Daniel Lee


Daniel Lee / Digital Camera by Simon Bainbridge

Q: Tell me about your first tentative steps into digital imaging and the kind of work you were producing.

Aside from working as a head photographer in a commercial studio, I pursued my own work capturing the life of homeless people in New York City during the late 1980's. Rather than simply documenting the pictures, I made them into a series of photo collages using a color scheme of faded grays. Everything was hand stripped together using a pin-registered 8x10 color enlarger. You can imagine how difficult & complicated the process for just one test print was. I bought my first Mac, a Quadra 950, in 1992. I was eagerly awaiting the availability of digital imaging applications on the personal computer. I think that was the most important decision I've ever made

Q: Your images immediately impacted with audiences, gaining you quick recognition in a series of articles and exhibitions, Some people were apparently a little disturbed by the Manimal images. what is it about the Manimal pictures that have such resonance for viewers

The recognition I received from the articles & exhibitions was way beyond my expectations. I would attribute the initial attention to the relatively unfamiliar & unusual nature of the work. It was a new experience for most viewers.
Other reason was that I use computer as a tool, an extension of my photography. The realism of the work allowed viewers to register the work as a real photograph, and not just art. I think people received the work the way they did in part because I created images that were visually closer in appearance to humans, allowing viewers to relate to the humanistic aspect of each piece.

Q: Origin seems like a new departure for your work. Tell me about the thought process which brought it about and how you achieved the project.

Well. after using Asian mythology as the subject of my initial series, I wanted to find a different theme for my work. My concept started several months after the NY Times Magazine interviewed me as one of five contemporary artists to express ourselves through new technology. I created a sequence of four self-portraits that reflected my interpretation of human evolution from the past to the present to the future.
After the release of the article, the reaction was pretty good. I decided to create a sequence of 10 full body transformations from a primitive amphibious form to the present human being. My motivation to use evolution as a subject was also spurred by the upcoming millennium. A new millennium signifies to me the dawn of a new beginning.
Though friends I found two male models for the images. One had barely any hair while the other was quite hairy. I picked up a 5-pound Blue fish from the Italian market as a reference for the Coelacanth, the prehistoric fish. It took some discipline to undergo the manipulation process of each stage. Since the transformation involved the entire body I found it to be a much greater challenge than simply facial portraits, but I enjoyed the process very much.

Q: I get the sense that DI brought together all your skills for the first time. Is that true and to what extent do you think your career in advertising affected your sense of image creating and presentation?

I started drawing at a very young age and published my first comic book at fifteen. I started in NY as an illustrator and eventually through self-determination reached the highly coveted art director status. What I gained during the art director years was the importance of presentation and scale.
The accessibility of computer technology offered a medium to combine both my drawing and photography skills. But ultimately, it is still your own artistic sense that dictates the process and end result.

Q: Many people are surprised that your images aren't composites of man and animal. Describe the process of creating one of your images, particularly the software tools you use.

After extensive practice of digital imaging, I learned to incorporate photo elements into composite pieces instead of painting the image. For detailed features, such as a mouth or eye, I would generate the image manually from a reference photo of a real animal. I found it difficult to achieve the necessary lighting, detail or angle strictly through the cloning of an animal picture.
I used to use a 4X5 format camera, with a 300 mm Schneider lens to achieve the greatest detail. Since the beginning of 1999, I switched to a LightPhase Digital system that attaches to a Hasselblad camera. I photograph all the necessary portions of the model, taking close ups of detailed features like the eyes. I designate a file size for each picture before shooting. For example, the individual image size on an Origin picture was 78 MB. In terms of lighting, I normally use two 2,400-watt strobe light units linked to 4 to 6 light heads.
I've always worked on a Macintosh system. I've found the Mac system convenient for accessibility to professional service bureaus. I've found Adobe PhotoShop to be sufficient for all my imaging needs. I normally choose to reshape the face first; to pick an area with a soft-feathered edge and then work it through such transformation tools as Scale/Distort/Rotate until it fits the shape I wanted. I also use the Rubber Stamp, Burn, Dodge and Airbrush/Color tools a lot in retouching. Then I'll do the same thing over the nose, the mouth and the eyes...

Q: I need to know what kit you use, camera and system. Also, do you have any advice for people just beginning to use DI creatively.

I've been using digital imaging as a new tool, an extension of my photography. Since the final picture is still a photograph, I believe that basic photography and lighting skills are still very important to learn.
Besides photography, Digital Imaging is a combination of many illustration skills. Therefore, I think studio art and art theory are important to have as well. To take it one step further, animation, 3D-rendering and web design may all be related in the future.

Q: If you were an animal, what would you be?

I was born in the beginning part of the year of the Rooster. In Chinese Astrology, it means that my mother was pregnant during the year of the Monkey. In that context, I find that the sign of Monkey suits me more.