Lena C. Emery is a German born photographer who grew up Singapore and studied in Paris. She is currently residing in London and travelling back and forth between the British metropolis and New York City. Indeed, Lena is a passionate traveller, but after all she is also a very passionate artist. From drawing and painting, she finally discovered her love for photography. Since then, she is always in search of new visual discoveries, looking for what she ideally describes as “lasting second glance beauty”. Most recently she worked with clients such as Helmut Lang and COS and also contributed to the upcoming issue of The Gentlewoman. Between a busy schedule we managed to talk to Lena about her work and her interesting life between all these cities.
Hi Trang, yes I’ve actually just gotten back to New York since we last spoke. I shot some pictures for Helmut Lang at the beginning of the year and I'm now here again to shoot the new season. New York has replaced Berlin as a second base after London for me. It feels very refreshing to be going back and forth between these two incredibly full and contagiously energetic cities.
I knew I wanted to create and work in the Arts from a very young age on and through studying painting in Paris I kept that dream going for a good while. When I left Paris for Berlin I went on to do a course in graphic design, while working in a small art gallery during the summer. With time I realized that painting as well as working as an art director, which I did later on, didn’t quench my thirst for leading a semi nomadic life. I always wanted to be outdoors, exploring and interacting with new people and surroundings. To pick up and leave for shorter or longer periods of time. So once I discovered the possibility of becoming a photographer I knew that was it.
Yes, it definitely is. Photography ticks all the boxes for me at this point. Painting is still something I really appreciate, so maybe when I’m older and tired of moving around with all the pressures off, I’ll find myself going back to it.
When it is really great, I love it all the same.
I’ve been looking at architecture in the modern city and specifically at the occurrence of natural elements within it. In Singapore, where I grew up and my dad and brother still live, you have about 36 square miles of nature reserves and parks, with about 16 square miles reserved for when the population reaches 5.5 million. That makes an extremely rare balance for such a condensed and modern city in terms of nature vs. concrete ratio.
In the 60s, the then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew realized very early on how nature should be an integral part of city planning, especially in an extremely densely populated city like Singapore. He first set out to integrate nature within urban development by initiating a tree-planting campaign that added 1.5 million trees. Now Singapore is also referred to as the ‘Garden City’.
I have a great appreciation for architecture, but for me the best architecture is always the one that achieves to incorporate the surrounding landscape. Architecture that is organic. So the aim within ‘Urban Nature’ is to document and show the beauty of this coexistence in our modern environment.
I liked working on Practice for The Gentlewoman and another story called Love Plus, where we explored the theme of sexual ideals and fetishes in two very opposing cultures.
I’m not interested in the supposed glamour of it all, but I enjoy documenting and also directing situations and scenes, and fashion lets me do both.
It comes from all sorts of places/areas for me.
I never studied photography or assisted, so the beginning meant a lot of trial and error, a lot of uncomfortable and challenging situations where I felt totally out of my depth. I just kept taking every opportunity that came my way and wanted it badly enough, I guess.
As photographer I find that I can’t really delegate much of my work, time becomes extremely precious and you have to become more selective. But generally I try to fit in as much as possible. You usually walk away with something worthwhile.
Although I was born in Germany, I never really identified with it. Maybe because my family moved to Switzerland when I was only 4 and later to Singapore, where we stayed until I graduated from high school. Paris on the other hand, especially to my 18-years-old-art-obsessed-self, was the most intriguingly beautiful place and to study there was always the big dream. Probably more so because of growing up in Asia, which made Paris more foreign, more unattainable I think. A girl from the same year in Parsons and I ended up living on a houseboat in Asnières-sur-Seine, which although pretty shabby, was the most wonderous place. Van Gogh painted all of his famous parks, restaurant and riversides pieces there. You would wake up inside the morning fog with swans circling the boat and the sound of seagulls above. After that, Berlin to me just wasn’t going to ever live up to Paris.
Ideally, waking up in one city and going to bed in another.