27 mai. 2022THE VISIBLES | LEE DOS REIS: EMPOWERMENT THROUGH REPRESENTATION
THE VISIBLES is a series of interviews and articles with a focus on underrepresented creatives and artists in Luxembourg’s art scene.
Lee Dos Reis is a Luxembourgish/Cape Verdean entrepreneur and photographer whose unique portraits and various brands have gained a lot of recognition on social media. Her work has been shown at CAPE and Gallery 69, both located in Ettelbruck, and her most recent exhibition was at the Rockhal in partnership with the Pop/RnB singer EDSUN.
Why did you decide to become a photographer?
It all started three years ago when I was looking to hire a photographer for my makeup line, IMANI Beauty, but I quickly realised how expensive it would be so I decided to grab a camera and just do it myself. One of my cousins was actually my first muse and model. It felt nice to be able to start off with someone who was familiar to me. My dad recently showed me his vintage camera, a Pentax which he used to take everywhere back in the day. It made me realise that I always had a connection with photography since my childhood thanks to him. I’m very much into history and art, I’m a huge fan of paintings by Boticelli and Rembrandt among others. But I fell in love with portraits mostly and this is reflected in my work. When I was a little girl, I used to pretend I had a modeling agency. I would spend hours playing around with my mother’s makeup and looking at her magazines from the 90s. I was fascinated by the black models I saw on the covers as there wasn’t a lot of representation back then. I guess my childhood dreams became my reality, as years later I created a few brands and co-founded an organisation, all catered to female empowerment.
A lot of us didn’t know what you looked like until recently, why is that?
I’m not really the type of person to show off. I like to stay low key, mysterious and give more visibility to my clients and the models I work with. I think it was a great strategy because a lot of people tell me that they were looking for the person behind all these pictures, the brands and the organisation for years and that’s what I wanted. When people know who’s behind the scenes they just stop there, they don’t look further, especially with social media. I like that people who have been following me for years have always had that curiosity and I guess I finally gave in. All my hard work from last year is paying off now, so I’ve decided to get out of my shell from time to time and socialise more, with the mindset of promoting my current and future projects. I love reading the autobiographies by people I admire the most and they all share the same sentiment: they want their work to be recognised but not necessarily for them as individuals to be in the spotlight and I really identify with that. I want to make more of an effort this year, show more of my personality but I want to do it at my own pace.
© Lee Dos Reis
What does your day to day look like?
I mostly work on Saturdays. I’m often asked to be the creative director for artists’ video shoots and I do photoshoots for brands and individual clients. I also tried my hand at photographing events and even though the first time went well, it just wasn’t for me. I like the behind the scenes of a photoshoot, I enjoy building a genuine connection with the models I’m shooting with and I love to research and create a vision that both represent my client’s needs and my creative touch.
Did the pandemic affect your work?
At the beginning, yes. I felt stuck as I’m a spontaneous person, so not being able to create something on the spot was very frustrating. However, it did give me the opportunity to plan ahead future projects and take pictures for my own pleasure. I did some shoots in the comfort of my home that I’m proud of, I took the time to do my hair and my makeup. I also included my daughter and husband from time to time, it was very sweet. My heart goes out to all the independent photographers as I know the past years have been tough for a lot of them. I love being a photographer, but I also enjoy the stability my 9 to 5 provides me, and it is in times like these that I’m very grateful to have had and still have that balance.
What type of camera/s do you usually use?
When I started I bought a LUMIX, it was very easy and practical to use as a beginner, then I had a mentor for a while who taught me how to use it, how to retouch pictures and who also encouraged me to get in touch with other photographers. Now I’ve got a Canon EOS5 which is a more professional camera, learning how to use it is so satisfying. I play a lot with the settings, it allows me to do so many things from a creative perspective, I’m very happy with it. Photography is a very complex and technical process, so I decided to take online classes during the pandemic to learn more about lighting, retouching and colour grading for example.
© Lee Dos Reis
Do you think you’ve found your own signature?
It’s funny you ask that, as I’ve never really thought about it. People have told me that my style is quite recognisable, though, because of the vivid colors I use, the makeup of my clients and the lighting in my pictures. The mentor I had gave me a lot of constructive criticism, which I obviously appreciated and learned from. But as I didn’t study photography I don’t want my lack of experience and structure to stop me from trying out different things even though they might look like mistakes to others. That’s what sets me apart from others, I don’t want to follow rules or trends, I want to perfect my craft on my own terms. Retouching is a lengthy process. It’s a skill and a challenge that I very much enjoy, especially with black clients and models, as I need to play with lighting a lot on different body parts. Retouching and colour grading is the best part because it can change the whole dynamic of a picture and I get to do it with music on in my little bubble which is a very relaxing time for me.
How does working with you look like?
I want my clients to feel as comfortable as possible, I always tell them they can bring a friend or a family member to my studio if they wish, especially if it’s the first time. I like to have a conversation prior to the shoot, so I can have a better understanding of their needs and see how I can bring these and my vision together. It involves a lot of research, mood boards to gain more clarity and simply looking at the client’s Instagram (as that’s usually how they get in touch with me) or other social media platforms helps me understand their vibe and their expectations. I work with four makeup artists, depending on the client’s requests I will choose who I think fits best for the shoot. I shoot a lot of women, so it’s always a therapeutic process for them and for me as the shoot becomes a bonding time where the model feels comfortable enough to open up and relax. It’s really about trust, sisterhood and womanhood for me. When I shoot men, it’s a way for me to give them a space to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. A picture can speak louder than words and I want to be a vessel for that.
© Lee Dos Reis
How do you find people?
It’s very random, but it often happens when I’m just walking around in my hometown or the capital city. For example, I recently found someone on the tram. They had a mask on so I had no idea what they actually looked like but I knew in my gut that they would fit perfectly for a shoot I had in mind, and it ended up working better than expected! They already were familiar with my work from social media so this helped as well, as it can sometimes be awkward approaching strangers! On the other hand, sometimes people find me, I had this experience not so long ago in a clothing store of someone staring at me a bit too long which made me uncomfortable at first, until they said my name and explained they were a fan of my portraits. Luxembourg is small but still, it’s always a surprise when someone recognises you!
As an entrepreneur and photographer, what has been your main goal in your projects?
I didn’t see people with my skin colour or my hair texture in Luxembourg’s creative scene for a very long time, so I decided to create a space for them, for us, a space where we are truly seen, where we feel valued and appreciated and can uplift each other. I didn’t see this number of black models from Luxembourg represented on social media until I did it myself and I’m proud to say that things are getting better. We have more visibility, more exposure. I shoot mostly black women because we're unfortunately less represented. It’s important that the different communities that make Luxembourg so diverse be represented fairly in the media, in the cultural scene and in all the different industries.