Interview with Photographer – Don Lim

Model – Justine Cuenco

DJ Cobalt 60: Why do you love creating images and taking into account how frequently it is featured in your work what does the female form mean to you?

Don Lim: I love creating images, Polaroids/instant photos especially, because there is no other feeling that can replicate a photo developing in front of your eyes. It’s a mixture of curiosity and excitement waiting to see how things turned out. There are definite inconsistencies but, it’s all part of the fun. The female form is the greatest creation of mankind. I’ll just keep it at that. Ha-ha.

DJ Cobalt 60: You’ve been fascinated with cameras since an early age, what do you think your younger self would say about your current work? At what age did you get serious about your photography?

Don Lim: Ha-ha. Well, to be honest, my younger self would probably still be in major disbelief, due to the fact I was extremely shy in terms of talking to girls. I didn’t get serious until I was 24 (when I first started Raw & Instant), I’m 28 now. I have a heavy background in art in general, I mean I first started drawing when I was in the 2nd grade. I used to make my own comics for me and my friends to read during silent reading time in class, ha-ha. But yeah, when I realized photography was my favorite form of art, I wanted to make it my own, and that is the reason Raw & Instant came about.

Models – Kyran and Erika

DJ Cobalt 60: You shoot using specifically only instant film, that’s a stylistic choice, it’s worth noting that you have nothing against digital photography. You choose to use instant film because you feel it gets you the best results for your website Raw & Instant, which is dedicated to 100% raw and unedited film photography of models. In terms of your own set up how has it evolved over the years? Do you stock pile a lot of old film? I know you once posted on your blog about the strain instant film can put on your wallet not to mention the fact that most commercial jobs prefer digital to film because of its cost and time spent developing and scanning images, regulating the format to mostly personal and non-commissioned projects – essentially film is a choice that can cost more, provide you with less job opportunities and can take longer than digital. What do you to try and circumvent this constraints and make each one of your shots count?

Don Lim: When I first started, I literally had 2 cameras in my arsenal; a Fujifilm Instax Mini 25S, and a Polaroid SX-70 Sonar. As I got more serious about Raw & Instant, I learned about new (and old) cameras which used different kinds of film types so my camera count grew a lot. I used to try and find actual vintage Polaroid film, but those would always run like 4x higher in price than instax or The Impossible Project film, and due to them being expired for many years, they would be inconsistent and unreliable, so I mainly use the latter. In terms of making each shot count, that is actually a rollercoaster ride. In the early stages of R&I, I realized that I would never pay attention to how many pictures I was taking when shooting a model. After looking at how many shots I took post-shoot, I did notice that I shot waaaaaaaay too many photos, which equaled a TON of money. So then I obviously toned it down, and took more time than usual to compose my shots. After that though, I realized that my photos started looking more staged, and I didn’t like that. Polaroids are meant to be spontaneous, candid and fun. So presently, I’m back to just shooting for the fun of it. If the model has good energy and her vibes can be seen through the photos, then I will just shoot as much as I can without a care for film cost.

Model – Alysia

DJ Cobalt 60: Do you think using film makes you a practitioner of a dying art-form? Though it’s a different medium Christopher Nolan’s (The Dark Knight, Inception) long time cinematographer Wally Pfister has said that he and Chris will keep shoot using film as long as studios let them but, can honestly see a day when they no longer have the option and are forced to use digital.

Don Lim: When I first started this in 2012, yes, I don’t think I ever saw any other person using 100% instant-film to shoot the subject matter that I cover. There were obviously other people using instant film cameras, but not exclusively like I did/do. Now, instant film cameras in general, be it Fujifilm or original Polaroid (due to the success of the aforementioned The Impossible Project), have made a tremendous comeback. They are on everyone’s wish lists (I know, because I work in a retail location that sells these cameras, and they are flying off the shelves, ha-ha). Seeing the rapid growth of interest in these cameras shows that Instant Film is no longer a dying art form. And film in general will never die, there are tons of people who prefer film over digital, and I truly appreciate those who do, like Nolan and Tarantino.

Model – Tamara 

DJ Cobalt 60: Who are some photographers who have shaped and influenced your own photography? Are you still as enamored by other photographers work as you use to be? What fuels your creativity these days?

Don Lim: My top influential photographers that first comes to mind would be Terry Richardson, Yasumasa Yonehara (YONE), Tyler Shields, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol and Richard Kern. And yes, I am always getting exposed to other photographer’s works here and there and definitely do appreciate they do, like Rich Burroughs. My style is influenced by some of the guys mentioned, but I definitely do think I have created a real style of my own. It’s very difficult to be original nowadays, especially being the very minimalistic person that I am. That has been the case for me in every field of art I was ever into. Like for instance, as I mentioned earlier I first got into the arts through drawing. I would always prefer to leave my drawings black and white instead of colored. That minimalism has carried through my work even till now. Most of the time I never really sit down or chat with my model prior about ideas and such for our shoot, it is usually spontaneous and we just roll with it. Creativity is achieved in many different ways, and I think mine is most active on the spot rather than pre-thought out.

