IN CONVERSATION WITH CALLIE EH
For Callie Eh photography was a life-saver. It picked her up at a difficult time in her life and has not let her go ever since. Originally from Malaysia, Callie has lived in various countries and is now based in Switzerland. Photography has changed her view of the world and made her see things differently. Although she likes to mix genres, her greatest photographic passion right now is documentary photography, inspired by her travels, the people she meets, different cultures and different ways of life.
“Photography helps people to see.”
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your background.
I am originally from Yong Peng, Malaysia. I come from a big family, I worked as a sales representative in Kuala Lumpur (the capital city of Malaysia) for over 10 years. I have been away from my home country living abroad since 2007, in the USA, Singapore, Poland, and now Switzerland. I'm blessed to have a chance to live in a different country learning different languages and cultures, increasing my knowledge and skills through different life experiences.
When and how did you start getting interested in photography?
My life wasn't easy, I managed many ups and downs and I worked very hard to get through life. At my darkest point I went through a divorce, had a depression...I was completely lost in my life, at that time I was not sure if I wanted to continue to live, that was when photography picked me up...and gave me strength and confidence.
My first DSLR camera was a Nikon D3000, and I started taking photos during my travels. While I always enjoyed capturing special moments, for me becoming a photographer was not something I planned. At least not until 2015 when I moved to Poland and by coincidence I met a cafe owner, Gaston Sitbon, and he loved my photos and wanted to present my work at his cafe...he became my mentor. My passion for photography has been growing ever since. I developed my photography knowledge and skills by attending different workshops, online photography classes, and photography books. What really helped improve my work was a documentary workshop in Krakow in 2016, which was extremely intense and I learned more than I expected. It really impacted me, and it also changed my photography point of view, how to make a better picture.
Do you have a favourite quote/lyric/saying that resonates with you?
“Photography helps people to see” - Berenice Abbott
Since I got into photography it really helps me to change my view of the world: I see more clearly and detailed through my lens.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration through my travels, the people I meet, and different cultures and different ways of life. They always inspire and enthuse me.
Are there any books that you have read that have inspired your creativity and that you would like to recommend to us?
Great Photography books I like are from Alex Webb: 'The Suffering of Light' and Henri Cartier-Bresson: 'The Decisive Moment'. It is really amazing to see their wonderful ability to catch compelling patterns in their photography that always include one or more humans to give the picture scale and comprehension.
What do you want to express through your photography? What are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
I love to photograph people in their daily life and tell their stories through my lens. My photos are pretty much mixed, travel, street and documentary. I hope to bring the feeling I had during each moment to the audience and hopefully warm their hearts. I love to connect with different people from various cultural backgrounds. For me, each photo is like a tiny documentary on different lifestyles and situations my subjects experienced and the feeling I had in each moment. I see different expressions from the face of each individual.
Although some people lead a difficult life, for me it is important to express their happiness in my pictures. It is interesting to see that often the people who have the least are the kindest and happiest.
Who are your favourite artists/photographers? Who has mostly influenced your style?
I love Alex Webb and Henri Cartier-Bresson, I think they both really influenced my style. I learned from them to prioritize the action and the subject over the technique and composition, I am still in the learning process and try to improve constantly.
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
Yes, very much so, my style absolutely changed a lot over the year. When I started out I knew nothing about composition, I used to love a Zoom lens like 24-70mm to photograph people, and I love to shoot close up portraits with the shallow depth of field. But now I shoot more with the large depth of field and focusing on telling the whole story.
To me, it is important to constantly grow and evolve as a person, and that brings me to new perspectives and new knowledge.
Do you have a favourite place to shoot?
Anywhere. Although I would say, the more different from the city I live in now, the better. I love rural places like in Mongolia and Vietnam, or vibrant places like Cuba and Morocco.
How does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? Do you have a preferred camera/lens/ focal length?
Since I got the Leica Q, I am more concentrated on how to take a better picture instead of focusing on constantly buying new equipment for my camera and changing lenses while I shoot. The good thing about the Q, which has a fixed lens of 28mm, is that it forces me to get out of my comfort zone (a zoom) and makes me get closer to the subject. The Leica Q is the only camera I have now.
What would you say to someone wanting to start out in your genre of photography?
Be patient but at the same time passionate. Enjoy the ups and downs you face by going out and taking photos. Follow different photographers' work and attend different kinds of workshops to get inspired.
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
I have never been involved in the artistic world before photography, but I have always enjoyed theatre, music, and museums.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on?
I would like to restart the "Happiness Project" I created in 2016. I encountered a lot of projects that document the sacrifices and suffering of people, which made me feel quite sad. So the idea of this project is to show what happiness means to different people, what makes them happy? This is still a great part driving the way I take photos. The project also gave me the opportunity to get close to various people and understand more about their dreams and interests.
What are some of your goals as a photographer? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?
I hope my photography will be recognized internationally and hope that I can show my work to a broader audience, and that people are enjoying and appreciating my work.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)...
Cook! I love food and wine 😊"
Thank you Callie!
All photos © Callie Eh
You can see more of Callie's vibrant photos in our Pictorial Story Modern Nomads.