March 30, 2021
Photography by Joseph Lee
Interview by Melanie Meggs
Joseph Lee's photography captures the beauty of everyday life. His photographs are often spontaneous, capturing random moments of people in different settings - be it nature, the city, or near the sea. Through these candid images, he invites viewers to create stories of their own, inviting them to explore the complexity of the human experience.
At the heart of Joseph's photography practice is a deep appreciation for people and their environment. His images feature characterful subjects who appear to occupy a space with an almost dreamlike quality. His work often evokes a sense of nostalgia, connecting viewers to seemingly forgotten memories.
Joseph’s ambition is to document life in a way that leaves the story up to the viewer. Through this creative process, he encourages viewers to explore and discover new narratives from his images. Take a journey with Joseph Lee as he explores the beauty of people and the sense of the space that they occupy. From random moments in nature to people in the city, his images invite viewers to take part in a creative and unique journey. Discover the unique stories that lay hidden in Joseph Lee’s photos and be swept away in a world of nostalgia and beauty.
“I’m fascinated by people and have always loved watching them go about their business. My street photography is an extension of that. I’m interested in the magic that reveals itself in these everyday comings and goings. It never ceases to amaze how quickly these moments come to light when I step out with my camera. I just walk and observe and the magic is always there for me. I try to keep the composition simple, with a limited colour palette and a sense of space is important, which probably comes from that cinematic influence.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH JOSEPH LEE
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Joseph, please tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
JOSEPH LEE: I was born in north Wales and have returned recently, having spent most of my life living in London and then Hastings. I have always had an interest in photography, but the passion really took hold about five years ago. It has become my primary creative outlet and there’s no turning back now.
TPL: Where do you find your inspiration? Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
JL: Definitely out and about watching the to and fro of everyday life is the most inspiring place to be.
Also, the Magnum Agency’s work has been a huge source of inspiration. I discovered Elliott Erwitt properly recently and love his work. There’s also Gregory Crewdson, Annie Leibovitz, Don McCullin, Nick Hedges, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Michael Bennett, Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange. Painters such as Edward Hopper, Paul Nash and Mark Rothko as well. I’m also inspired by movies - the vision of directors like Wim Wenders (and his photography), Tarantino, David Lynch and their cinematographers have had a lasting effect on my work, often subconsciously I think.
I am studying for an MA in Socially Engaged Photography currently and through that have discovered Wendy Ewald, who’s work and approach I’m very interested in.
I love the artists featured on The Pictorial List obviously! The Instagram community has also been incredibly inspiring - there are so many wonderful people doing fantastic work and being part of that community as helped me develop a great deal. There are so many great artists on Instagram, too many to mention but a few are: @luxtasia, @georgiepeelphoto, @leethirkelleson, @darbolger, @streetsnappers, @kim_aldis, @billie_charity, @alanmartine_z, @rpapworthphotos, @robbremner_photographer, @paul_menzies_, and @zigghi49.
TPL: Do you have any favourite spots to go photographing?
JL: I used to live in Hastings and this period was a turning point in my work. It’s a place of great contrast - with natural beauty and urban grime and grittiness in equal measure. There is also a big socioeconomic divide which can be seen on the streets and I became interested in trying to capture this in my photography. It’s a vibrant, exuberant place, but also a depressed place. There is a sense of isolation both geographically and socially, which I have an interest in.
I’ve since left Hastings and moved to north Wales, but I still spend a lot of time in seaside towns capturing this same contrast. Blackpool is currently a favourite spot to photograph for all the same reasons.
TPL: Do you have a favourite quote, lyric, or saying that especially resonates with you?
JL: Dorothea Lange said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
There is so much truth in this and for me, that ‘seeing’ she talks about has huge potential for helping us to understand ourselves and our place in the world and, in turn, improving our wellbeing.
TPL: How has the pandemic affected you personally and your photography?
JL: The pandemic has without doubt had an impact on me and my work. We were becoming more and more disconnected as a society before it and that is now being felt even more profoundly. So my work is now about exploring this disconnection and isolation, whilst trying to contrast it against a beautiful setting or backdrop. I am also looking at ways of using photography to create better connections between people and their environment. I really believe that if we can see the vividness of our world more clearly and not be so blinkered, we will be better placed to love it and ourselves. Again, as Dorothea Lange said, "Photography is a powerful tool for teaching us to see."
I just walk and watch people. I try to cultivate an openness to the surroundings, I’m very interested in how mindfulness helps create this spaciousness of mind.
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
JL: My Fujifilm X-T20 with the 35mm f/1.4 was the turning point for me. I had a Sony before it, which was fine, but the Fuji was revelation. It’s size and it’s ability with colour seemed to just work for me. I’ve recently upgraded to the X-T3 and this has upped the ante further. I still primarily use the 35mm lens, but also enjoy the new 16-80mm lens, which gives me some interesting new options to achieve the cinematic look I like. Apologies to the street purists out there!
Also, smartphones have transformed photography for me. The fact that I can grab a shot whenever and wherever and edit it Lightroom, on the go is incredible.
I have a Pentax ME, which I love, but I’m just too impatient and love the immediacy of digital photography. Getting home and going through ‘my catch of the day’, seeing what worked and what didn’t is a huge part of the joy. That said, if I had the space I’d love to set up a darkroom and learn that skill at home one day!
TPL: When you go out photographing, do you have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
JL: I just walk and watch people. I try to cultivate an openness to the surroundings, I’m very interested in how mindfulness helps create this spaciousness of mind. In that space we can be more receptive to the inspiration that is all around us and then the ideas seem to come more freely. I do look for interesting backdrops and plays of light. Then I lurk in those spaces waiting for the right characters to play their part! Some planning and foresight, patience and a bit of luck is what it’s all about for me.
TPL: Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
JL: I spent 20 years working as a creative and latterly Creative Director at broadcast companies, including the BBC, working on TV marketing and branding. Also, my grandfather was landscape painter. He really taught me how to ‘see’ and appreciate the environment and the way light works. So creativity has always been in my life in some shape or form.