Model – Marilyn Hue

DJ Cobalt 60: What is an image of yours that you believe best represents your style and aesthetic and what was the situation surrounding it?

Don Lim: The image below is my favorite picture I have ever taken so far as it best showcases my style. My main goal in my photography is to make the person who is viewing my photos feel like he/she was me in that moment. I want them to feel the same way I did on that day with the model. The subject in the photo is Emma, one of my favorite people I have had the chance to work with. I believe she was one of the first that I shot fully nude, so at the time I felt like it was my duty to take on the daunting task of shooting a naked woman in way where it didn’t look tacky and distasteful, but also in a way that wasn’t so “Artsy Nude,” because that is definitely not my style. I guess the best way to describe the style I aim for is provocative, but respectable, and that is exactly what I believe this photo embodies. Her body language is natural and inviting, just enough to where you as a viewer feel like she is not overtly seductive, but instead there is this calm, sensual demeanor about her. Her expression is my favorite thing about the photo; there is no aggression in her face but you can feel the slight sexual tension due to her mischievous finger bite and the attraction caused by her eyes. Emma just really pulls you in in this photo.

Model – Emma Jade

DJ Cobalt 60: How do you go about searching for models to photograph? Is there anything you look for in particular? 

Don Lim: I first started looking for talent to shoot on Model Mayhem. For like the first year or so of Raw & Instant, that was my main source of finding girls to shoot. After a decent amount of photo shoots from that source, I then looked into shooting agency represented talent. After minimal success there, my next and current main source of finding models to shoot is through Instagram. I think Instagram has emerged as the #1 source for networking, and it has led to my highest number of successfully booked shoots. In terms of what I look for in particular, it’s more than just a pretty face and a nice body. If I come across a girl that intrigues me on Instagram, I try and imagine what her personality and attitude is like. If I think she would be a perfect fit for Raw & Instant’s style and imagery, then I make an effort to try and work with that person.

Model – Catherine

DJ Cobalt 60: A big reason I’m a fan of your work is because you photograph a lot of Asian models, excuse my language here, it’s kind of fucked up though how disproportionate most fashion photography is, people from all ethnicities do model yet, most of the models are still Caucasian. Now I don’t want to turn this into being about race but, what sort or role if any does race play into your photography? Do you photograph an Asian model any differently than a Caucasian one?

 Don Lim: Race has no role at all in my photography. I don’t think I would ever shoot one race of people differently than another. Yes, I have shot a lot of Asian women, but I have shot multiple women of different ethnicities as well. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, etc. I’ve worked with them all. Race should not be of any negative impact to anyone’s line of work, or a driving factor of how they photograph someone, but hey, to each their own. If anything, a lot of people believe that all I shoot are thin/skinny girls. And to that, I say “ARE YOU FUCKING BLIND?!” ha-ha.

Model – Sunni Colon for Viper Magazine

DJ Cobalt 60: What is the first thing you do to break the ice with someone you have never photographed before?

Don Lim: Funny thing is, every model shoot I have done has always been the icebreaker too, because the day of the shoot is always the very first day I meet them, LOL. I never did the whole, “Hey let’s meet and get some coffee or something and brainstorm our photo shoot,” or anything like that. Instead, it’s always been, “Hey are you down to shoot this day/that day?” etc. But in terms of breaking the ice in general, I just be myself. I really don’t put up a front with any of the people I work with, I just talk to them like I would normally talk to people. If anything, I offer drinks just in case they want to loosen up a bit, but it doesn’t go any further than that. Just got to talk to them a little bit to get to know them, feed off of each other’s vibes, play some music that gets us both in the zone, and we’re off!

Model – Sam Rea

DJ Cobalt 60: When you are directing a model are you helping them to project an image of beauty you see in them or think you possibly see in them that they might not or are you doing the opposite and putting the model so at ease they are no longer projecting and bringing more of themselves to the shoot?

Don Lim: Remember my answer to an earlier question, in terms of what I look for in particular from a model? My answer was that I try and imagine how her personality would be. If what I initially imagined from them isn’t coming out, I don’t force any opposing direction on them, instead, I try to discover them. A little icebreaker is not enough to truly figure a person out. If direction is needed, then I will do it. You can personally ask a lot of my models, and they will agree to the fact that I am not afraid to jump up on the bed they are on or wherever they are just to strike a pose to aid them, LOL. My number one ground rule is actually something I say to each model before I shoot with them. I always tell them to be themselves, and to not do anything they wouldn’t do normally or feel uncomfortable doing. I tell them to express themselves how they want to, and that I am there to capture them in whatever way they wish to be portrayed.

