Like father, like son. These words can never get any truer than in Sean Marc Lee's endearing series, "Daddy_Lee". Inspired by his father's "child-like curiosity" and "weird quirks", each portrait reflects the strong bond and mutual trust between them, resulting to a visual essay that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. Here, Lee shares his insights about his photographs and a favorite joke from his loving father.
Hi Sean! Welcome back to the Lomography magazine. What’s keeping you busy lately?
Hi Lomography! I suppose since the last time I talked to you guys was last year for a Instax show at the Lomography store here in Taipei. Since then, it's just been steady mix of commissioned work and traveling for both work and pleasure. I'm in a small group show which recently opened here in Taipei last September 9, so preparing for it kept me busy as I also printed first zine, Neko Neko Ai Ni, for the opening. My father will also be visiting Taiwan for the first time on mid-October and we will bring him to Japan to meet relatives he has not seen since 1951 as part of a family project my sister and I are working on.
In your previous interview with us, you mentioned that your first foray into film photography was with an analogue camera that your dad lent you. How did your father influence you as a person and as a photographer?
My father is the reason I was really into movies at a young age, exposing us as children to a lot of '70s American Cinema as well as '80s and '90s Hong Kong cinema. We practically lived at the local video store! Everything from Scorsese to Hitchcock to John Woo to campy B-films starring Rutger Hauer as a Vietnam vet blind samurai to even Jean-Claude Van Damme films we consumed with excitement.
By high school, I was a huge Star Wars fan and eventually went to college at UC San Diego with the goal of originally becoming a visual effects artist. I started with many critical film studies and production classes, directing and shooting my own films. It was in film classes that I discovered the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) and it changed my outlook about movies and what I wanted to do. After college, seeing how hard it was to even make films without resources or money (this is before the DSLR video revolution), I went back to photography as an creative alternative at the same time rediscovering Wong Kar Wai and Haruki Murakami. So long story short, yes it was my father who is the original crux of how I got into film and photography.
Let’s dive right into your series, "Daddy_Lee". You are both photographers, so I imagine this series started rather naturally between you and your dad. Can you tell us more about the story behind it?
After college, when I moved to Los Angeles, just the fact that I didn't see my family often (they lived in San Francisco), I made it a point to document them whenever I came to visit. Originally the photographs of my dad were just purely documentation, but then I started realizing all the weird quirks that make families and people special and started directing him to do things I just thought were funny. Originally he would ask why, but now he is completely part of the collaborative process, sometimes even suggesting certain things.
You approach this portrait series with playfulness and humor. Has it always been a part of your dynamics as father and son?
My father also has always had a child-like wonder about life and the world, influencing myself and my siblings from our hobbies to our mischievous approach to life. He worked long hours as a cab driver in order to provide us toys and things he wanted as a kid, always trying to make an annual trip to Disneyland during the summer because he himself loved Disneyland. As I got older, we sort of developed a friendship where we could practically talk about anything and that in turn lead to a certain trust he has with me when it comes to taking photos. If I see a moment or a chance to create a moment, he is always game to play.
Speaking of humor, does your father have a joke that stuck with you?
Ok, this is kind of a Chinese specific joke, but he always cracks up when explaining it. It goes:
Dad: Do you want to hear a dirty joke?
Dad: OK, a Chinese man goes to a restaurant and orders a bowl of jook to go. When he comes outside, he trips and falls and his jook spills all over the ground. Dirty Jook. Get it? HAHAHAHAHA!
That's exactly how he explains it. (Jook is the Cantonese word for rice porridge, also known as congee).
Also, there is a Cantonese word he says a lot, called, "CHI SEEN" which essentially means, "That's ridiculous." It got to the point where he said it so much at everything, everyone in the family would say it just to tease him.
Among these quirky portraits, do you have a favorite? What makes it special for you?
I think my favorite is the one of him dangling the slice of beef out of his mouth like a tongue. Probably because it was one of the early portraits where I just told him to do it, and he did it no questions asked. I took one shot with a point-and-shoot film camera, and it just came out perfectly. It was sort of the beginning of the quirky portraits.
How do you stay creative?
I wish I knew the answer to that. It's always a struggle to continue to make new work that's relevant and personally satisfies me, while making a living as well.
What are you looking forward to in this ongoing series?
I can't wait until when he's in Asia and I get to reenact everything that influences me in Asian cinema with him. I also can't wait to do silly things in Japan and of course, for him to meet relatives he hasn't seen since he was a child. Mostly, I just want to spend time with him (and my mom of course).
All images and information in this article are provided to Lomography by Sean Marc Lee and used here with permission. To see more of his work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram and Facebook. His debut zine, Neko Neko Ai Ni, is now available in a limited edition of 500 at the Neocha Shop as well as his website.
Lee is also part of the photography exhibit On the Hush, which offers a rare glimpse into the personal lives of five photographers. The show will run until September 30. For more info, visit their event page.