Lian Leng is a Canadian photographer, currently a postdoctoral fellow in bioengineering at Harvard, with a training in mechanical engineering. Lian picked up film photography a little over 3 years ago, as she became intrigued with the mechanisms behind the different camera models. She comes from a family of artists and photography quickly became her personal way of expression and creativity. Lian is constantly in search of new ways of creating images that will inspire all kinds of emotions from the viewers, while giving space for the model’s own personality to shine through. This photo series with model Tiamarie is very different from her usual work as she’s mainly used to location shoots where the environment as a whole plays a part in her work. The use of the black backdrop and narrow space forced Lian to close in onto the model and really try a much cleaner style of composition.
How did your shoot with Tiamarie go?
It was great! Super relaxed setting and we really enjoyed talking about all kinds of topics as we were shooting. That’s one of my favourite part of shooting by myself, with just the model and I. It gives me more time to get to know them personally and capture images that feel more intimate and honest.
Can we photograph the female body differently in a more powerful way?
Absolutely, and I also think that the way it comes about relies on a complex relationship between the photographer and the model. From my personal experience, I never know what direction the shoot will take until I take that first shot. I tend to stay away from nudity and too much sensuality, but that is just a personal preference. I like to deliver a sense of purity and vulnerability in my work, without revealing too much. This is not to say that I’m against this aspect of portraying the female body, but it really is a personal taste.
What inspires you?
Everything. I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiration. Most often I am inspired by movies, camera angles, and locations. I love shooting outdoors and am always in search of my next location shoot.
How would you define beauty?
Beauty is so subjective. For me, beauty is being different, unique. If a model is too perfect or ‘commercial’, it just doesn’t inspire me to create anything new. I always look for a particular trait that makes them stand out, that opens all sorts of opportunity to create a story around them. Above all, beauty is when their personality comes through, and they suddenly become a character in front of the lens. I love it when it happens, that moment you pull up the camera and they suddenly come to life. It suddenly feels like a personal conversation between them, the camera, and myself.
Film or digital?
Always always film! Film has character, nuances, contrasts, and grains, that you will never be able to replicate with digital. It also is slower, and limited. It forces you to think about each image you are about to capture, forces you to really create each and every one of your shots. And that’s what I love about it. It feels so much more involved, creative, and less open to randomness.
What makes you happy?
I work full time as a researcher, and it definitely is a stressful environment. Photography really allows me to switch off my brain from everything else but the story I am trying to create in that moment. The most exciting part is getting the negatives developed. It really is the most rewarding moment when the images reveal themselves as you had imagined.
What’s next for you?
I’ll always be looking for new models to work with and create new stories. I like to challenge myself with new styles of photography. I hate being redundant and repeating myself. I’m also looking to do more collaborative work with fashion brands. Just did a recent lookbook for Pink Yotto and I can’t wait to release the story.