Spotlight On: Cameron Lee Phan

Get to know the photographer creating beautifully composed, intimate portraits.


Our weekly Portfolio Spotlight series is a close-up look at the talented people using Format websites to showcase their work. This week, we interview photographer Cameron Lee Phan.

The photography of Cameron Lee Phan has an expansive, meditative feel that speaks to his Texas roots. While he’s now located in New York, the wide open spaces of Phan’s home state appear in some of the photographer’s most memorable self-portraits. Phan often turns his lens on himself, creating images that feel deeply personal and reflective; he frequently shoots with a point-and-shoot Contax T2 for 35mm work that’s richly grainy and atmospheric.

On his website, Phan uses Format’s Sierra theme to showcase his photography in a horizontal scroll, with large images centered in the middle of the screen. In addition to his self-portrait practice, Phan has also leant his photographic talents to editorial work in magazines including Interview, Juxtapoz, Garage, and The Photographic Journal, as well as for Rachel Comey and Pat McGrath. On his website, a variety of image galleries organized in a minimal header menu keep different projects separate for easy navigation.

We got in touch with Phan to learn more about how moving to New York from Dallas has influenced his work, and how he finds inspiration for his self-portraits.

How did you first get into photography?

I first got interested in photography when I was 14 years old. I picked up my family’s camera that was used particularly for special events, holidays, birthdays, etc… and at that point, started using it to take photos of anything and everything. I started taking it more seriously toward the end of high school when I got my first ‘real’ camera and I moved on to taking photos of my friends. I discovered a certain fulfillment with making portraits and it became an overall creative outlet for me as I continued with it.

What, in your opinion, makes for a great self-portrait?

What makes a great self-portrait for me is one that is intuitive. During most sessions I just go for what feels right… I choose a setting, I accept my environment, and I go from there. Some sessions are more controlled than others. I think about how I would like to be portrayed—whether I am more of a character or more of myself, how feminine or masculine I am feeling, and how vulnerable I am that day. My favorite self-portraits have been the ones in which I allow myself to run free between bouts of spontaneity and the controlled.

What was it like relocating to New York after growing up in Texas? Did this move impact your work in any way?

Moving to New York after spending my entire life in Texas was equally exciting and terrifying. I was leaving my hometown… my family, my friends, my job, and my car! It certainly impacted my work and the way that I was used to shooting.

Texas moved slowly and having a car felt free. I could shoot the same people over and over in a million locations and feel satisfied. This is still a concept that resonates with me, however, but New York changed my perspective on how I find that variety in a unique way. I had to slow down the creative part of my brain to fine-tune my portraits, but I also had to work a lot faster. Because there are so many different personalities and faces here in NY, I find myself being more particular about the people I want to photograph.

Tell us about one photograph you’ve taken that’s really meaningful to you.

There is a self-portrait from West Texas that I shot while on a road trip that I’ve been going back to a lot recently. There was some pressure around me during that time and as the sun was setting, I kind of just let go of everything that was holding me back and I allowed myself trust the process. I sat on a sand dune, in between the last minutes of sunset and the mountains in front of me at dusk, patiently awaiting the shutter to click. The feeling I had when I shot this image is what resonates with me most—a reminder to maintain self- discipline and to always have patience, even when the world may seem like it’s not on your side.

How do you use your website to support your creative work?

I really love to organize things, so having a platform to organize my photos as they develop is an extremely valuable tool for me as a creative. My website helps me to see what direction my work is going and what parts of it I would like to grow by making detailed edits of its presentation. It is my professional point of reference at all times.

Name two artists or photographers we should be following.

I absolutely love the work of my dear friend, Lauren Withrow! She is a stunning documentarian and her perspective is out of this world. Also I love Angelina Bergenwall! She is a photographer that I discovered recently through a mutual friend and I have worked for her as a model. Lauren and Angelina are both two amazing, female powerhouses in the photo world right now!

Images 1-3 are self-portraits. Featured models in order of appearance after are: Jordan Legessa, Kris Kidd, self-portrait, Lauren Withrow, Braina Laviena.

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