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My uncle Byoung-Lip - Ambassador-at-large from the series

Lynette Letic interviews Lee Grant, editor of Light Journeys and Timemachine Magazine.

Based in Canberra, documentary photographer Lee Grant discusses curating and publishing in regards to her two online publications, The Korea Project, and the future of photography in Australia.

What initially attracted you to photography and how did this interest lead you to develop a career in the field?
My interest in photography is probably a little cliché and no doubt quite similar to many others. My mum gave me her old Canon SLR when I was around 12 and I started to take pictures of my sisters and friends mostly. This and a family subscription to National Geographic sealed my interest. The idea of traveling and experiencing other cultures to tell stories was beyond attractive. I don’t really recall wanting to do anything else.

You are involved in a number of online publications such as Light Journeys, founded by yourself and Timemachine Magazine, of which you are the co-founder and editor. How did you decide to launch both publications and what was the process you went through in regards to curating, editing and publishing?
Light Journeys was my first foray into online publishing and came about largely as a platform to help deal with my own frustration about what I felt were limited opportunities for women photographers in Australia. Living in Canberra – away from the ‘centres’ of photography, Sydney and Melbourne – I felt isolated and wanted to be able to reach out to others who possibly felt the same way for a variety of reasons – motherhood, lack of confidence etc… It’s been going for 4 years now and we’ve featured over 50 artists, a feat we are rather proud of.

Lee Grant

Lee Grant

Timemachine naturally grew out of my interest in online publishing. I wanted to expand the idea of Light Journeys into something that was specifically Australian but also international and all-inclusive. A colleague whose work I admire, Tom Williams and I decided to start it as an online magazine and it quickly grew from there. Tom eventually moved on to work on his own projects and Sarah Rhodes came on board to help out. It was a lot of work, very fulfilling and the connections we made – many with photographers we’d admired for many years – was fantastic. The online photo community is a very rich one and also very supportive, and to have been able to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of photography through themed issues was not only fun but very informing to our practices as well.

As you are giving Timemachine Magazine a break for a while, do you have your own projects in mind that you will begin to focus on?
Yes definitely. Most of my personal work, partly out of necessity but mostly out of choice, is long-term by nature. I’ve been working on a project for the last few years called The Korea Project, which explores my own cultural heritage. My mother is Korean and whilst I have been raised very much as an Australian, I wanted to work on something that looks at and teases out notions of identity and belonging in both contemporary Korea as well as amongst the Korean diaspora in Australia. What does it mean to be Korean for adoptees, for migrants, for half Koreans etc…

These are just some of the themes I am currently exploring. These types of projects are by nature big ones and I need the time to commit fully. So letting go of Timemachine (as hard as this decision was) was the right decision. I’m a photographer first so this has to take priority over my curatorial interests – and there are really only so many hours in a day!

How did you balance dedicating time to your own practice with running two publications? Was there an equal balance?
Well, this is the perennial question: how to balance your own work with a love of curating and publishing. It’s very difficult to be honest. There never seems to be enough time but some recent challenging events in my life gave me cause to slow down, to stop and enjoy life, rather than run a million miles an hour. I also have other interests outside of photography and with a family on top of it all; I felt that I’d cornered myself into a bit of a stressful work situation. I don’t believe that life has to be this way and so I’ve made some decisions that prioritise the things that are truly important to me at this point in time.

Mary with her daughters Aja and Adau and grand-daughter, Nankir, 2010

Mary with her daughters Aja and Adau and grand-daughter, Nankir, 2010

In 2012, you also joined the Australian photo-collective Oculi, which aims to support local independent storytelling. How did you become a part of the collective?
I approached them independently as I felt that my work could be a good fit for Oculi – my work is very much about telling local stories plus I’m interested in broadening the definition of ‘documentary’ understanding. It isn’t a genre that is static. My work certainly isn’t photojournalism but does reside in the documentary and art fields, which are both important foci for the collective.

I think at the time of my application, Oculi was on a sort of hiatus, but I felt that as a collective it has an incredible legacy and I wanted to be a part of that. I felt I had a lot to contribute and fortunately, other members felt the same way. I joined in May of last year. It’s been a wonderful ride so far – membership has opened a lot of doors – and I’m looking very forward to the future – we have a lot planned.

On the Light Journeys website, you mention “photography is still in the process of finding its feet” within Australia, and you’ve added that Australian photographers have in recent years, “emerged to stand alongside internationally acknowledged artists.” How do you see Australian photography in the near and/or distant future?
Australian photography as a type, doesn’t seem to have much credence beyond our own shores. Even here it is often viewed contentiously. What is Australian photography anyway? What does it look like? Many would argue, that it’s demonstrates the uniqueness of our light, others would argue that our subject-matter is unique. Whatever the understanding, the fact is that there are many, many incredible photographers in this country that deserve to be seen by a bigger audience and who I think are making interesting and thought-provoking work. Photography in Australia hasn’t quite reached the same level of appreciation as it has in Europe or the States – though this isn’t to say that it isn’t appreciated at all, rather, there are perhaps less available venues for publishing or showing work and certainly less in the way of funding opportunities (but this is indicative of the Arts in general unfortunately). Then again, having said this, it’s been 4 years since that statement was made, and I think the landscape here has changed a lot. There are now increasing opportunities – particularly in terms of the DYI momentum – to self-publish, to show work online and through online collaborations etc… Whilst this has proliferated though, that doesn’t mean that good work is necessarily being seen. I think there is a lot of noise out there at the moment – but I’m also a firm believer that good work will eventually float to the surface. As far as the idea of the future of an ‘Australian’ type of photography, well, I think we are developing this more in terms of Australian photographers making a splash on an international level and also, in terms of pursuing at a local level, collaborative forms of expression. An example of this would be the recent Reportage Festival, which despite the censorship furor, was a great success and a fantastic platform for some of Australia’s and the worlds best photographers to come together and share their stories with a local audience.

For more information about Lee Grant, please visit her website, the Light Journeys website, the Timemachine Magazine website, or The Korea Project website.

Lynette Letic is an emerging artist based in Brisbane.

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