David Christopher Lee (born July 21, 1982) is an American photographer and film director who travels the world shooting high fashion, celebrities, entertainment, food, and art. As a Chinese American photographer, Lee engages his cultural aesthetic within his contemporary American affiliation with histories past.
In 1999, Lee began his career in the entertainment industry as a photographer on the red carpet. Lee’s work is showcased all over the world and can be seen on the Las Vegas Strip, and in New York’s Times Square. Lee is the co-founder of TDink Magazine with renowned Bay Area graphic designer Tiffany Chin, and has started many other successful publications such as, dTownLA.com and www.destinationluxury.com. Recently Lee has been Directing and Producing Short Films for some of the most important icons in fashion such as Zac Posen, Jill Stuart and Lee Daniels. Currently resides in Los Angeles, California and New York.
Lady Gaga. I shot her right after “Just Dance” came out and she was just getting started. She was so “out there” but I loved it!
ASIANCE: Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? Where did your parents grow up?
David: I grew up in Hacienda Heights, California, a suburb of Los Angeles with a predominantly Asian and Hispanic community. I studied a lot in school, got good grades and went to college at UC Berkeley but found that a traditional occupation was not for me, so I decided to pursue photography.
My dad is from Hollywood and my mom is from Nebraska. Both of my parents were born in the US and my grandparents are from a place called Taishan in China.
ASIANCE: How did you get into photography? Are you branching into other things?
David: I was a senior in high school and I was writing for my high school newspaper called the Pawprints. After going to a school journalism convention, I found a site that was looking for horoscope writers, so that became my new job. I wrote 12 horoscopes a day for 6 months straight and I made everything up! Then, I asked my editor if I could cover the Teen Choice awards for them and she said sure but she didn’t know how to get me in.
I called Seventeen Magazine and asked if I could cover the awards for my high school newspaper. I still keep in touch with the publicist today and she said that when I called, she put me on hold and announced to the entire room that there was this kid on the line who wanted to cover the awards for his high school paper. The whole room started laughing historically! The publisher happened to be in the room and said, just let him in because it would be fun to have someone young cover the show.
So, I went to the show and brought my dad’s digital camera, a Nikon coolpix 950(2.1 megapixels). This was 1999, so I was the first photographer on the red carpet with a digital camera. The publicist saw me with my camera and asked me what it was. I told her it was digital and she said, well what does it do? I told her that I could send her pictures tonight if she needed them..then, she said that she needed me to take 2 pictures for her — the publisher with Britney Spears and the publisher and N Sync. She said that if I sent them to her that night, she could give me $1400 a picture!
I agreed and then she gave me an all access pass to the entire show! That day I met all the publicists, celebrities, managers and they were all so curious about my camera. They knew if they wanted their pictures fast, I was the only one they could go to…and so that is how I started my photography career. That year, I shot the Academy Awards, Grammys, American Music Awards, Billboard Awards and many more. It was an exciting time for a 17 year old!
Now, I’m branching out into video and I’m specializing more in the luxury industry. I shoot for a lot of fashion brands, jewelry and hotel brands. I have a company called Destination Luxury (www.destinationluxury.com) where you can see all of the things that I have worked on. I’m developing a TV show with all the footage that I have shot, over 200 hours of footage in 20 countries at amazing locations.
ASIANCE: What is the most ideal way to make a living as a photographer? What areas? What projects?
David: The best way is to find your niche. Now, I specialize in the luxury industry, which is incredibly niche. The way you can find your niche is by trying everything which is exactly what I did. I started with red carpet photography, then I did fashion, then celebrity portraits, food and now I’ve found what I really love — Luxury
ASIANCE: What was your favorite project that you worked on so far? Why?
David: I did a shoot in Jamaica for New York based fashion designer Anne Bowen. She asked me what I needed for the shoot so I told her. I asked for 6 things
1. 5 star hotel
3. private jet
4. exotic animal
5. rolls Royce
Anne worked her magic and got me 5 out of the 6 things, everything, except for the exotic animal! I guess you can’t have everything! We shot in beautiful Montego Bay, Jamaica with the only Rolls Royce on the entire island. It was such a magical shoot which led to another shoot the following year at the Tryall Club.
Another one of my favorites was Luxury in Greece — a piece we did in Mykonos and Athens shooting at the gorgeous Villa Crew, Belvedere Hotel and the famed Acropolis. It was nice to get away to a mystical land of paradise.
One more…a shoot I did in the middle of the desert for a brand called Halebob. Yu Tsai did the photography and I did the video. It was super harsh conditions but I wanted to make the models look like they were floating effortlessly
ASIANCE: What was your favorite celebrity shoot? Why?
David: My favorite celebrity shoot was with Lady Gaga. I shot her right after “Just Dance” came out and she was just getting started. She was so “out there” but I loved it! She loves fashion and told me so much about her clothes and how she chooses them. She was really easy to pose and I could tell she was definitely a star. It was fun to see her turn into a superstar overnight!!
ASIANCE: Who would you love to shoot in the future? Concept?
David: I would love to do a shoot with Kate Moss, diamonds and exotic animals in the most exotic locations all over the world! We could shoot with Pandas in China and whales in Alaska…the possibilities are endless!
ASIANCE: What do you see for the future of photography?
David: Photography continues to evolve and now there is more competition than ever. It’s great because it really keeps you on your toes and you need to figure out ways to reinvent yourself and develop a style that you can call your own.
Photography will become even more specialized than it is now and the market will be much bigger. As the market gets bigger, budgets will become smaller. I think a lot of photographers will be doing videos also.
ASIANCE: What do you see for the future of you and photography?
David: I will always do photography…it will take me to more exotic lands with amazing experiences. I will continue to meet some interesting characters but that’s why I love it!
ASIANCE: If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
David: I would probably have been a publicist or magazine editor.
ASIANCE: Tell us about a memorable shoot or travel experience. Where, when and why so memorable?
David: I was doing a shoot for an architecture firm called A Cero in Madrid. We shot at this amazing house in the suburbs, probably the most amazing house I have ever seen. Joaquin Torres is the architect and the job was shooting one of his houses with a fashion model. The clean lines and quality of the house really blew my mind!