In the echo of Valentine fever I am presenting you an interesting photo project.
It is a “Kiss project”, a wonderful mixture of documentary immediacy, voyeur gaze and crisp elegance of Black&White. It is done by SML, a.k.a. See-ming Lee, young, productive and highly driven Chinese chap, a designer and as he calls himself: technologist by trade, on professional exile in US. I don’t know if you already heard about See-ming Lee, but if you didn’t, you definitely should.
Last week he took some of his valuable time – I doubt he sleeps much :P – and was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
Where do you originally come from? You are, as I understand, a Chinese. What does a Chinese do in New York? How did you end up there?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong. My dad is a professor and my mom is a housewife. After high school, I came to America to study graphic design at Yale. When I graduated in 1999, I moved to New York to work as a designer in interactive media and have been living here ever since.
What started a Kiss project? Why kisses?
I started the kiss project out of the blue in 2007. Before then I rarely photograph people – I mainly use photography as means to study compositions. Photographing people tends to have much constraints, such as requiring model releases and I tend to stay away from it. This project pretty much started as a casual shot from a single photograph, Kiss between Jeffrey H and Hector G. Jeffrey eventually asked me to go photograph some of his events. Like almost all of my projects, it started with a single theme and became serious over time.
I don’t photograph anything in the studio usually, and I find that kisses are most realistic if they are done wholeheartedly, so now I just made a habit of asking to see if people would kiss in front of the camera while I was doing event photography.
For me, kiss is a test for compatibility – it’s a deal breaker for my own relationships. It is important to me, so why not start a whole project on it?
Which photo machinery do you use?
I have been photographing with a Canon EOS SLR since I was a teenager, so naturally when I decided to get my first DSLR, I went with the 10D. Now that camera has been retired and I photograph with the Canon 7D and I’m very happy with it.
I own a variety of lenses but these days the 24-70 f/2.8L is almost always on. I use the 100 f/2.8 Macro for macro photography, but it also works fairly well as a portrait lens. I also liked the 17-40 f/4L very much and that is predominantly what I use for photographing bridges. The 70-200 f/4L is rarely used these days because I try to travel light and that lens is not very useful unless mounted on a tripod.
If you are curious as to what equipment I use, there’s a whole Flickr collection, sorted by my equipment.
Do you manipulate photos?
I am relatively a photo purist so I don’t really do heavy-handed editing – but yes I do take the time to process photos individually in Lightroom and Photoshop. I spent many years in the darkroom when I used to shoot film.
People often think that digital photography is just a one-click matter. Not true at all! I see the RAW files as negatives, and I go into Photoshop and manually adjust curves, color balance, dodge + burn for most of my photos. None of my black and white photos are a simple conversion – I take the time to use different filter settings to get just the right overall balance for me.
But aside from the minor touches I don’t do heavy manipulation in my photos. Well, with the exception of a new series called SML8 that I’m working on which has to do with applying my brand colors onto existing photos to create new things. But that series is new and I don’t consider it as pure photography anyhow – it’s really for of an art project which fuses design methodology with my photography.
Thank you, See-Ming! :)
Filed under: My friends, Thinking Machine | 7 Comments
Tags: black & white, kiss, photography, See-ming Lee, SML