Sam Li is a 21 year-old, U.K. born photographer and filmmaker living in NYC who photographs strangers and friends alike in an effort to have fun and capture his own fleeting youth. If his light filled images all around New York and beyond don’t inspire you to pick up your camera and go shoot, maybe photography is not your thing.
Here’s a sampling of some of our favorite images from Sam’s portfolio, and look below for a Q&A with the man himself. Enjoy!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the small town I was born in Bolton, United Kingdom until I left for New York. I’ve been living here ever since. I did go back and forth a lot during the summer time.
I saw that you have only been a “photographer” since 2012? When did your interest in photography really begin?
I think I grew up in a setting where I was more visual. My dad would always take pictures of our family when we were growing up. When he finally let me look through the viewfinder to take a photograph of my mother and father, I was consumed by a fascination that life existed in this little slot. It brought a calming focus I never felt before. I only recently picked it back up, as for most of my high school days I was more into expressing myself through writing.
Do you have a favorite camera?
Not really. But I would pick digital over film every single time. I believe we live in a time where digital has become the better (dynamic range, low light, cost effective, manipulative) medium. It makes life easier, and the lives of the people I work with easier.)
What’s your most favorite subject to shoot now?
For photography, portraits of people have always been my curiosity. Everybody is different and I love spending time with a stranger and getting to know a little about them. My friend, Max Goodrich, once came onto a shoot with me and said, “I want to get an idea of what I’m going to shoot tomorrow so I won’t be capturing horrible footage.” He said “Sam, I know you like to improvise and not have a plan but I come from a background where you have to plan things out to the bone.” And he’s right. We are both filmmakers and we come from a background where we plan things down to the bone. But I said to him “Max, you know, I can’t help you with that. Because I never really know. I don’t think I’m supposed to. And that’s okay because when I get on set and I meet the client/model, I get the script. Because that person is the story.”
Have you worked with any high profile or notable clients in fashion or editorial yet?
I worked with a few semi-famous models, but no one big. I would love to shoot the model Daria Werbowy (pictured left).
I love her. She has a magical aura to me. It would be my dream to travel with her on a roadtrip for a few weeks across American and just take pictures of everything. The gas station pitstops, the wreckless partying in some motel, lying naked on route 66.
What are some of your short term and long term goals for your photography and filmmaking?
Originally as a short term plan, photography was definitely the gateway for filmmaking for me. I grew up as a writer but no one in their right mind would have given me money to direct my own film. I had to prove that I could show something visually. I did that. But lately, I’ve been starting to believe that photography is a life goal. I’ll be taking photographs for the rest of my life. It is definitely a lifestyle. Where filmmaking is a world of fiction, I interpret photography as a world of reality. My life and photography are very intertwined. It has always been a roller coaster. And all I can do now is just enjoy the ride and share it others before it all ends.
Since your video projects, Masked Paradises and Island of Eyes have yet to release, can we expect similar kind of images like your other photography or are these projects very different?
Photography is real. And I’m a very optimistic person. I like to be a kid. It’s my outlet to inspire people that we should never grow up. That’s why if you look at my photographs they are very happy, and in the sense beautiful. However, it’s a complete 180 degree with filmmaking. My films will be much darker and focus on ideas and stories that photography can’t express.
You mentioned you liked to travel. Where was your favorite place? Where are you itching to go?
I have done most of my shooting around New York. The last place I had a memorable time shooting was Floyd Bennett Field. It’s a half hour drive from the city and it’s an abandoned airstrip where it was a base for World War II planes. They have a long runway strip, a beach, tall grass fields, houses intertwined with plants and trees. I’m dying to just get out of New York City. It’ll happen by next year.
Do you have other interests in photography other than the celebration of youth?
For the last year I’ve tried to tell portrait stories with the sunset as a celebration of youth, but lately i’m much more compelled about what hides under the shadows and darkness. I think if I dig deep enough, I’ll hit the rock bottom of madness and the painful scars that comes with growing up into an adult and out of your dreams.
Be sure to Contact Sam for your next editorial or fashion project. He’s open to travel, so take him somewhere great.
All images © 2013 Sam Li Photography