which mobile device do you use to take your photographs? Do you post-process your photographs? If so, what are your favorite post-processing techniques/apps? If you post-process on your mobile device, do you usually transfer the images as soon as they have been processed to social sites (in other words, capturing and editing the image while in situ) or do you prefer to have more time to work on your images? Please share some examples of your workflow process.
My mobile device of choice is the iPhone, and I am currently using iPhone 5s. I do post-process some of my photographs. For street photography, my post-processing is quite simple: Snapseed; then depending on what I am going for, I may or may not process through Laminar, CameraBag and/or Mextures. (For my art/conceptual work, it is a completely different post-editing technique. On my surreal images, here is a recent feature of my series:
I do not transfer images to social sites as soon as they have been processed; I prefer to have more time to sort through and work on my photos. I am keen to show only the work that I am happy with; nowadays I upload maybe 3-4 images once per week.
‘Looking Afar’ – ©Heline Lam
Do you pre-mediate the capture of your images? Do you have a plan or structure in place or do you prefer to act spontaneously? Please share your thoughts about some of your images what you were thinking, or felt when you shot those photographs.
I act quite spontaneously when it comes to street photography. I just let the moment present itself and guide me; a lot of times, it also depends on what I want to convey at that particular time.
‘A Man’s Best Friend’ – ©Heline Lam
‘Shot recently in Amsterdam, there was not a person in sight with the dog at the shop but I could feel the presence of human as the loyal dog waited patiently for its human friend.’
‘One in a Million’ – ©Heline Lam
‘In a congested and energetic city like Hong Kong, it is often difficult to imagine life could still be lonely at times. Through this photo with a moving bus in the background during rush hours after work, I wanted to show how physically close people could be yet emotionally so detached. At the same time, these individuals, be it the woman in the center on the bus or the person walking by, were connected by a common thread of exhaustion and weariness.’
What is the importance of street photography within the entire body of your work? To what extent is street photography a major focus for you?
Street photography has gotten increasing more important in my work; I would say it takes up approximately 65% of the entire body of my work nowadays.
‘Walls’ – ©Heline Lam
Who do you think is the audience for your work? Is this who you want your audience to be? What is it you hope to achieve, either on a personal or professional level, with your body of work?
I believe my audience enjoys experiencing through my eyes the urban life, architecture and structures with human element, and the different emotions and relations of living in the cities.
I have had my work exhibited in Berlin, Singapore and New York but most of those exhibitions were of a different style of my photographic work. My conceptual, surreal work has been featured in photography blogs as well. As for street photography, I do not have a set plan yet. I just really want to enjoy this journey, keep learning and challenging myself, and continue to improve on my skills.
‘Eggs’ – ©Heline Lam
What do you think distinguishes your street photography from others in the group?
Without meaning to sound too diplomatic, we all have very different perspectives and visions. Therefore, each one of us distinguishes from one another. My style has changed slightly over the past year, especially when it comes to street photography. Nowadays, I prefer to stay minimalist in my post-processing, focusing more on composition and on some aspect of either capturing or inducing emotions of living in the cities. At other times, I just want to have fun!
‘Going Through’ – ©Heline Lam
Where do you show your work? How has social media played a role in your photography? Which platforms are you most active on?
I am active on EyeEm and Flickr, and I only show my work on these two social media platforms.
‘Life’s Wit’ – ©Heline Lam
‘Taken in Frankfurt last year, I thought the words (Are U Scared?) on a construction wall seemed wittingly out of place in comparison to the happy, smiley girl who was hanging onto her father (I assumed) on the bike. I liked the contrast in meaning.’
Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us? Is there anything else you would like to add?
Maintain curiosity in life as it shows in the photos! When disappointed, it is important to remain humble, keep moving forward and stay true to your visions and aesthetics. And when you feel uninspired, just relax, take a break and shoot again!