Cameron Lee Phan
Words Stefania Tejada
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. I’m a college student finishing up my senior year and also working on a startup magazine called Théorie. I travel as frequently as I can, so I’m just living through the whirlwind.
How did you get started in photography?
I started playing with the medium about five years ago when I received a camera for my birthday.
What do you find in the human body?
Some kind of inner universe… The body is our ultimate vehicle in this world, so I like to think of them as a test of our self control.
What do you intend to communicate?
In conversation I am very calculative, so I only communicate what I know for certain. In my work however, I allow myself to communicate the parts of my mind that go aloof. I think my mind lives somewhere in complete logic and mindless fantasy.
What do you see through the people you photograph?
When I photograph a person, I really do my best to find a common ground between us and focus on the bits and pieces of our psyche that we connect on. If I can find that, it makes for a really special portrait.
How do you select your models?
I meet a lot of people on social media, but I also try to find the people I photograph as organically as I am able since real-life happenings are becoming less frequent. The people I shoot typically have something special about their appearance or personality that makes me feel nostalgic or mystified.
Who are the girls in your photographs?
They are friends, familiar strangers, common acquaintances…
What are their stories?
My subjects have all lived such different lives. And it is perhaps even more interesting than their appearance. Most of them are artists in their own respect, but overall, they are simply people with brilliant minds. I love seeing what they are motivated by and I guess if there was anything common between them, it has been their ability to enchant me.
How would you describe your aesthetics?
I love colors. I love deep blacks and shadows. I love dusk. I love the night. I love not being in the same place for too long. I’d like to retain a certain kind of dreaminess that goes along with these things in my work.
How do you work with lighting in your photographs?
Lighting has always been more fun for me when it’s natural. I like working with what I’ve got and moving in coordination with the day. Even when daylight’s gone, it’s just as much fun to search for illumination in the night. I love things that glow and I like capturing just as much shadow as there is light.
Who was the first person you photograph and what did you find in this person?
My first subject was a girl that I went to high school with. We had a very special friendship and a great love for one another. We shared a lot of tears, talks and dramatic moments together. She had a certain sadness about her that I was strangely drawn to. We were both feelers, so I was always able to sympathize. But no matter what, we just liked to make pictures together. It was fun for the both of us and we needed the escape.
Who are some of your influences?
I am influenced heavily by music. I’m always listening to Beach House, but I’m really getting into Black Marble and John Maus. It’s easier for me to listen to music and sounds, then follow the visions in my head. Photographically, I’ve also always loved the work of Robert Doisneau, Nan Goldin and Lina Scheynius.
How would you describe your transition as a photographer?
Taking photos has always felt like a magnetic pull. Since my first camera, everything that I’ve done with photography has happened pretty organically. At the same time that I started photography, I dabbled a bit in modeling, so I’ve always been extremely drawn to portraiture.
Do you feel like you can be bolder now?
Oh, yes. I feel bolder everyday.
Would you say that you have a different approach to photography today than before?
Absolutely. We all have to go through changes and develop the way we interpret things. I let things happen as they should more often than I used to. Learning to improvise will save your life. I am learning new tricks every day that make me a better at what I do.
What have you learned so far about you and your work?
I’ve learned to not to take myself too seriously and to let things happen as they will. But on the other hand, I’ve also learned that it is okay to get lost in my creative work. I just want to live a fulfilling life and create the things I want to when my mind and intuition lead me there, regardless of what other people are doing.
What’s your perspective towards passion?
Passion is a weird mix of love, desire, perseverance and intuition. Without it, there is absolutely zero progression of any sort. I also try to be aware of where I choose to put that energy, because even negative energy is transferrable.
For me, success is a matter of honesty and integrity, and that is something I live by. But I also see a good amount of people that don’t really need those things to succeed and that’s what works for them. I guess all it takes is drive, regardless of how it is executed.
What kind of films are you passionate about?
I love films that have the ability to create really strange, off-putting realities and characters. Films that take the things we already know and distort them. I love a film that is visually striking and can change my perspective.
Who do you dream about photographing? Why?
I dream of photographing Daria Werbowy, or Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally of Beach House (I’d be so embarrassed if any of them saw this). There is so much realness in what they create that inspires me to no end. And they are beautiful.
What’s your perception towards sexuality?
Sexuality can either be amazingly complex or disappointingly simple, depending on how you look at it. Sexuality is only simple when you ignore its fluidity. As long as we acknowledge that a spectrum exists, it can actually be a very complex and inspiring thing. I believe that the intensely emotional and drastic events that we experience in our lives transfer over into our sexuality, reshaping what we need to be fulfilled. It’s not always pretty, but always fascinating.
What’s your opinion about today’s sex culture?
I don’t know how different today’s sex culture actually is from previous decades, other than the fact that we just have more accessibility to it now. Overall, I think that in itself is quite liberating for the masses.
Do you see your work as a reflection of who you are?
Yes. Everything that I have shot up until this point has been auteurist, no matter how direct or indirect it may actually be. If my life had not happened the way it has, then my photos would not exist in the way that they do.