Photo Essay: I am a place

Henry Lee


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Henry Lees Quadrat

Careful observation can bridge the gap between seeing something virtually and witnessing the same thing in person. Although I’m no different to any other inquisitive person who travels with a need for answers, I’m aware that coming along for the ride are thoughts, feelings, and perspectives — created, developed, and imbued with a distinct history. I don’t simply photograph the places I go; I am a “place” in motion beyond permeable borders and geographical boundaries.

As a product of experiences within the inner city, I’m attracted to urban settings, because they allow me to stand back and watch. How residents and visitors approach and interact with each other and surrounding landmarks is an important exercise to view both difference and similarity. We work, we dream, we live: we inhabit the same geographical points, and we travel along the same lines.

I once imagined never leaving the city where I was born and raised, for I believed there was nothing I needed on the outside, and that my course in life was set. However, the future had different plans: I became a scientist, a diligent observer of the natural world. This career subsequently meant multiple residencies in different cities around the world, and I became a traveller.  My profession attracted me to order and reason, and I began examining urban environments — artificially created worlds, for appearance and arrangement — paired with how people and structures filled and shared those spaces.

Here, I offer a view of how I see several of my favorite urbanscapes, through the lens of my camera. For this series, I have travelled between Canada, the United States, and Germany, to visit 10 of my favourite fusion cities. My home city of Vancouver, where I begin and end every journey, never fails to encourage me to look with fresh eyes at the majestic glass towers with their reflected mountain backdrop. While Vancouver continually reframes how I see ‘place’, it’s in neighbouring Seattle that I reconnect with my history and other Asian immigrants, our culture imprinted on every sign and corner in the International District. But it’s my travels to Germany which capture my photographic fascination with the infrastructure of how patterns and people move in symbiosis, the product of my years of scientific training, and my choice to see cities as a type of natural environment. Whether Frankfurt am Main, Mainz, Koblenz, Köln, Düsseldorf, Leipzig, Hamburg, or Berlin: all of these landscapes combine a succinct order mixed with history and constantly changing modern influences, which is what I try to capture in my photographs. I’m a part of what I see, and with practice, a part of me is left behind in every picture.

Henry Lee

is an

Assistant Photo Editor for Panorama.


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