Photographer based in Los Angeles, CA
Leafy Yeh, Portrait of the Artist
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up I have a strong sense of faith in myself that I could influence the world. It’s been buried inside of me since I was young. I grew up in a very traditional Chinese family. My parents were very strict and my school too. Drawing, watching animations, reading illustration books, and taking photos were my ways to forget everything and escape from reality.
I worked hard to get into the college in the US so I can learn a different way of thinking that is innovation-based. My closest friend told me one day that when she saw my art, she felt a sense of hope from it. It was very touching. That was the moment that I decided to be a responsible artist who can influence and help people.
"I like to go with the flow, wherever life takes me. It keeps me alive and always reminds me to have a brave and bare heart."
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
Nothing in Between
Nothing in Between
I currently focus on two projects: Nothing in Between and Untethered Magnitude. "Nothing in Between” is a long term photo project of the millennial female with all ethnicity, who are self-conscious, depressed, or anxious about their identities. It is about searching female self-empowerment from within and beyond, and truly embracing who you are. The title “Nothing in Between” indicates there is nothing can be in between you and your self. Don’t be afraid to face and embrace your true self. This project aims to challenge the participants to open up and get out of their comfort zone through shedding light on the most vulnerable places they try to cover.
“Untethered Magnitude" is a photo series that I believe when people look at the photos, they will bring them spiritually and mentally out of this world. These pieces show that we are chasing a sense of peace and hope that guides to heal that darkness we all carry inside. The colors are a feminine, warm pastel and healing tones with a touch of light and color. My inspiration comes from my painful suffering of depressing. I was very self-conscious about my look growing up and my art. I found out there were so many girls who share the same experience. I felt a sense of belonging, and I wanted to share that feeling with them. So I started to take photos of them and use this way to tell them and the world that they are beautiful the way they are.
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in an artist's practice. What do you do for inspiration?
I watch TED talks and read philosophy books. Learning philosophy from Buddhism has taught me different perspectives to see the world. I look at all kinds of designs, architect, stage design, 3d design, graphic, fashion, etc. There’s no limitation on where to get inspiration. Inspiration is all around us in daily life. I listen to all kinds of music, jazz, classical, hip-hop, etc. For me, innovation is connecting two or multiple dots that seem like no connection in between. That is creativity.
Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?
Just being in the world. If we pay enough attention, the world has a lot to offer.
How do you make your work? Where do you start and how does the process evolve?
When I am out of inspiration, I will go to nature, listening to music and talk to a few strangers. Sometimes I will have visions in my head and I will sketch them out. Sometimes I just let the subjects guide me and we create the story together. I chase freedom, a feeling of float, soulful colors, a sense of hope and peace in my photos. It took me a long time to learn about myself and who I want to be, and I am still learning. My belief and what I value deeply connect to my artwork. I think I will never arrive as I will constantly explore and grow with my art, but I do enjoy my current style.
Many artists live by their creative routines, do you have your own studio ritual? What does that look like for you?
I don’t have routines. The world is my studio. I create whenever I feel the flow. I don’t try to limit myself to certain routines. I like to go with the flow, wherever life takes me. It keeps me alive and always reminds me to have a brave and bare heart.
Who are your biggest influences?
My family and philosophy.
Are there books or films that are an important source of inspiration?
Films: The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino Grand Master by Wong Kar Wai The Fall by Tarsem Singh Dying to Survive by Wen Muye They are not only visually stunning but with lots of deep metaphors in movies. I love good storytelling with metaphors and layers. Books: The Real Happiness by Master Sheng Yan Untethered Soul by Michael Singer Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth These books have saved me from some of the darkest days. I also watch lots of TED Talks, that gives me power and knowledge to keep moving forward.
How will Innovate Grant contribute to your practice?
I have been preparing for a special project with homeless people. This grant will be contributed completely on this special project. The project is called “Gradient in Humanity”. I want to present the homeless people in a soft, tender way to show their humanity. I think gradient color is very human, a color that’s close to the soul. I am planning to print gradient color on fabrics to create a backdrop and take portraits of homeless people in front of it. Based on their story, I will have different gradient colors for them. Innovate Grant will be strong support for printing materials and helping homeless people to share their stories.
Nothing in Between
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Work hard. Be humble and learn as much as you can.
What is the best advice you would give to other artists?
Work really hard and never give up. No matter how dark the path seems, you should never give up. Truly believe in yourself. This is hard and you will start to doubt yourself sometimes. But if you have faith, you need to keep believing it till you see the light.