Long considered a hobby, photography is increasingly being embraced as a career. But, as Vatsala Devi discovers, one doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of the other. As the perception towards the field evolves, people like Adam Wee are finding that photography can double up as both an amazing hobby and fulfilling career.
1. Cebu City in the Evening
2. Cradle Mountain on a Sunny Day, Tasmania, Australia
3. Old Town in Ipoh
4. A Fisherman in Langkawi
5. Kuala Lumpur Skyline from Dataran Merdeka
6. Participants at the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines
7. Singapore Skyline from Marina Bay
8. Street Art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne
9. The Merlion and Singapore Skyline, Singapore
10. Vibrant and Elaborate, Participants of the Ati-Atihan Festival Takes the Streets of Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines
11. Wreckage in Tacloban City after Super Typhoon Haiyan
About the Photographer
To become a good photographer the power of observation is a key requirement. Observation allows a photographer the ability to see scenes as photographs. It sharpens the eyes and mind to take note of things, and it fosters close examination of surroundings for possible photographs. Suddenly, the mind is attuned to its environment, whether it is doing something as mundane as driving to work or a watching a sunset. Observant photographers wonder how to best capture that moment and communicate it to their audience.
That is what the power of observation is all about, and Adam Lee Wai Loon would certainly know a thing or two about the importance of it. “As a self-taught photographer, I definitely benefitted from observing my surroundings. Today that skill is partly responsible for shaping my career to what it is today,” he said with a charming smile. He also added that photography is a lot about exploration, where an individual learns the structure and the basics, and after that, it is finding out for themselves what they can do. If today Adam is clear about what it takes to become a skilled photographer, it is because he has been down that road of discovery himself.
“I come from a conservative and traditional Chinese family where my parents believed that there were only a few career choices – such as being a lawyer, accountant, or engineer – that would lead me to success. My father, who worked as an electrician, wanted me to become an electrical engineer, so to honour my father’s wishes, after completing my high school and STPM, I gained entry to Universiti Malaysia Sabah and enrolled in the electrical engineering course and four years later I graduated as an engineer to make my parents happy,” explained the former Victoria Institution student. Born and raised in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, the city was Adam’s playground while growing up, therefore he was quite happy to leave KL and start a new chapter – his tertiary education – in a state far away from home. “While my younger brother and I were growing up, KL was going through a phase of rapid development, everywhere you turned there were construction sites – incidentally these sites become the place where my brother and I spent most of our evenings playing.We would play with the children from the construction sites, simply making the best out of what life had to offer,” he reminisced.
Although an introvert by nature, Adam enjoyed his three years in UMS where he said it provided him with an opportunity to learn about himself. “My time away from home was a learning experience for me because I was independent which gave me a lot of space to do self-evaluation, self-discovery and also an opportunity for me to discover my identity. During my three years away from home, I learned that I am neither a follower nor a leader. I also learned that nothing is set in concrete and there are different ways to achieve something and each of us have to do is to find a way to works best for us,” said the 33-year old. Upon graduation, Adam was lucky to have secured a job with Alcatel almost immediately. “The timing with which I joined the company was rather unfortunate as Alcatel was going through a transitional period,” he explained. “As a result I wasn’t given the proper guidance and a year later I felt like this wasn’t the job I wanted to be doing and quit.”
Adam continued, “I came back home and told my father, who was understandably furious about it, but after I explained that my heart wasn’t in the job,my father accepted it and asked me on my next course of action. Not having an answer for him,my sabbatical period from work gave me the time to think my options. One idea that I kept coming back to was magazines. I used to collect magazines, and during my time at Alcatel, there are nights I would come back and feel the urge to write to express myself. So with these indications, I decided the fastest way to break into the media industry was to become a writer. I applied to TELL (a news and lifestyle magazine) and was accepted as a rookie reporter.”
Joining TELL, according to Adam, was the best move he made. He loved everything about the publishing industry and he was starting to learn the ropes and skills needed to make it in the media industry. “Back then, the opportunities for budding writers was widely available and it was a platform for us to explore our talents – and it was here I realized my true calling was behind the lens. I liked being a rookie writer, but writing was never really my forte. What turned out to be my strength and something the editors also realized was that I had a knack for putting the magazine together. It was instinctive; the images and layout I picket worked really well and after a year at TELL, I was promoted to an assistant editor.”
As an assistant editor, Adam was also assigned to take pictures at events and photo shoots. It turned out that the editors made an excellent call by sending Adam because he was a natural. “I was told I had an eye to select good pictures from bad ones and I could tell instinctively when I have captured a good moment. It also helped that I expressed myself better visually,” he explained. Realising he could turn his talent into something bigger, better and bolder, Adam quit TELL in 2009 and tagged along with a friend to Los Angeles, in hopes that he would get a firsthand education in photography.
“I wanted to learn everything photography had to offer and what better way and place than to plunge myself headlong into L.A. It was certainly a lifechanging experience for me, apart from being the steepest learning curve to date,” Adam said wistfully. “I was in the United States during the financial crisis where people were being retrenched, and jobs were scarce if you weren’t an American. With the rose-tinted glasses off and nothing much to do, I learned the art of photography by running errands for renowned studios and photographers, and observing them. If you are not ready to give it your all and learn, the menial jobs could sound debasing, but I was there to learn and i took it in my stride.You will be surprised at how much you can learn simply by watching the masters at work or talking to assistants who would eventually teach you a thing or two.”
After nine months in the States, Adam felt he had seen and learnt enough to come back and put it into practice and he hasn’t looked back since then. “Photography, to me, is a work in progress; there is always room to learn and relearn the skills needed,” he pointed out. “A good picture is one that resonates with the audience. It has to be able to evoke a reaction or emotion within. A good picture, I feel, is one that is able to tell a story and is timeless.” For someone as young as Adam, his ideas and the thoughts behind his photographs are certainly profound. Taking pictures is not simply a hobby or just a job, it has become both. And in so doing, has evolved into a voice. “Photographers come from various schools of thoughts and it depends on the photographer on the type of photo they want to create, how they want to capture an image, and the message they want to send across. My approach to taking photos is more science-centric than artistic, which means I collect the data and interpret them before putting my content out,” he further explained.
Adam said there is much more he wants to achieve in this industry before considering any other changes. “Among the big ideas I have and want to achieve is a book of portraits,” he offered. “This book, which I hope to complete this year, is a book of portraits and will focus on Asia. It will be a coffee table book with a central voice, and message and not simply faces that make up Asia. I want it to tell the tale of the different people, cultures, and religions that make Asia a melting pot of cultures.”
What truly makes someone an accomplished photographer is not the money or the fame. It is also not the equipment, the experiences, or the stories that have made them a photographer. It is that they have achieved the goals they set out for themselves, created photographs they are pleased with, and had fun along the way and Adam LeeWai Loon is a man who has accomplished all of the above remarkably well.
Source: Senses of Malaysia January – February 2015
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