I have to admit that one of my favourite iPhone street photographers at the moment is Lee Atwell, her work has been featured in several Mobiography showcases and looking at her portfolio of work its not hard to see why.
Lee Atwell lives in Seattle, Washington where she owns a yoga studio. Lee’s photos have been featured in gallery exhibits in the U.S., Canada, Italy, Portugal and more recently in Belgium. Her work has also been featured in online magazines such as ‘Lens Culture,’ the French ‘Subtile Magazine,’ as well as ‘The National Geographic Blog’. When it comes to online mobile photography websites Lee has been featured on sites like Hipstography, iPhoneographyCentral, Combo Apps and TheAppWhisperer. She is also honored to have received awards in the MPA (Mobile Phone Awards) and IPPA (iPhone Photography Awards).
I was keen to talk to Lee and find out more about her approach to her iPhone street photography, the apps she uses and what inspires her to take photos.
How were you first introduced to iPhone photography?
I was first introduced to iPhone photography when my husband gave me an iPhone to replace my ‘flip’ cell phone almost four years ago. I remember thinking it was the last thing I wanted – to have a ‘mini computer’ in the palm of my hand that I could take with me everywhere. However, when I discovered the quality of it’s camera, I soon became addicted to iPhoneography.
What inspires you to take photos with your iPhone?
The accessibility of the iPhone and the fact that it is always on me is one thing that inspires me to take photos with it as there is always an opportunity to see the world around me in a creative way. Also, social media groups that have weekly themes or challenges keep me motivated as I like to be challenged but even more so, I enjoy connecting with others working on a common theme.
The inspiration I receive from friends on social media and online photography sites also encourages me to be creative and take photos on a regular basis – feeding my deeper desire to be artistic and creative every day.
If I am unable to take a photo on a particular day, I usually spend time with the photos I have already taken editing them – I am definitely addicted!
How would you describe your style and approach to the photos you take?
That is difficult to answer, but, some have described my style as soulful and poetic. I always try to find the beauty in the unexpected and the unexpected in the aesthetic.
What apps do you use and is there a process or methodology that you apply to your post production editing?
My very first app was ‘Hipstamatic’ and I find this app to be my go to app today. More recently, I have been using the ‘Oggl’ app, which gives you the ability to choose different lenses and filters, after the photo has been taken. I think their black and white options are wonderful for creating dramatic contrasts between light and shadow – perfect for street photography.
Sometimes I will add to the Hipstamatic photos some vintage effects with ‘Stackables’ or ‘PhotoToaster’ or change the contrast slightly with ‘Snapseed,’ but often find it not necessary.
In your street photography work, are you the sort of person that shoots fast and from the hip or do you prefer to let the subjects walk in and out of frame?
In street photography, I do both. Walking in the streets of Seattle I am often drawn to photograph interesting individuals, architecture, or areas of high contrast light and shadow. When I am drawn to interesting architecture or light / shadow, I will sometimes wait a few minutes to see who shows up to ‘walk into the photo’ and am often quite surprised to see the result.
What is it about street photography that fascinates you?
I am fascinated by how you must be present moment to moment with your surroundings – always open to what shows up and knowing that no moment can ever be repeated again. It often feels like a mindfulness meditation to me.
When people are in the photo, you are capturing a precise moment in time – and if you miss the capture, it can never be recreated. So many of my photos are not successful, so there is the continual need to let go of expectations and any feelings of controlling the situation, too.
I am drawn to how street photos, representing an instant in time, can capture incredible and often soulful stories.
I am also intrigued by how capturing moments in time now are recording a little bit of our history and that the photos taken today will be viewed as vintage 50+ years from now.
What are the key ingredients that make a good street photographer?
I am not sure if I am qualified to answer this question, as I am still learning so much about this art, however, what I am working on and try to do when I take street photos is to have courage, be present, be creative in regards to perspective, and be detached from the outcome. There is such a beauty to not having to use film, as it is possible to take 100s of photos on an outing at no cost.
A street photographer friend, Matthew Wylie, once said he danced through the streets when he took street photography, and I think that is a good way to describe the necessity of capturing that which is so fleeting in this art – to be just as fleeting yourself as those around you, and what surrounds you, moment to moment.
If you could spend the day with any photographer past or present who would it be and why?
I relate to street photographers from the 50’s and 60’s as it is the era in which both my mom and dad were avid photographers and I grew up with their photographs as well as ‘Photography Annual’ magazines from that era, for inspiration.
If I could spend a day with a street photographer from the past, it would be Esther Bubley, as I think her photos are amazing in how they are so candid, and yet, they tell such incredible stories of not only that era, but, what it means to be human – transcending time and place.
I would love to be able to walk with her in the streets of New York city in the 50’s and 60’s and to be able to join with her in a feeling of connection – sharing a passion for wandering the streets in search of interesting moments to photo. I would also like the opportunity to not only see what she saw, but to understand what and why she was drawn to photograph certain people and scenes, not through studying her photos from today’s perspective, but, by living the experience.
Do you have any incredible encounters or a story that really is part of your photographic journey that you would like to tell us?
I feel grateful that both my parents were avid photographers and supported and encouraged my interest from the time I was a child. Some of my fondest memories were learning the science, art, and magic of photography from my dad when he converted a small bathroom in our house into a darkroom.
Tell us about the story behind a few of your favourite photos
Towards Nightfall (Angel on the Street)
It was towards sunset in late winter when I took this photo when the streets between the high city buildings were mainly in shade. It was such a surprise to see this angel in the street with the tips of her wings barely catching the sliver of sun that was peaking between the buildings.
The image is very reminiscent to me of one of my favorite, and very dreamlike, classic noir films Wem Wenders, “Wings of Desire” (Der Himmel über Berlin), where angels are visible to some, offering the possibility of hope when life can feel hopeless.
This photo was taken in an alley during Seattle’s ‘Seafair Fleet Week’ which honors the men and women of the navy. This alley is a favorite location of mine as I like the dark and dramatic lighting and the cobbled street for atmosphere.
This photograph was taken while standing in line waiting to be seated by the hostess at a cafe. I was struck to see the young woman sitting by the window – in the photo, the natural light from the window, the cafe scene, her hair and floral dress remind me so much of an era gone by.