Publicity: Justin J Wee
After getting his first commission for the New York Times in lockdown, photographer Justin J Wee has created a mix of editorial and commercial projects, including powerful documentary work addressing the impact of anti-Asian hate crimes in the US
“We’re doing this virtually. We have no idea what this is going to look like. No one’s done this before. Just do whatever you think you should do.” Justin J Wee is describing his breakthrough moment, and recalling the brief he got from the New York Times in April 2020 to shoot queer theatre star Taylor Mack.
At that time, remote shoots were unknown territory. It was lockdown. Aside from a handful of photojournalists documenting the pandemic, no one was working. He was a testing ground, and no one was sure how or if it could work. “I’d waited so long for an opportunity to shoot for the New York Times,” Wee recalls. “And now I have to do it with my arms strapped behind my back?”
Unbeknownst to Wee, this seemingly impossible brief marked a new chapter in his career. Wee shot Mack over FaceTime, but instead of just shooting standard screengrab-style portraits, he made a feature out of their distance. Mack’s image emanates from an iPhone casually set in a range of domestic scenarios, creating the sense that we as viewers are privy to a video call between friends. The work is playful and profound. It speaks to a defining moment in history, but also Wee’s ingenuity and the way he feels his way through the process of image-making.
Lorde photographed for the New York Times