Finding Focus

Alumnus discovers purpose and perspective through the camera lens

Jason Lee
Photo by Jason Lee

As a street photographer, Jason Lee 11OX 13C captures life in all its guises: the beautiful, the ordinary, the heart-wrenching, the triumphant, the unforgettable. 

Inspiration often comes in a glance, a quick glimpse of something that begs for deeper understanding. 

This resonates with Lee because, as a child, he was often judged at first sight. Born three months prematurely, doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy, telling his parents he would never walk and would probably show signs of developmental delays as he aged. 

Lee’s parents, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, supported and encouraged him and, at six, he took his first steps. Despite this triumph, he still faced obstacles. 

“Being born with a disability, I was made fun of a lot as a kid. It is hard to be expressive when people make fun of you. You want to stay in a corner and shrink up so no one will notice you,” Lee says. 

Lee found his outlet in photography, an artistic offshoot that grew out of his film major at Emory. “I realized I was a terrible film major in the sense of making movies, but I was good at using a camera to get still photos,” he says. “I was the quiet, lonely type during college. Photography was able to help me conquer those fears and express myself without fear of judgment. No matter who you are or what you look like, your art is totally independent of that.” 

Although he’d initially planned to go to law school, then considered film school, Lee says he realized in his senior year that neither path suited him. After discussing his dilemma with his older brother, Lee decided to start a photography business while pursing a master’s degree in hospitality management as a way to pay the bills. He is enrolled in Cornell University’s Master of Management in Hospitality “2+1” program, which requires him to work for two years in the industry then complete one year of coursework. 

Before he graduated from Emory, Lee had secured a position with Intercontinental Hotels in San Francisco. Within a week of graduating, he packed up and moved across the country. During his two years there, he started a “virtual” photography studio, providing portraiture services while pursuing his passion for street photography. 

Over time, Lee compiled a large portfolio of photographs of people and street scenes in San Francisco and, at the encouragement of friends, he launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to publish both electronic and hard copy photo books of his work, titled Of Places and People: San Francisco

“That is what photography means for me. A chance to tell a story. A chance to connect people with something. An opportunity to create a memory,” Lee says. “I’m always looking for something that conveys something deeper.”

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