Celebrating Fatherhood on Film With Sean Marc Lee and Daddy_Lee

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Sean Marc Lee ’s personal project Daddy_Lee is a touching testament to the relationship between father and son. In this series of playful portraits shot on film Sean captures his father’s sense of humour and child-like curiosity. There is an honesty to these images that is poignant, and at the same time a flippancy that ensures they are never sentimental.

We interviewed Sean back in 2017 about the on-going project, and since then he’s continued, despite the challenges of a global pandemic, to document time spent with his father.

After five years it seemed about time we caught up with Sean to find out what’s new in the world of Daddy_Lee.

© Sean Marc Lee

We first talked to you about Daddy_Lee five years ago. Over the years has your relationship with your dad changed?

I think it's natural for a relationship to change. As a child you tend to be close with parents, then grow apart once you approach your rebellious teenage years and adulthood. I definitely came full circle in that we became much closer in my late 20s, often talking on the phone as we both commuted home from work, sometimes we'd just drive in silence or with music on without talking. When I first started shooting him, it was purely for posterity sake, but intuitively... my ideas got a bit more playful and wacky. He was hesitant at first, constantly asking me "why?" or calling me "chi-seen" (which in Cantonese means "crazy/out of your mind.") I think slowly he just started accepting it was a way to "hang out" with me and have some fun.

In the recent years however, age has been taking its toll and I feel I've started becoming the parent in more ways than one. He's definitely become more self-conscious and much more aware of aging. It's a bit sad to see as it has changed his energy as a whole, but I think continuing this project is completely necessary for me. It's a personal obligation.

© Sean Marc Lee

Why are you drawn to taking photos of your father?

When I first started taking photos of him, it was more just to document. At the time, I was still (and still am) figuring out my own style of photography, so it was only natural just to record his presence. I was always interested in his life story and his experience of growing up as an immigrant in San Francisco. The biggest thing was he had a big health scare back in 2008 that landed him in the ER room, so I made a point to start photographing him more. He was hesitant to be photographed at first, but slowly started to ham it up for the camera. I started to pose him and somewhat stage things depending on the situation and then I started approaching it like a editorial portrait shoot.

He's such a big kid, for better or for worse, and I owe a lot of my interests in life to him, from movies to photography to Lego! I would also like to add, that Asian cultures are traditionally very patriarchal, and fathers are often seen as figures of serious respect. So to flip that is interesting to me. I've had a lot of people tell me it's been nice seeing an older Asian father being shown to be silly and playful, because it's just something not seen often. In light of all the recent attacks on elder Asian-Americans, it's very important these things are seen.

© Sean Marc Lee

What does he think about the photos you create with him?

He loves the attention. I remember the first time I publicly showed photos of him at a group exhibition in San Francisco (2009), he was the center of attention and loved every single moment of it. He really owned the "Daddy_Lee" moniker and it's what everyone calls him. He was a "cool kid" back in the day and always ultra stylish with his custom tailored outfits and wild pompadour hair. My mom actually didn't understand it at first, but in a way, I almost feel like it made her see the love she has for him even more.

Is there an important lesson your father has taught you?

He's not like most fathers. While he fulfils most of the typical responsibilities expected from a father, his outlook on living is what carries on to me the most. The gift of a childhood sense in seeing and enjoying the world, that is...with a slight streak of mischief and wonder, a passion to be who you are, to be proud of what you are and mostly to enjoy what you are with a smile, wink and a nod. It's like we're all in on the joke together.

© Sean Marc Lee

Do you have anything new you’re working on that you’d like to share?

Since we last spoke in 2017, a lot has happened! I believe that last interview we did about this project, was before he actually came to visit me in Taiwan. I brought him to Japan for the first time to see where he was born and to meet his extended relatives who still lived there. He hadn't left the US since he immigrated in 1951! So there was a lot of photos from that trip all over Taiwan and Japan. Otherwise, there's been a good amount of commercial work and travel experiences...and then of course the pandemic came and all that changed and I didn't get to see him for two years. I'm about to see him in a few weeks so I'm looking forward to shoot more photos of him.


Thank you Sean for sharing your work with us. Find more of his photography via his website and Instagram.

written by alexgray on 2022-06-19 #culture #people #family #dad #father #asia #documentary #father-s-day

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