Singaporean Photographer and longtime LomoAmigo Ian Lim is back to enthuse again with his photography talent. This time, Ian takes the Lomo'Instant Square to New York City where he met prominent musicians like Casey Benjamin, Just Blaze, Jay Electronica, Phillip Leeds and many more big names.
Hey Ian, how have you been? Any new projects we may have missed?
Hello! I've been great. Just got back home to Singapore and re-settling back into life here. No new projects in particular, but I'm still working on my Halfportraits project, and still shooting a lot of music and streets.
Tell us more about your trip to the US. Why did you choose to stay in New York City?
Well, the first time I was in New York City was a little less than 3 years ago. That was when I literally first started photography and had no idea how to really use my camera. I was just shooting in Aperture Priority all the time and had no idea how to work it in Manual mode.
With that being said, NYC was a lot of fun shooting even as a complete amateur. When I got back the first time, I was talking about my trip over lunch one day with my close friend Josh (josh.tzr) and we both decided that we should re-visit the city for a longer period of time together once I was done with National Service.
NYC is my favourite city in the world for various reasons, but the top stand-outs are because I get to merge and work on two of my biggest passions at the same time — photography and music.
This gorgeous city is the homeground for a lot of my favourite hip hop and jazz artists, so to be able to watch them perform their craft in their city for their people while I captured everything visually was a surreal experience. New York is where Hip Hop was born, so the energy is undeniable and cannot be easily replicated.
We heard you got to meet lots of remarkable people there. Who were you most excited to meet?
I got to meet so many of my favourite MCs and producers —people I've been listening to since I was a kid! It was nice to be able to not meet them on a “fanboy” level, but more of a collaboration level to get them involved in my Halfportraits project. I’ll have to give all of them props. All of them were equally important with regards to my journey in NYC and it wouldn’t have been the same with an individual missing. They were also very supportive and some of them promoted the project voluntarily.
I got to meet Common, Robert Glasper, Statik Selektah, Rakim, Stretch Armstrong, DJ Green Lantern, DJ Clark Kent, Casey Benjamin, Smoke DZA, J. Ivy, Jonathan Mannion, amongst many others. The most memorable stories, however, had to be with Just Blaze, Jay Electronica, Phillip Leeds, U-God (Wu-Tang Forever!) and CJ Fly.
The Just Blaze encounter is now one of my favourite stories - I was taking a test photograph of him when somebody selling merch somewhere in background thought that I was taking photos of her stuff without purchasing. She wasn't too happy and started kicking up a bit of a fuss and Just stepped in and explained the whole situation to her before I could say a word. The whole time I was like, "Dang. I've spent more than half my life listening to this guy's productions and now he's diffusing a situation for me?" It was wild.
Jay Electronica is hands-down one of the most elusive MCs in the world and a personal favourite. I never thought I’d get to see him perform in my life, so when he announced his tour I bought a ticket to the show nearest to NYC, which was in Philly. I got to speak to his manager Law, who was gracious enough to give me an all-access pass to the concert. Law introduced me to Jay after the show, and we did a shoot together. A photograph from the shoot turned out so unique, it really encapsulated his character. I don’t think I’ll post it publicly anytime soon, but I’ve sent both Law and Jay Electronica himself a copy of it. Hopefully they’ll do something special with it.
Jay invited the people backstage to the green room after meeting everyone and told everyone to make themselves at home, and to help themselves with the food and drinks and just hung out with us. He has this line on one of his tracks that goes “I’ve got a lot of family, you’ve got a lot of fans/That’s why the people got my back like the Verizon Man”, so you know for a fact that he meant those bars.
With Phillip Leeds, we met once in Singapore about a year ago when he was doing a tour for his “Big Shots” book. It’s fantastic. An entire collection of intimate portraits of characters from JAY-Z to Snoop Dogg. He invited me to his apartment where we caught up and shot each other’s portraits, and I had the honour to look at a bunch of unreleased portraits he’s taken.
The Wu-Tang connect, U-God was hanging around after a gig I attended where he was an unannounced special guest. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and showed him some of my work. He then asked me to exchange contacts with his manager and told his manager to “put him on the team”, so that was a really surreal moment.
Finally with CJ Fly, we arranged to meet to do a shoot. He’s a founding member of the Pro Era crew, one of my favourite collectives in hip hop. He chose the location, so when I arrived, he was just chilling in his car. He was like, “So this spot is really special. This street is where I grew up, Joey (Bada$$) used to live down this corner on the left and I lived on the right. We used to link up right here at the Subway when we still lived in this neighbourhood, so now there’s history behind your photographs!” At one point, Fly said “You know what? F*** it, I’m climbing on top of my car so we can get a cool picture.” But we decided not to go through with it in the end because it started drizzling when we met and we didn’t want to risk him falling.
Oh, I also got to meet my buddy Carlo (cvl8) for the first time ever! He’s an amazing drummer. We met on Instagram when we got talking about music about 5 years ago, and we've kept in contact ever since. We both found out we were going to be in NYC in the same time frame, so we hung out a lot and even went to Philly together because he had a studio session there the same date I was going for the Jay Electronica show.
I took this photo of him sitting with his dad while we were waiting for our bus back to NYC from Philly. The entire trip has been a crazily humbling experience.
How was your experience using the Lomo'Instant Square?
It was great. I’ve only been shooting strictly digital before this, so this was a nice switch-up. I love the colours and the quality of the prints, but one thing I realized was that I always forgot to check the focal distance whenever I took the camera out because it resets whenever you pack it up. It also seemed to consume batteries fairly quickly, which resulted in the flash not being able to draw enough power, resulting in some of these photographs turning out a bit too dark.
The Lomo'Instant Square received a lot of attention whenever I shot with it in public though! I had several people come up to me and ask me what I was shooting with and asked a lot of questions about it, and at the end of the conversations I always directed them to the Lomography store at 41st W 8th St!
If you had to sum up your whole experience travelling to the US and shooting with the Lomo'Instant Square in one song, what would it be?
I’d go with Nas’ ‘‘World is Yours’’. Nas is my favourite MC of all-time, and Illmatic is my favourite record ever. The track just screams NYC: Nas is from Queens, and Pete Rock (who produced the tune) is from the Bronx, so that’s NYC on NYC on NYC. I also love the message and optimism of the track, and I listened to it a lot while walking around NYC on this trip.
Anything you'd like to say to our readers?
Don’t ever regret anything. Always try your best if you want something, so that you know for yourself that you bothered attempting/trying/giving it 100%, even if it ultimately doesn’t come through at the end of the day.
Thanks for chatting with us Ian