Joe Lee is an emerging photographer based out of Oakland, CA. Last year, Joe was in medical school; 12 months on, he is rapidly establishing himself as a successful commercial photographer with several large clients including Performance Bikes and Levi’s.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you first got interested in photography.
I have a pretty unique background in that, for most of my life, medical school and medicine was always part of the plan. In college, I was on the pre-med track and I spent most of my time checking off those boxes to gain entrance to medical school. Get good grades? Check. Go volunteer at a hospital? Check. Go shadow a doctor? Check. I was pretty gung-ho about it all until last year when I found myself well into medical school, stressed out all the time and just downright miserable. Medical school is hard, guys, trust me – I’m not a doctor. But beyond the fact of it being hard, I just wasn’t having any fun. Life is hard enough as it is. Who wants to go to work everyday and not enjoy every minute of it? I know a lot of people do, but it shouldn’t be that way! And so earlier this year, I packed up my books and quit. Back when I lived in NY, I had picked up photography as a hobby and, over the years, it had really developed into a passion. I knew that, whatever my next step was going to be, photography was going to play a major role. To me, the idea of capturing an emotion or feeling from a photograph was incredibly exciting, intoxicating even.
How would you define your style?
Style is one of those tricky things that takes time to develop and requires years of shooting to fully realise. I’ve been lucky enough to realise early on, through self-reflection and from client feedback, that my style is clean, simple and modern. All of my photos, whether it be fashion, editorial or product, incorporate those three elements and a concise colour range. I also love a good black and white but I think a lot of photographers use that as a crutch. It is so much harder to marry colour, lighting and the moment all in one shot.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Haha that being said, I’m really drawn to the masters who are best known for their monochromatic portraits, for example, legends like Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh, Paolo Roversi and Irving Penn.
You have a nice balance of commercial and fashion shots in your folio already; which do you prefer; the challenge of working to a client brief or the freedom of directing your own fashion editorial?
That’s the real struggle, isn’t it? Shoot what you really want to shoot or make a living – sometimes you have to decide one or the other! I think I’ve arrived at the happy medium of embracing both. The freedom of creating and directing my own work is always a pleasure and has resulted in some of my best work. However, I do enjoy the challenge of working to a client brief. Working together with a client to solve their creative problem (and delivering) is a really satisfying process. And more often than not, the experience of delivering for a client and the skills I gain from that project inspire me in my own work. So it’s a win-win.
What do you see as the next stage in your development as a professional photographer?
I think the next stage of my development involves encouraging others to quit their day job and chase after what really makes them happy. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my story with the people I meet and inspiring them to embark on that journey. Oh, and I’d love to work with bigger and bigger clients.
See more of Joe’s work at:
All images copyright Joe Lee.