Eslee, Photographer and Art Director On Work and Mental Health, Faith, and Getting to No

Name: Esther Lee 
Role: Photographer and Art Director 
Based in: Seattle, Washington 
Age: 32 

Esther Lee, or as her 90,000 strong-online community refers to her as, @eslee, is a creative mind to watch. More impressively, and should one find themselves meeting her #irl, you’ll find her offline self exudes an inner grace and wisdom that appears to reflect a life far older than her own (she’s a mere 32). We chat with Esther and explore all things wellness and mental health: work, faith, balance, and skincare, and also get hints and tips on where this art director and photographer gets her artistic inspiration.

“The last time I wore a hanbok was when I was one. I always thought hanboks only had one type of look but the modern days have become more creative and thoughtful with intricate designs. As I am getting older, I really appreciate my own culture and want to learn more about Korean history.” – Esther Choi / Hanbok by MeeHee Hanbok

1. In your words, describe who you are.

My name is Esther and I am someone with a big imagination who is always capturing photos or videos on a daily basis. When I’m not shooting, I love to direct and produce. Creativity is my lifestyle– wherever I go, I am always looking to bring out something interesting from what I encounter. 

2. You’re currently juggling multiple projects, and it’s characteristic to the nature of your role as a photographer and art director. How do you stay balanced or is the term “balance,” in reference to your role in life unrealistic?

When I first started my photography business, I wanted to try everything from styling, to shooting, to editing, and so I did that. That drive to do everything helped me learn all the skills needed to bring an image together. I also did everything my clients couldn’t afford because I wanted to make all my clients happy, but over time and with a lot more work, I became overcommitted and frustrated. I struggled with saying yes too much for so many years (I can’t even tell you how many!) until I finally decided to start saying no. This brought me to understand the meaning of “healthy balance.” What I do now: Most of my assigned projects give me about a week to prepare for the shoot. If that’s the case, I won’t have much time to come up with a storyboard, so I’ll often take just one role at a time. If the client absolutely needs help with photography and art direction, I’ll make sure to plan for several other hands. 

3. Describe your creative aesthetic. Where do you draw your inspiration form/ Do you have any artists that you’ve looked on for their mastery of photo editing and post- production?  

My aesthetic is clean, quirky and elegant. Something I currently struggle with is elevating my style. It’s pretty tough to have a unique sense especially in the world of all these content and social media platforms. When I’m not working on paid projects, I spend time studying Wes Anderson’s style and practicing his colors. He has a selective style and is gifted with colors. 

I’m also a bit of a cinema junkie (why I love to shoot videos on the side for my passion projects!) and travel a lot as well, which are two things I draw inspiration from. When travelling, I’m always looking to unique architectural buildings, great cafes, and book stores. 

4. How do you feel about the word “success”? In your industry, it’s easy to fall into measuring someone’s “success” by their numbered accolades or the prestige of their clients. What is your relationship with this word as a professional, but also as a person separate from your professional identity?

I think this is definitely a question for which the answer would keep evolving for me. For me, success is doing my best regardless of what I’m doing. If I know that at the end of the day my duties or work has helped someone or something, then I see that as my accomplishment. Numbers are temporary and it will always fluctuate, but the actual job that one has done and in service of clients, families, friends will remain and be remembered. 

5. As a person with an influential social media profile, how have you struck a balance with the intense digital connectivity it encourages and often demands of you to upkeep? 

I take breaks here and there so that I don’t get too consumed by all the social media pressure. I also have a timer on my apps to let me know when to log off. This way, I can maintain a healthy relationship with Instagram and my community.

6. Can you share a bit about a time of mental health flux? 

My mental health’s improved since I’ve moved to Washington. The pace for me was a lot different and I think that in turn really put my mind at ease. Now that I’m more mentally and emotionally fit, I’ve been working through how to stay motivated, which is a new challenge for me! Being considerably new in Washington and adjusting to a different industry culture, and also evolving my working style has put me in a position of needing to find my pace and style again as a photographer and art director. 

7. In the midst of certain struggles, you stated that you relied on faith, your spiritual well being as an element in your overall well being. Can you explain how that works?

I do something called devotion. The equivalent to this that is most easily understood would be meditation, but meditating with the Bible, and having the source of what you’re being present with as God. I go on my Bible app and go through different plans of life stages. It usually takes me about 20 minutes and I take notes! Devotions in part help me realize that there are bigger things out there to be concerned about, and learn to make the best out of any situation with perspective.

8. In your mind and from your own experiences, how do you reconcile faith and religion with modern day therapy and psychology? 

As my truth lies in my belief in God, I always pray. Prayer is the answer for me, and to stay truly connected with God.

9. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well?

I run and take walks in my neighborhood. I tried yoga a couple times, but I realized I don’t have the patience to stay physically calm. 🙂 

10. Care to share with us a couple of your favorite wellness and skincare picks?

Not because I am being interviewed by you guys, but I actually really enjoy the cream! It’s super moisturizing and gives a good balanced texture on my skin. I have also been loving the Soma Ayurvedic Vitamin C serum. With regards to nutrition, I eat a lot of oranges and blueberries and drink green tea for its antioxidant properties. 

11. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be?

Know when to say yes and no. Have more confidence and don’t stress too much. Your health is so important and you will need all the strength later on to keep up. Love yourself!

All photos by Eslee

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im & Theophila Lee

Edited by Susan Yoomin Im

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *