James Lai As a Leo

The intro I want to give you about James Lai is this quote from the mouth of the leo himself, “I am really good at multiple choice”. To me it feels important. It could be because the first time I met James he pulled out multiple – maybe four cameras loaded with different films and took photo after photo of Nina Escalante. It could be because visiting him to do this interview I got to flip though a whole box lid filled with polaroids. When it comes down to slicing and story telling, shooting on film, means you take a risk a digital photographer does not. James is just so casual about that.



Where is the last place you went with the specific intention of taking a photo?

I’m trying to think… Sometimes I do that but usually, I have my camera and I just take photos whenever I feel like it. There are times when I need to go out because I’ll need to find the right timing for the light and stuff. But the last time I remember is the financial district.

What where you there chasing after for a photo?

I want to take photos that represent different people in Toronto and I feel like Bay Street is something that is interesting to take photos of. Also, the light is pretty good there.

How do you explore photography as a medium beyond snapping a photo?

Usually I go to the library and I look at books. For me, I guess beyond taking the photo there is also looking at the photos. So I predominantly shoot film which means that I don’t get to see what the photos are like until they are developed. Usually, I don’t develop until I save up at least eight rolls. It means I end up with a library of photos I can look at after. So I think another good way to explore the photos is to recognize that 99% of your photos are bad. So what you want to do is to try and find the good ones. That is actually really hard.

One of the artists whose work you showed me last time I was here was Araki, And you said what you liked about him and a lot of other Japanese photographers was that they are prolific in their work. What does it mean to you for an artist to be prolific in their art?

What most impresses me is their volume. That it becomes an excess. A lot of Japanese mentality and design is actually in minimalism. But then when you separatists like Araki or Daidō Moriyama just blast out hundreds of books or things like that. It’s interesting to me because it becomes a stream of consciousness. It becomes something other. It definitely showed Japan very well.

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