Jeremy Jude Lee Posted on 23 Nov 12:41 | Creative Pioneers
We caught up with Jeremy at the tail end of the summer, surrounded by sunshine all around. Not only was the weather cooperating, but as always we were greeted with the biggest smile and Jeremy’s sunny disposition. Always one to be behind the camera, it was fun to finally sit with Jeremy and put him in front of the lens.
Like many, Jeremy didn’t pick up photography in school. Skateboarding was actually what introduced him to the camera. “I had sprained my ankle and couldn’t skate for a bit. I picked up my dad’s video cam and started shooting my friends skating. Then picked up a camera and the rest is history.”
Now, almost a decade later, Jeremy has solidified a strong reputation as one of Vancouver’s go to photographers, telling visual stories for brands including Hypebeast, Heroine, Native Shoes, lululemon, Everlane, Classpass, and so many more. The diversity of his clients showcases his flexible style of photography and is a reflection of how he creates. “I don’t consider myself to have one certain style, but I do like to collaborate. My style is still developing and being refined, but I don’t think I’ll land on one certain style. I like the diversity of picking up anything and saying yes to something new. I think through that you’re able to continue to grow and learn more.”
Take a read through the full interview below, and get to know Vancouver photographer, a friend of ours, and one of the nicest guys we know - Jeremy Jude Lee.
Photography by Courtney Chew
Interview and edit by Courtney Chew
CC: So, tell us, when did you decide that your photography could turn from just shooting your friends skating, into a career?
JJL: I was in 1st year of University at UBC (University of British Columbia) when I decided it was time to give myself a chance with photography. I transferred out to Emily Carr and just shot non-stop for four years, and was then that I realized that I could do photography for a living. I got excited about shooting and combining it with my interests in culture, brand, problem-solving – it’s a great way to expand my mind and problem solve through creativity.
CC: Yeah, that definitely shows in the photos that you shoot as well. Even when you are in the moment, you’re adapting, problem-solving, getting on the ground to get all the different angles and capture the right shot for the client. It’s so fun watching you shoot. Let’s dive a bit more into your photography. Once you decided you were going to pursue photography as a career, was there something that helped to push your journey forward?
JJL: I think a year into shooting consistently, I had reached out to Eugene, who was one of the co-founders of Hypebeast at the time. They had a posting for a photographer and it just so happened I was heading to Hong Kong for vacation, so I set up a time meet with him. I actually made a portfolio book of the little shoots that I had been doing for fun so that I had something to show him. Funny thing was that when we did meet, we never really talked about photography. The position ended up already being filled, but we connected anyways and really got along. We spent the next hour or so just talking about life stuff. Then about a month later, Eugene ended up reaching out to get me to shoot an article for Hypebeast on the new wings+horns showroom opening (which turned out, happened to be for you, Court and where we first met). Then through that gig, I met the lead designer of Reigning Champ, Kenta Goto, who then introduced me to Marc Morisset of Strike Movement, who then introduced me to Jian Pablico, who connected me to a whole bunch of other people that snowballed into the projects that really set me up early on in my career. I always try to give credit to these people and the people that have helped me along the way. They have so many resources but don’t see it that way. They are just very culture first, where if they have an opportunity to foster someone coming up, it’s just a natural instinct for them. But it really impacted me and is definitely something I try to pay forward because I remember how much it meant to me as a young photographer and how much it still does to this day.
CC: Is there anything that you’ve learned, either from the people around you or through your own journey as a photographer, that has helped you evolve as a creative in this space?
JJL: One photographer that I used to follow had a blog, and had this theory called ABS - “always be shooting”. So I kind of took that to heart, especially when I was just starting out. But even now, I’m always trying to be with my camera, even reaching out to friends to just collaborate and shoot for fun. If you can, always be shooting, always be creating, and always be meeting new people. I really believe that if you aren’t getting the projects that you want, then start shooting that style, develop that style, meet people in that style, and start developing and evolving together.
Also touching back on the people part, a lot of what I attribute my career to, is the passing lessons that I’ve taken from mentors here and there. I always make an effort to have conversations with them about their work and what they think is happening with the creative climate as it’s unfolding. Then I’d take that into consideration and build that into my projects. It’s really helped me learn that making friendships and relationships and respecting each other, is key to a long-lasting career. I’ve been shooting for eight years and collaborating with so many different people, and through what I’ve experienced, supporting one another makes for an industry that helps everyone grow.
So, the biggest learnings that I’ve taken away and can also pass along, is to shoot all the time, be nice and make friends. And if you’re serious about this as a career, then give yourself the chance by really believing in yourself and working hard.
