A cynical heart
ISSAC LAM 林俊彥 is a fashion photographer from Hong Kong. Issac studied Fashion Styling & Photography at the London College of Fashion. With his works, Issac creates an atmosphere of the unknown bringing to the forefront the intrinsic thoughts and mindfulness. The imagery that materializes is extravagant, loud, and consciously awake. He explores diversity and the cultural element that becomes a motif, a link between the images. Reinventing himself, Issac tells each new story in a unique unordinary way when all the elements correspond to become one whole narrative.
Issac speaks about his studio in Tai Kok Tsui, the intrinsic wish to travel to Mongolia, Hong Kong’s culture and the meaning it has for him and effect on his photography, the passion to discover the identity and scrutinize the concept of beauty. Issac worked with clients like Adidas Originals, Chanel, i-D China, Nike, Lane Crawford 連卡佛, and others.
"I LIKE BRINGING ELEMENTS THAT ARE AMBIVALENT OR DISPARATE TOGETHER, WHERE YOU ARE PULLED IN TWO DIRECTIONS AT ONCE".
Hi Issac, tell about your photography, your individual style?
I find it difficult to answer every time when I encounter this specific question. I think the ‘style' is how people define me, but I find it extreme, some will say it’s ‘raw’ because of the overall vibe and set, while some will say it’s 'sensual' due to the concept behind. It really depends on what they see in and feel from the photos, adding their own interpretations.
To me, I like bringing elements that are ambivalent or disparate together, where you are pulled in two directions at once, feeling two contrasting visuals or thoughts, yet you still find the beauty or a little spark in it.
How do you think living in Hong Kong has shaped or added to your development as a photographer in terms of city and cultural elements affecting your tastes?
HONG KONG'S LOCAL CULTURE HAS DEFINITELY AFFECTED MY THOUGHTS AND WORK. THE WAY PEOPLE LOOK, THEIR DAILY ACTIVITIES, AND OBJECTS IN THE STREETS, OLD GRANNIES WHO LIKE TO WEAR COTTON FLOWERY SHIRTS AND TROUSERS, OLD MEN WHO LIKE TO WEAR SPORTS JACKETS AND TUCK THEM INSIDE THEIR TROUSERS, STREET CLEANERS RANDOMLY HANGING THEIR CLEANING TOOL IN THE STREET. SHORTAGE OF LAND IS ALWAYS A PROBLEM IN HONG KONG. MOST OF US LIVE IN A VERY SMALL FLAT AND YOU WILL ALWAYS SEE PEOPLE SPREADING OUT THEIR PERSONAL STUFF IN PUBLIC PARKS FOR DRYING, PILLOWS, BLANKETS, OR EVEN THE TRADITIONAL CHINESE INGREDIENT - HOMEMADE DRIED TANGERINE PEEL. EVERY ELEMENT HAS A UNIQUE STORY THAT INSPIRES MY WORK.
"WE SHOULD ALWAYS REMIND OURSELVES TO SEE THE WORLD WITH A ‘FRESH EYE’, HAVE NEW PERSPECTIVES ON FAMILIAR THINGS".
What inspires you the most for the recent photoshoots and what motivates you?
Hong Kong has started summer now, like 30-degrees Celsius. People started wearing t-shirts with prints and slogans, some of those are very interesting, like 'Never do the same mistake twice', “好人” (I am a good guy). It is a bit tacky, but that’s a thing! It is enough to make a strong shoot.
What did you study? Is there anything that till today you take with you and experiment with it from what you have learned?
I majored in photography. I think one of the most important keynotes that I have learnt is that we should always remind ourselves to see the world with a ‘fresh eye’, have new perspectives on familiar things.
What in your opinion was the most important photoshoot you have had that made an impact on who you are today and shaped you as a professional in this sphere?
It must definitely be my final year project in BA. The project with two albino boys, Yung & Dicky, which has changed me a lot, especially the way of thinking. It affects the way I see 'flaws' and 'beauty', there was room for me to reflect on how the fashion industry limits human diversity.
There is a trend of scouting for different types of faces, fashion becomes much more diverse and accepting. How does this affect the artistic scene in Hong Kong and what is the main direction today?
I am happy and being open to the fact that Hong Kong's fashion scene has become more diverse, but I am pretty sure flawless and luxury is still the main direction in Hong Kong's fashion industry, and I am really against it. When you flip through Hong Kong's ‘fashion' magazines, you can see a bunch of over-retouched images. I guess the lack of diversity is still a big problem in Hong Kong.
With a person that you know well, you can voice out your thoughts much easier and in a more direct way. We do have arguments sometimes, and occasionally the outcomes could be disappointing, though we have plenty of meetings and intense discussions for building the concept and making it stronger. We understand that a good shoot always takes time to develop, but at least each time working with them you know that we all strive for better, to be different and be more innovative than the previous time.
"I PREFER TO SHOW MORE OF MY UNIQUE CULTURAL BACKGROUND IN MY PERSONAL WORK".
What was the main influence on you when you were a child that you think is still important till this day and your professional work?
A cynical heart, rebel against something that feels wrong. A place like Hong Kong where people like to follow the crowd, we need to listen to our own voices and have independent thoughts.
Name several of your favorite, all-time best film director from the Eastern and Western parts of the world?
Larry Clark, Harmony Korine and Wong Kar Wai.
Your works even though using different palettes of colors always stay very sleek, slightly dark, and even neutral in color eventually. What is the approach to color that enters the frame and post-production of the image?
I don’t like bright colours, I think it’s too glaring to look at, and it won’t last with time passing by. I like and tend to tone down the colours, red to burgundy, green to khaki, and yellow fades a bit, this is what I like.
What do you usually try to explore with your personal projects that usually allow for much more freedom than commercial ones?
Commercial projects in Hong Kong always try to avoid the word 'local'. What I mean is most of the time, clients believe that hiring foreign models and shooting in a ‘modern’ styled venue will be easier in achieving international vibe. In a commercial context, I could get this mindset, just I prefer to show more of my unique cultural background in my personal work. It is the reason why I am trying to use more and more Asians/local models in my work, whom I share a common culture with, and it can even express/reflect my identity much easier.
What is special for you in your city, your neighborhood? Where do you love to spend your free time?
I love to chill with my friends in my studio in Tai Kok Tsui, we can literally sit there and chit-chat for the whole day. There is another area, Sham Shui Po, just 15 mins walking distance from it, and you can find all kinds of gadgets there, it looks a bit like a flea market in the Western countries. There you find old furniture, old CDs and magazines, vases, 2nd hand cameras… One of my favourite video cam was actually found in there.
I wanna go to Mongolia for travelling and probably shooting some projects there. I have never been there and just have seen photos. I love Mongolian traditional clothing, their culture, the big prairie, the yurt, and the horses.