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Model – Camila

DJ Cobalt 60: How much of a photo’s success do you feel you can you take credit for? Because I can always identify a Don Lim photo when I see it, you have these trademarks that carry over throughout your work that I feel are unique to who you are as a photographer, it doesn’t matter if the model is male or female, there’s this rawness, humor, attitude and unabashed carefreeness in all your photos that I can’t even properly put into words. Admittedly there are some other photographers who also take raw and humorous photos of models but, nobody does it quite like you – the photos speak for themselves, sort of like how photographer Bruce Gilden or Snoop Dogg can pull off things that only they can do, others can come close but, that’s as far they get, just close.

Don Lim: It’s definitely a 50/50 between me and the model. There are definitely some models who have stepped up to the plate more than others, leading to more favorable sets of photos. Even if just 1 photo from a shoot is memorable, then I feel successful. But hearing that from you and others really does make me happy. Being identifiable in this industry is certainly something to be proud of.

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Models – Don Lim and Nia

DJ Cobalt 60: A moment in in time you regret not having your camera on you and wish you could go back and photograph?

Don Lim: Damn ha-ha, this is a tough one. Kind of gonna twist the question a little bit here, but instead of a specific moment, I would instead like to go back to a specific period in my life to photograph, and that would be that year or so back in high school when I was in a Punk-Rock phase. I had that gigantic Mohawk, studded vest, tight pants and all that LOL. That period in my life is one of my most memorable and fun. I met so many new people, went on a lot of adventures, which I find weird because I didn’t have a car yet at the time, ha-ha, but somehow I found myself in situations and in places I would never have thought I would have been in, and that was a good thing. Oh how I wish I could have captured the faces of the people after a girl in the punk crowd I was hanging with sneezed right before snorting a line of crystal causing all it to fly to the floor. HAHAHA! (p.s. I did not partake in any of this drug activity).

Models – Rilind and Emily Mei

DJ Cobalt 60: As an artist what is the highest compliment you can receive? When are you normally most satisfied with your work?

Don Lim: The first answer I thought of for this question is when someone sees a piece and immediately knows it was done by you, just like you yourself had mentioned in terms of easily identifying my photos. Because c’mon now….recognition is awesome. But thinking deeper, I actually take back that answer. Above that, I think that being heralded as an inspiration to others, be it other artists or just any other person, is the highest compliment you can receive. I’ve had a couple friends and random people on social media tell me that my work has inspired them somehow.

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Models – Justine Cuenco and Rachel Brann

I am most satisfied with my work when if I look at a photo, I feel instantly transported to that same moment in time when I took it. That I feel is the most satisfying feeling when shooting with instant film.

MY DREAM CAMERA would be an Instant camera with the ability to switch in between all types of instant film possible: pack (peel-apart) film, original/The Impossible Project integral film (sx-70, 600, 1200/spectra), and both sizes of instax (mini/wide). That would be awesome and convenient!

MY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE NEW TO SHOOTING FILM would be to not feel constrained with exposure count. This goes for both film and instant film users. Don’t worry about how many exposures you got left in your roll or in your film pack, just shoot what you want, when you want. You can take the time for each of your shots, or just shoot spontaneously, but in all matters JUST SHOOT! There have been countless times where I was just so into a shoot where I forget to pay attention to how many shots I have in the current pack of my camera where I have shot blanks LOL. All in all, Unpredictability is the most joyous thing for Polaroid cameras, and that is its most unique charm. Embrace it.

Model – Victoria Pedro from “Any given Saturday” set for Sticks and Stones Agency

THE BEST MODELS are those who are completely in tune with themselves and are comfortable in expressing their attitude and personality without breaking their own true character.

THE WORST MODELS are…hmmm…wait….I guess I can’t really answer this one because I’ve never really had a truly bad/negative experience with any that I have worked with.

THE LAST TIME A PHOTO LEFT ME SPEECHLESS…um…shit…there are a ton of times. But most recently, are historical black and white photos that have been professionally colored. History is very fascinating to me, and seeing portraits of Abe Lincoln or an electricity filled scene of Times Square in 1947 in full color is just mind blowing and amazing!

WHAT I DO WHEN SOMEONE MISTAKES ME FOR STEVE AOKI is 1 of a few things, if not multiple LOL. (1) laugh it off (2) just go with it (3) say the usual “oh I get it all the time” (4) take the photo with them as they have requested, or (5) tell em about the multiple times he has brought me up on stage with him.

Models – Don Lim and Steve Aoki

DJ Cobalt 60: For people interested in learning more about you or your work of want to cop some Raw & Instant merch where can they go?

Don Lim: They can visit my personal/main instagram account @dangitsdon or visit my website: www.rawandinstant.com

Model – Sierra

DJ Cobalt 60: Is there anyone you would like to thank who has supported you throughout your career or been instrumental to your career?

Don Lim: My family, most notably my Mother (the hardest working woman in the world), for supporting me from the beginning, my friends, new and old, and my fans and followers on social media for the positive response for Raw & Instant.

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