CC: We’re seeing social media and especially apps like Instagram and VSCO allow people to be creative in a way that we haven’t had access to before. Photography has become more accessible and it seems like more people are professional photographers, even if they don’t use anything but their iPhone to shoot. How has social media impacted you and how do you think this will impact the future of photography?
JJL: The learning curve is so much sharper now, and I think Instagram has been a big part of that. People can immediately see what they like and also what they don’t like, and I think it’s making the calibre of photography across the board so much higher, which to me, is a good thing. I think people will always be afraid of other’s ‘taking their jobs’ and social media has made more ‘competition’ in a way. But I also think that when there are more people, then it just pushes you to keep going, to challenge yourself in a way that will get you to continue innovating and not become complacent. And then shot by shot, layer by layer, generation by generation, you see yourself getting better.
For me, I tend to look at things in a positive light for the most part, especially regarding the impact that social media might have on this industry. The way I see it too is that at some point you go from being the ‘young gun’ to being a little bit more seasoned, and at that point, it kind of becomes your responsibility to develop and foster the young guns coming up. And if I didn’t have social media I wouldn’t even know who the younger talent was behind me, and wouldn’t get to meet with them and teach them, but also learn from them.
Like, it’s amazing to see kids that are sixteen, or seventeen, that really know their aesthetic and that have taste. When I was sixteen/seventeen I didn’t know what was happening or have style. haha. So to me, I see social media and Instagram really helping drive photography and the community that comes with it, forward. If you have a platform like Instagram to inspire right now, then why not use it?
CC: So who are some of the young bucks that inspire you?
JJL: They’re not quite as young as sixteen, but Jomar Victoria for sure. He’s young, hungry, positive. His work is blowing me away and he really inspires me. I really admire what he’s doing here in the city. Also, Kai De Torres. His work is fantastic, very mature, very crisp, very well thought out.
CC: Let’s talk more about community. Where does community fit in with you?
JJL: I think community is huge. I wouldn’t be where I am personally and professionally without community in this city. I’ve been talking to a lot of different people here recently, that are very community-minded, like Jeff Hamada from booooooom, Eric Veloso and Mike Cobarrubia from Street Dreams, and the guys from Sort Days. I dream of having an artist space one day – I just keep thinking that if all of the people that are doing things for the community, leave the city, then the city is never going to get to where it wants to be. Eventually, I want to have a space where creatives can get together, foster and share, learn, have your ideas come to fruition, showcase your work. Do something for the community and give back to it, in a bigger way like it has for me.
CC: Is there a project that you’ve worked on with your community, that really stands out to you?
JJL: There are two different moments this year that were pretty crazy. One of the jobs I got was with a couple friends that own a creative agency called Studio Faculty. One of their clients was a luggage company doing a campaign in Morocco, and they got me to shoot it. It was an opportunity that offered me a combination of what I’ve always dreamed of getting a chance to do when I first started my career in photography – I got to travel, work with friends, create, explore, get in sketchy situations together - haha. It’s amazing to see that my Monday to Friday can get me on a plane, and travel and shoot with people that inspire me.
Another significant project for me was also this year shooting with this tech company. It was the biggest budget that I’ve ever had to work with so far. So that was another business goal that I wanted to achieve that I had the opportunity to check off, which is to take on fewer jobs but that are bigger projects so that I can spend more time doing smaller passion projects on the side.
CC: What impact do you want your work to leave on the industry?
JJL: To be honest, I almost don’t even care about that - I don’t know if I want my work, photography wise, to have a lasting effect but I do want that at the end of the day if I come up in conversations that people say “that Jeremy is a nice guy”. I almost want my work to be secondary to how much fun we had when we were working together.
CC: Who is a Creative Pioneer that you look up to and who should we talk to next?
JJL: Mike Cobarrubia - he’s one of the co-founders of Street Dreams also the most OG guy ever. He’s so rooted in the city, he’s constantly inspired, a super behind the scenes, multi-talented guy who has so much to offer but is also so low key and humble. If you ever come to him with something you want feedback on, he’ll get you so pumped but also give you the most valuable critique at the same time. He’s someone that inspires me on the daily.
CC: And What does being a Creative Pioneer mean to you?
JJL: I think being a Creative Pioneer is becoming a part of the community in general and fostering the growth of your own practice, but also that of other people. It’s being someone that inspires other people to express themselves and get better, together. To me, being a Creative Pioneer is becoming a positive force in the creative community, in whatever form that takes.