Lights are Like Fairies
Aki Leen is a photographer and art director from Shanghai. Aki has made a long way to discover himself in fashion photography. From learning painting to being a part of a creative department in the 4A advertising agency in which he entered after his graduation starting as a graphic designer and later on working as an art director for several years. In 2016 Aki finally makes a critical decision to move to the sphere of photography developing his own voice.
The story is the main and most meaningful aspect with which Aki realizes his vision by deciding which part to reveal and which one to leave obscured for the viewer to complete in his imagination. Aki is mastering work with lights and shadows on set focusing on capturing the natural beauty of the character in the frame. Obsessed with colors, light, and composition very much influenced by his background in design and painting Aki creates dream-like fashion photography with natural and warm colors at times carefully blurred.
"I WANTED TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER MAINLY BECAUSE OF INTEREST AND A WILL TO CREATE BEAUTY".
Hi Aki, tell about your way on becoming a photographer?
I wanted to become a photographer mainly because of interest and a will to create beauty. I entered an advertising company as a designer after graduating. Within 5 years of working experience I was promoted to an art director. Then I found I can only become a supervisor in a 4A company, this prospect bored me. I don’t want to be addicted to the work in which you always think of creative ideas, I only want to work in a sphere connected with aesthetics. At that time, I got a lot of job offers in photography, and I was quite interested in it, which in my opinion is a work purely connected to creating aesthetics and is worth to work at for a living. So, I changed my profession to become a photographer.
Where did you grow up? Can you share a story from your childhood that had a major impact on you in your opinion?
I GREW UP IN A NORMAL TOWN IN CHINA. THE GENERAL VIEW OF EDUCATION AT THAT TIME WAS AROUND DEVELOPMENT IN WHICH PARENTS WANTED THEIR CHILDREN TO KNOW EVERYTHING FROM MUSIC TO DRAWING. HOWEVER, MY FATHER THINKS ONE CAN ONLY RELY ON A SINGLE SKILL FOR THEIR CAREER. IF YOU ONLY CAN CHOOSE ONE, THEN PICK THE FAVORITE ONE. THAT’S ENOUGH! SO, I’M GLAD THAT I CAN DEPEND ON MY INTEREST AND EARN FROM IT.
How would you define your style and in what way do you think your work’s statement is different and unique?
I don’t like those sharp and clear pictures which are too real and lack emotions. I hope my works are warm and enable others to imagine what’s hidden behind the picture. And I hope my work is unique, too.
You’ve got studio shoots in which you focus on working with lightning the room and the model while playing with ray reflections back. What fascinates you about working with lights?
I think light most directly expresses temperature compared to all the elements of photography. Not just the color temperature, but lights are also like fairies around models, which can make pictures more vivid.
"THE MOST DIFFICULT PROJECTS ARE THOSE WHEN YOU NEED TO ABANDON YOUR OWN STYLE TO FIT THE NEED OF THE MARKET".
When working with a model on set what are your main tips on directing the atmosphere and the poses that are right for the main vision you create?
Mostly, I want models to be natural, but that lacks the formality of fashion shooting. So, I usually prefer them to adjust slightly in a natural situation then the poses can be ignored.
What was the most difficult project you have ever been a part of and why?
The most difficult projects are those when you need to abandon your own style to fit the need of the market. That suffocates me, the will of others, in the process of creating.
How do you manage the project when you perform several roles as being a director and a photographer on set?
That’s actually really simple, I just take a photo before or after we start filming, haha! But most of the times I also ask the producer if he or she can add time in the schedule for me to take photos.
Tell about the process of writing a storyboard for the upcoming film. Where do you start from and accurate do you get into each frame or how much freedom do you leave for the actual shooting day?
That process for me always begins with making mood boards per scene I have in mind and making a visually clear storyline. After that, I start making a rough storyboard, but I actually love to discover certain things on the actual shooting day!
Name 3 best films of all times that inspire you.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time / 時をかける少女
The models in your works always have strong poses unique to the shoot that captivate the attention of the viewer. Where do you get your inspiration from and do you plan on the specifics for what should happen in the frame before getting on set?
That’s more about the communication with models on set and knowing what are the limitations of her body, then we can adjust her poses.
What are your favorite locations to shoot at?
I prefer shooting at those locations which have little people such as studios and fields to avoid interruption.
What is unique to the art scene in Shanghai when you compare it to Western aesthetics?
Shanghai is the fastest city in China. It is old but also modern, and there are many new things that constantly appear and replace the old ones, which is unpredictable. It keeps changing and developing in art and aesthetics, so I think it is younger and more restless than Western aesthetics. No one will know how it will be in the next second.
Moving away from fashion photography, you’ve got some documentary and city shots. Is this something you will explore further during this year?
I have been trying to take documentary more seriously because I think documentary has more temperature for me. I love to record, so I try to record more pictures of life by drawing and taking photos.