Richmond Lam’s latest photos revel in ’90s nostalgia

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From Poster Boys. Concept by Eve Thomas, photo by Richmond Lam

Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve probably seen his work. Montreal-based photographer Richmond Lam is well known for his evocative black & white portraits, and has picked up high-profile contracts around the world for clients like LVMH, Lacoste and Frank & Oak.

His portraits, fashion shoots, music scene and documentary photography have been published in magazines like Vice, Spin, Flaneur, enRoute, Maisonneuve and Cult MTL. Lam’s recent collaboration with artist Eve Thomas, the photo exhibition Poster Boys is a colourful, fun and nostalgic remake of ’90s-era girl-targeted teen boy pin-ups from magazines like Bop and Tiger Beat that subverts the genre’s candy-coated surface by using women from Montreal’s creative community as models.

Ahead of Saturday’s vernissage, we caught up with Lam to find out more about his work and the Poster Boys project.

Lisa Sproull: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you became a photographer? What are some of the main things that draw you to photography as your chosen form of expression?

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Self portrait by Richmond Lam.

Richmond Lam: After a brief career in fashion, I wanted to get back into doing something more creative. My partner at the time was studying photography and it inspired me to rediscover the medium. I liked its immediacy, because I don’t think I’m a very patient person creatively. I loved the idea of collecting moments, documenting people and places around me. It might have stemmed from the fact that I moved around a bit growing up, so photography enables me to create a visual record of my life. It gives me an excuse to meet people and get into situations that I normally might not have.

LS: You’ve done a lot of different types of photography, from portraits to fashion shoots to street photography and photo essays. Would you say you have a preferred type of project to take on? What factors make a project appealing or interesting for you to work on?

RL: Photographing people is such a rewarding gift, it’s a cliché but people are truly unique, it’s never the same. Even the same person on different days could photograph differently, it’s really fascinating. I’m very interested in social and cultural anthropology, and if there’s one wish I have, it’s that I can perhaps contribute to the way we see ourselves and each other.

My portraiture work tend to be documentary in nature, looking at our similarities and differences, and how we project our self-image and what others see in us.  That is something that I am really drawn to.

I have also been very fortunate to be given the opportunity to travel to new places for work, to see how people live in other parts of the world. I love that it’s life, it’s real. I mean I enjoy working with in the controlled environment of a studio too, but nothing beats being out there interacting with life and create something that is imperfect, that is real.

When we get to challenge ourselves, experiment and try to see things differently, that’s the path I am going towards. Not that I am ungrateful, but often clients play it quite safe. I feel that we can only grow as a creative person and move forward when we question what we do, why we do it, and take some risks.

Richard Avedon’s In the American West is one of my favourite works, I would love to take the time one day to travel across the country and work on a project of that scope. What a dream.

LS: You do a lot of shots in black and white, especially with your portraits. What are some of the reasons for this?

RL: Many might not agree with me, but I find black & white photography pure. It is about the moment, the lines, the shapes, the composition, the tones. There’s less distraction. It’s showing more with less.

LS: You’re especially well known for your portraits. When you take a portrait of a person, how do you on one hand figure out what to try to draw out of them to reveal in the photo, and on the other hand, find ways to actually bring them to reveal these things?

RL: Well that is the interesting thing, it’s like with every interaction, it’s a different dynamic. I’m generally not for forceful images, I much prefer to be observant and be open to what the subject gives me. It’s an exchange. And to be honest, I have no secrets or tricks up my sleeve. I just make sure I’m ready to push the shutter when the moment happens. Although it is true that a portrait is subjective to the photographer’s eye, so whether consciously or not, I am projecting how I want to see that person. In that sense, I’m probably an optimist. I like to see people’s good side.

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From Poster Boys. Concept by Eve Thomas, Photo by Richmond Lam.

LS: You have an upcoming exhibition at Never Apart, the Poster Boys collaboration with Eve Thomas. Can you tell me a little about how you came to be involved in this project and what it means to you?

RL: Eve and I have been friends for a while and we have also travelled on a few editorial assignments, so there were many opportunities for long conversations. Eve’s concept of the project came up last year and I thought it was great, and it seems the timing was right too. I was immediately drawn to this exploration of the teen idol phenomena. Women dress up as boys dressed up as men for young girls… Complex and fascinating subject, how women’s sexuality is shaped, how much of it is by images and media, or is it just that they are giving the girls what they want?

LS: As a creative person based in Montreal, how do you feel the city and the various communities here have impacted you as an individual and as an artist?

RL: Montreal’s biggest impact on me is the cheap rent! Joking of course, but there is definitely some truth in that. Without the affordability of the city, it would have been harder for many of us to pursuit our creative endeavor. I was living in London UK for a while and it was just impossible to try to ‘figure your shit out’ there. At least for me. So Montreal gave me the chance to not work two jobs, and that really helped my career in photography. The Mile End music scene here has also been influential in the early days of my career. It was a small community so we all knew each other, everyone was here to create, to make things happen, that energy was really infectious. I don’t stay out all night these days, but that rock ’n’ roll spirit is still with me.

LS: Do you have any other projects coming up that we should be on the lookout for?

RL: Off to Galapagos in May on a photo assignment, which should be a rather nice way to kick off the summer. ■

Richmond Lam and Eve Thomas’s photography exhibition Poster Boy opens with a vernissage at Never Apart (7049 St-Urbain) on Saturday, April 16, 6 p.m., free. You can see more of Lam’s work at his official website here.

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