Artist Profile: Louis Lim

Earlier this month we wrote about how much we enjoyed the series of photography exhibitions on display at the Queensland Centre of Photography. We were particularly impressed by Louis Lim, whose series 'Strangely Familiar' gave us a beautifully-documented glimpse into the personal lives of three people living with physical disabilities that Louis had collaborated with. Here's a retrospective sneak peek at some of the highlights from the series. Click the image for a larger view!

Louis Lim - the man behind the photographs.

Louis is currently on assignment Bangladesh but we were still lucky enough to catch up with the photographer for a digital chat about his background and the influences and inspiration behind his latest body of work.

1. Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Malaysian born Chinese who has migrated to Brisbane eleven years ago. I recently completed my Bachelor of Photography with Honours from Queensland College of Art and am currently making my way into the photography world.

2. How did you get into photography?

I used to work as a hairdresser. At one point, I realised it wasn’t the lifestyle that I desired. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to see the world. At that time a friend of mine was really into photography. We would often have discussions on photography that went on for hours. Through him I picked up the interest and decided to study photography. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

3. Do you only work in the field of documentary photography, or do you also like to dabble into other strands?

As a matter of fact, I completed my Bachelor degree majoring in creative advertising. It wasn’t until after I started Honours that I decided to work in the field of documentary practice. Personally I don’t restrict myself to a specific strand. I find it a lot more exciting to produce work that incorporate skills draw from various schools of visual practices.

4. You recently won the Queensland Festival of Photography prize in the portrait section for ‘Mariko’. How was that for you?

It was a great honour receiving the prize and I am very grateful for it. For that I couldn’t thank Mariko enough for sharing her stories with me and allowing me to create a portrait of her. Honestly, I was not expecting to win anything when I saw all the striking portraits I was competing against. In every sense, it felt great!

5. In you own words, what is the ‘Strangely Familiar’ series about?

It’s about how different yet similar people can be, in which stigmatisation and marginalisation against different-abled people need to be questioned.

6. What inspired you to create the series?

The idea came about after I created a portrait of Alice and George who were both born with Down’s syndrome. I then realised I didn’t actually know anyone who lives with a disability. I later reflected back on my childhood, and remembered my parents would often get me to look away whenever we come across a person in a wheelchair. Somehow, growing up, I have filtered away their existence. That struck me, and hence it was the start of the project.

7. Were there any challenging aspects to working so closely and documenting the marginalised?

Yes, like most projects there are some challenges to overcome, and my main challenge was to question all of my presumptions on ‘disabled’ people, and start understanding them as people with aspirations similar to most.

8. What were some of the more rewarding aspects?

The best thing to come from this project is the genuine friendship I developed with three great people, and the rich experiences that consequently came my way.

9. Did your own perception of the disabled change over the course of the series?

Yes. I learned that they were not at all ‘disabled’. They are people who are constrained by the mainstream society in which restraining them from living a fuller life. Through spending time with Jocelyn, FInbar and Anthony, I find them not a bit ‘less’ than an abled-body.

10. Would you say there’s a recurrent theme across your work? Are there any visual motifs that you’re always drawn to?

I am always interested in the diversity of people, especially those unseen from the saturated media and so my work seems to surround issues on people. I am always open to new ideas and constantly exploring different concepts to tell stories visually.

11. What is/how would you describe your process of creation and subject matter selection?

In the work 'Strangely Familiar', Jocelyn, Finbar, Anthony and myself decided to collaborate and experiment with ways to visually portray them as people living multidimensional lives, in stark contrast to the mainstream single-dimensional representation of ‘disabled’ people. Some days I would follow them around and photograph what I saw, but mostly we would talk about an idea beforehand, and together create photographs based on what we discussed. I would then select images that I thought would best meet our objective and later bring the images back to them for discussion. Often the discussion of the images would inspire a new concept or a better visual outcome. As the work was collaborative, I was not the sole voice in deciding which facets of each person’s identity would be portrayed. Instead, we arrived at the outcome after a process of discovery, discussion, visual exploration and negotiation between Jocelyn, Finbar, Anthony and myself.

12. What can we usually find you doing if you’re not out photographing?

My daily life is quite mundane. You would most likely find me sitting in front of my computer surfing the Internet 80% of my time. I spend some of my time cooking, although I am not great at it, I enjoy the process. I am also part of a taichi family. So at least once a week, you would find me either at a park or at a temple doing taichi with a group of grannies.

13. Do you have any future projects planned?

I will be continuing collaborating with Jocelyn, Finbar and Anthony to advocate a multidimensional representation of differently-abled people.

While we wait to see what Louis will come up with next, you can catch more of his impressive portfolio on his blog.