Interview with Photographer Lily Phan

How did you get started in photography?

Lily2Lily: I stumbled onto photography while doing an independent research trip in the Balkans in 2001 with my first point and shoot digital.  Then with the thought of reporting future trips using pictures, I enrolled in a couple of photo classes at Santa Monica College.  I didn’t stop after those two classes.  Instead, I plunged head first into photography quitting my full time job and finishing the certificate program, and started my own freelance business.

What type of equipment do you use?

Lily: I use Canon because of its ultrasonic focusing speed.  Digital 1Ds Mark II and all the necessary L lenses for your wedding and photojournalism shoots.  Gitzo carbon tripod for travel, and Bogen monopod for leaning on long shoots.  I actually use it more as a cane than a camera stabilizer.  And definitely Mac for editing.

Who are your main influences?Somewhere lily

Lily:Photojournalism-wise, my heroes of influence are Frenchman Henri Bresson-Cartier and Hungarian Andre Kertesz.  Both are a little before our time (WWII), but their work lasts through the ages.  There are good photographers and there are very good ones.  But these two deserve their statues erected in the Kodak Hall of Fame.

What have you been doing recently in your career?

Lily: I confess I have been a little distracted in my photography career the last couple of years as a freelancer trying to earn a stable living.  But I am returning – with the intent of working my way back to shoot in developing countries, where my original focus was when I first picked up that little digital point and shoot. This will complement my work with humanitarian agencies.

MyBridge lilyWhat kind of repeated themes do you emphasize in your work?

Lily: Coincidentally, my theme is very similar to that of AEM’s mission, that of redemption.  I like to pick up low value to no value items and turn it into art, same with what I see in impoverished countries, where there’s always a glimmer of hope in a pile of mess that we humans tend to create with our delusions of grandeur.  So my theme is to bring beauty out of simple elements, and to explore where it’s least expected.  You won’t see much glamour and glitzy work in my stuff unless those assignments drop onto my lap for a large paycheck.

How has AEM helped you become a better artist as you integrate your faith and your art?

Lily: AEM helped me to get a deeper sense of what it means to articulate faith through art.  Boy lilyBefore I always had a sense, but never really articulated it.  Fellowship with other artist believers has helped open my eyes to the different aspects of God seen by other artists.

Have you had any struggles integrating your faith and your art?

Lily: Not much.  I believe our daily struggle with sin is what competes to come through our art.  The integration of faith should be quite natural.  I don’t think you can force or manipulate the integration process.

How does your relationship with God inform or limit your creativity?

Lily: As my understanding of our creative God improves, it frees me in my artistic expression – one not so bound with self imposed rules and laws.  I find freedom in knowing Christ and it comes out in my art, whether I’m depicting an undesirable human condition, or a beautiful landscape.  I follow the Pauline principle, where ‘everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial’.  I’m allowed to compose my image in any way and every way, as long as it benefits the viewers and glorifies God.

Spring lilyWhat advice would you offer to budding photographers?

Lily: You need to keep shooting, whether it pays or not.  As soon as you stop you will get distracted.  Take every assignment, big or small, seriously.  And learn as much as you can from it.  Photography has a lot of cross over skills.  A simple, boring assignment can help you in a larger assignment.

We have only shown you a small portion of Lily’s work. She has a vast selection on her website.  To see more or to contact her, visit her website:

Article by Michelle Pelsue