After The Road Ahead Summit, and in honor of National Coming Out Day, we sat down with rule-breaking panelist Daniel Seung Lee to talk about his journey of self-discovery in the photography industry.
You're a creative by nature, tell us a bit about what projects you're working on now?
I'm currently working on a portrait project photographing queer Asian men and interviewing them about their experience navigating the world. This project is really near and dear to me because I started it due to my own struggles dealing with my intersectional identities. I created this project for my younger self and to everyone else who felt alone due to the lack of diverse representations of queer Asian men in the media. It's been a long journey to get to where I am now and I will always be doing work on myself but I hope this project can help others feel less alone and inspire pride and hope in the community.
What does it mean to you be an out and proud creative in the photography communuty?
It means a lot to me to be an out and proud creative in the fashion and lifestyle industry because I truly don't think I would be able to fully tap into my creativity authentically if I wasn't including my entire self into my work. Also, growing up, I didn't know if it was possible to get to where I am today because I frankly didn't grow up seeing any queer Asians. Knowing the struggles I dealt with as a boy and not knowing if someone like me could be successful in the creative field, I hope I can instill hope into anyone younger who is dealing with the same struggles I have.
At what point in your life did you recognize your identity as LGBTQ was an advantage for you in your career and industry?
I think being 100% authentically you, no matter what that is, is really important in the creative field. I think I realized there's a bit of an advantage being gay in my field because gays really do run the industry. I feel so lucky to be where I am today and I know I wouldn't be here without the support of countless people, many who are in the LGBTQ community.
If you could name three key elements as the sources of your inspiration to help drive you forward, what would they be?
I'm most inspired by the community and the people who are doing such amazing work even in the face of adversity. When I see my friends succeed and make such a huge positive influence in the community, it makes me want to work harder to do more and be a better person.
When I started my project, I hadn't done anything so personal before and I'm realizing now that making work that makes a difference is very important to me. Speaking with so many other queer Asians and hearing that we all share the same struggles inspires me to make the work that I do.
Nature has always been a key inspiration of mine. I think moving to New York and shooting here has made it less obvious in my work but I've always feel the most creative and connected with myself when I'm out in nature, especially near water.
What challenges have you faced in getting to where you are today?
As a queer Asian, I live in a world where these identities are seen as obstacles. Although I haven't faced blatant homophobia or racism in the work place that I know of, I unfortunately know it exists. It is definitely something I'm constantly aware of, especially in my personal day to day life.
I remember considering going under a pseudonym for my professional name due to my name sounding "too Asian." I was not only worried people wouldn't know how to pronounce my middle name but more importantly, I thought there could be a chance I could lose jobs due to stereotypes. Ultimately, I decided to go with my full birth name and I'm really proud of myself that I did that.
Why do you think forging your own path is so important?
I think forging your own path is important because without that, we wouldn't have the amazing trailblazers and innovators who are making a difference today. I don't think there is a recipe to success except that you have to work hard and stay true to yourself.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a name for themselves as a photographer or creative?
Work hard but be kind to yourself and know it's okay to take breaks. Try not to compare yourself to others because that kills creativity. Even though photography is a pretty solitary business, find a community where you can inspire each other and ask for help.