Artist of the Week: Shi Lee


Artist of the Week: Shi Lee

November 29, 2023

Shi Woo Lee’s photography caught WVHS art teacher Anna Penny’s attention from the moment she first saw it.

“I had my eye on Shi’s work right away. Ever since our first assignment, and even the practice work that came before it, – his work was obviously above the level I would expect from someone at his age,” said Ms. Penny. “He puts his best work into every single project, and with a lot of hard work along with a lot of natural creativity, he just keeps getting better and better.”

Shi is a junior this year, and his class with Ms. Penny has been the first time he has done academic study into photography. Until now, Shi has been largely self-taught since he first picked up photography as a hobby at the age of six.

“When I was six, maybe seven, my mom would take photos and I thought she was really good at it,” said Shi. “She had this old digital camera around, and I picked it up and took photos along with her. That’s how I started. I just kept taking photos and got better and better on my own camera.”

Shi converted his early curiosity into knowledge and skills all on his own, following the creative lead of his mom and devouring how-to videos about photography on YouTube. He’s also been inspired and encouraged by a couple of his cousins, whose photos reflect the same style that Shi prefers.

“I usually go for a ‘street photography’ aesthetic,” explained Shi. “I think it’s cool, going into the city and seeing people in everyday life, then catching that in photos. It’s really interesting; kind of like taking stills.”

Shi’s cousins take a lot of their street photography using traditional film cameras, which, he said, has also been an inspiration and education for him. About three years ago, when Shi shared with his cousins that he’d like to try shooting with film himself, they got him a Pentax K1000.

“It’s an old 35 millimeter film camera,” said Shi. “I like that film style. It’s grainy and the colors are always warm, so it always looks nice. You could take a picture of nothing and it would look good on film.”

Working with Ms. Penny this year, Shi said he has already gained a bunch of new knowledge and techniques that have upped his photo game.

“Like, the concept of the rule of thirds,” Shi said. “I didn’t really pay attention to that much in the past, but since I’ve learned it here and started [composing] that way, I realize how much better it looks. I’ve been [applying] that to all my photos.”

Ms. Penny said she’s not just a fan of Shi’s work, she’s an even bigger fan of his love for the art and the work ethic he applies to his creativity.

“He’s been photographing non-stop since he was six, seven years old,” she said. “There’s a reason he’s as good as he is right now!”

Shi shared that the active, inquisitive approach he’s taken to learning photography is something that can be applied in many arenas.

“A lot of people say, ‘it’s natural talent,’ or ‘you just have a hand for it,’” said Shi. “But, it’s just practice. And not even just in photography. Anything, art, literature, math; it’s all just practice. You just pick it up. I just kept taking photos. That’s how you get better.”

As juniors do, Shi has begun looking ahead to what he might want to study in college, and where. He said he and his family have their sights set on West Point, where he said his path would probably take him down a different road than photography.

“I’m thinking engineering would be really cool, mechanical engineering,” he said, making a point not to exclude his favorite hobby from the future. “I want to keep getting better, and I think I’ll always do [photography] as a side hustle. There might be a point where I could do it as something bigger.”

For now, Shi shares his photography in semi-monthly photo dumps on his Instagram channel. He said the posts are mostly for sharing his pictures with friends and family, particularly the other photographers in his family.

Shi is also looking forward to the many opportunities our art program provides for artists to share their work with the school community. With the better part of two more years for everyone to enjoy Shi’s growing portfolio, Ms. Penny can’t wait.

“I just think Shi Woo is the coolest,” Ms. Penny said. “I’m so excited to see all the photos that he continues to produce throughout the year. Keep it up! We can’t wait to see what you make.”


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