Nancy Lee was born in Hong Kong but has lived around the world. From the age of 5, she began playing piano, instilling in her a love of music. Today, she expresses herself through movement (swimming & martial arts) and photography. To find out more about her work, assistant editor Alexander Strecker contacted her by email.
After years of piano playing, my first career was as a piano teacher and a part-time aerobics instructor. Life was hectic in Hong Kong: I worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. In 1998, I decided to move to Sao Paulo—I wanted to experience a new way of life. Before leaving, a friend of mine gave me a camera lens as a gift. With that sign, I bought myself my first single lens reflex camera and began to make photos.
One day, I got to thinking: how far can photography go? I ended up enrolling in a photography course in Sao Paulo (in Portuguese) and loving it. In 2001, I moved to Holland and applied for a spot in the St. Joost Kunstacademie in Breda. Again, I was accepted and this time I took on the courses in Dutch. Although the adjustment process was a struggle, my final thesis project was awarded the St. Joost thesis prize.
“Global Village” began while I was working on my final thesis project. I had traveled back to Hong Kong and while I was there, I discovered my passion for shooting from high to low. In the city, everything looked like a toy from above. My teacher saw these photographs and said to me: could you photograph Holland from the same perspective? In Hong Kong, I had the benefit of tall buildings to look down from. In Holland, the Low Country, I had to hire a plane to get so far above.
After that, I began to make these photos wherever the opportunity presented itself. For example, for “Swimming About,” I had tried to make this photo for years but couldn’t find the right location. Then, one time when traveling in Budapest, I visited a spa. I stepped out onto an indoor balcony and looked down: viola. I ended up standing there for 45 minutes and took nearly 1,000 photos.
Every photograph in this series came from a feeling of love or passion. I have no favorite—when I make a picture it’s because I felt something strongly and want to share that sentiment with the world.
—Nancy Lee, as told to Alexander Strecker