Redefining beauty: Zemmy Lee discusses the new era of fashion photography

Redefining beauty: Zemmy Lee discusses the new era of fashion photography

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we reached out to women from the Nisa community to share their stories and what inspires them. Zemmy Lee is a photographer based in Naarm, Melbourne, who’s done several campaign shoots for Nisa. She wears the Valerie bralette and Sabina high-waisted brief in Peach.

Times are changing in the world of fashion photography. While the 2010s offered scandals of backlash against unrealistic photoshopping and the beginning of a purge of predatory male photographers, this decade marks a revolution pushing for diversity and inclusivity in front of and behind the camera.

Zemmy Lee is determined to be at the forefront of this wave of change. Rather than an activist, she sees herself as a storyteller, sharing the world through a young woman’s eyes. It makes sense, therefore, that her journey as a photographer began with travel, and transformed to intimate portraiture of the women in her everyday life.

Before she picked up a camera, though, Zemmy saw pictures of models that didn’t look like her. “When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of representation. It gave me a really warped idea of what was beautiful.” Because of this, she’s drawn to photographing female-identifying people, and their stories. She particularly likes creating shared experiences with women of colour, and those outside the traditional ‘model’ look - people who grew up exposed to the same unrealistic standards as she was. “People usually respond really positively when I ask them to model for me. I never start shooting right away. I chat, get to know them to make them feel more comfortable. They’re in a vulnerable position, and can’t see the pictures you’re shooting.”

portrait fashion photography of women's faces

Some of Zemmy’s portraiture.

Once she gets to know her subjects, she lets them inspire the direction of the shoot, preferring not to give her models too many instructions. “What they tell me influences the way I shoot, as well as their personalities. Some people like direction if they’re uncomfortable, but some people are super comfortable straight away.” The most satisfying part is seeing their reaction to the image previews at the end of a shoot. “They have images at the end of the day that they can be proud of. Sometimes seeing yourself that way, from someone else’s view, shows you the beauty you don’t see in yourself.”

The decision to embark in photography at a professional level was initially daunting. She studied photography in her final year of high-school and spent a couple of years in London before studying International Relations with a minor in photojournalism. However, she felt a tangible barrier between pursuing photography as a hobby and a career. “I thought I would work in government and just travel. A lot of people are really good at art but decide to stop after high school, thinking it can only be a hobby… I’m Korean, and my parents followed a very traditional route, but eventually they came around and just wanted me to be happy.”

Choosing to work in a male-dominated industry presented a further challenge. “The industry is far harder to crack into. You have to hustle twice as hard. Even speaking to other female photographers you admire, imposter syndrome is huge.” She sometimes has to push through the feeling of surprise when people approach her for work. She wants to create a place where female creators don’t have to feel that way. “I would love to have my own production house or agency with an all-female team. I’m really interested in video and filmmaking as a means to tell stories.” Her advice to Nisa readers resonates with both those in front of and behind the camera. 

“Everyone has inner strength and inner beauty. Even if traditionally someone wouldn't have been accepted by the fashion and beauty industry, we have something to offer and we are beautiful.”

women wearing nisa organic cotton bralettes and briefs

Left: Zemmy’s first campaign for Nisa, featuring our high-waisted Sabina brief and the now-retired Alana bralette in Sky Blue. Right: Zemmy’s most recent campaign for Nisa, photographing 71-year-old Faezeh Parkes, wearing the Albertine bralette in Rosé.

1 comment

  • Mary-Jane on

    Beautiful women!

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