JAMAICAN PHOTOGRAPHER, MONIQUE LAI, TALKS ABOUT WHEN FASHION MEETS CONSTRUCTION
YardEdge: Why are you a photographer? When did you first realize that you wanted to become one?
Very early on, I knew I had an eye, and I think I wasn’t ready for a very long time. To be an artist you obviously have to be aware of your concerns and of what you want to talk about. For me, the environment and our ever-changing landscape was something that I needed to talk about.
A client asked for an 8ft picture of “over-development” for their vacation home. It feels really good to know that what I have photographed, means a lot to someone. It is special because I feel like I photographed that image especially for her. Her reaction to the moment she first saw this image is something I will never forget. She had been looking for over 2 years for something special on her wall.
My most humbling moment was when I had signed and gifted “reflection” to someone who truly connected to it. He rang me to say how much he loved the piece, and that it was framed and hung beside a Julius Shulman photograph. I would never forget that moment because I was so touched by his gesture. It meant everything to me and this is what keeps me motivated.
How would you describe your work?
My work is more of an observation, and based on emotion and feeling. I think my images have character and personality. And I only take an image that speaks to me.
How did you develop your skill?
I believe that being raised in Montego Bay played an integral part in refining my eye. I love nature and colors, and I developed a sensitive eye towards mood and feeling. My travels abroad to Hong Kong and China at a very young age blew me away, and I think it’s because of that added perspective and exposure that have allowed me the courage of sight. I learned really early on that what I see is different from what everyone else saw. That could be because I’m an artist, but I think speaking Chinese or another language obviously expands our minds and thoughts.
What other photographers have influenced you and how?
Helmut Newton and Julius Shulman have been incredible influences in my work. Newton is known for presenting strong erotic images showcasing the female in power. There are some nude photographers that showcase images that we might feel uncomfortable looking at, but what I love about Newton, is that we can look at his images without feeling we’ve disturbed the subject.
I love architecture and construction and the godfather of beautiful design is Julius Shulman. With lines he is able to conjure up an image that we as a viewer would like to see. That is difficult to emulate because for some architectural photographers the image is just a house, but with a Shulman shot, the house becomes a character and a personality in itself, and we cannot stop marveling at the simplicity of the image.
What other interests do you have outside of photography?
Directing is my number one passion. Photography is the foundation of motion picture. I think it’s important to understand an impact of a still image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe that. With directing film, the images are moving, and it’s worth knowing how to direct an actor and to create composition in your frame that facilitates the story. Hence, I love being behind the lens.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. In my travels no matter where I am, there are people out there I see, who have no hope, no desire, and no passion, and that troubles me, because I feel we’ve been given the beautiful gift of life, and to not live it or experience it, is devastating.
Art has a hidden meaning and the ability to speak to people.
Do you enjoy doing photography as a “business”?
As a business, like most other art forms, it is difficult as my work is a form of self-expression. As a freelance photographer I have to find the work on my own, or people find me through word of mouth. I enjoy meeting and working with the clients directly. The best part is presenting the work. Sometimes, I feel like I should hold back, but most clients who hire me for a job, expect something different, so I am given carte blanche, the artistic freedom to do what I want and I am very appreciative of that.
How have you handled the business side of being a photographer?
I did go to business school at FIU, so I am well versed in that arena thankfully. But I also have Khodr Cherri who I consult with whenever I land a new assignment. It is important to surround yourself with a core team, and so far, I have been very lucky to work with talent that is available to me.
How do you like living and working in the US?LA vs. NYC?
I’ve enjoyed both the east and west coast. With each region you never know who you’re going to meet.
Any plans to work/live in Jamaica?
I traveled home to Jamaica to shoot twice in 2007. I’m hoping to return this year too. I would love that.
How would people who know you describe you?
They would say I am very particular and my taste level is very high. I think it’s important to deliver work you are proud of, especially if it has your name on it.
If you could be doing anything you wanted, what would that be?
(1) Relax and shoot at Golden Eye in St. Mary.(2) Go swimming at Doctor’s Cave Beach.
Last book you read?
Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson
Last CD you bought?
The Best of Paolo Conte
I see films usually based on directors. Patrice Leconte, Francois Ozon, Karan Johar, Satoshi Kon, and Hayao Miyazaki are incredible story-tellers.
As an artist, we unfortunately make a lot of sacrifices. Sometimes we’re not able to go to friends’ birthday parties/events, or we miss out on special family functions. It is hard to balance, and it takes a lot of work to let friends and family know that I love them and to not to take it personally when I can’t be available.
My favorite quotes:
- Many of life’s failures, people didn’t know how close they were, when they gave up. -Thomas A. Edison
- Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step. -Martin Luther King Jr.