Today I would like to introduce you to Dina Lee. She has one of the most calming energies I have ever been around. Something about her just makes the craziness of the world stand still. I hope you can feel that through this interview with her. Be sure to also check out her photography page and her Facebook page as well! She does some beautiful work helping women realize their inner, and outer, beauty!
I am a Russian speaking Korean born and raised in Uzbekistan. I was born when the Soviet Union was still there and was raised in a multi-cultural environment. I consider Russian to be my mother tongue, Korean- it’s a different kind of knowledge- I can use it, but it’s not the same. Our Korean is different, we are Korean diaspora so the language changed a lot. And of course there was Uzbek, the local language, and at school- at university- I studied English and Italian. I came to Vienna in 2009 as a UN spouse. It’s been five and a half years and we’re still here. I am very happy here, very happy with my life. My son is Italian, but he was born here and he feels quite Austrian, he likes Austrian food better than our traditional food.
I used to have an academic background. I have two masters’ degrees from Italy. I was preparing myself for a secure office job, you know. Nine to five, well paid hopefully. But then here in Vienna, especially after my son was born, I kind of changed my whole perspective. Vienna helped me to risk my career path and help me to develop my artistic, creative career. I’m into photography now. I registered my small business. It’s going slowly, slowly, but it’s going.
It wasn’t a hobby for me. I was interested in photographs I guess- printed photographs. They have a kind of mesmerizing effect on me, but I never really planned on doing anything related to photography. Especially because I was preparing myself for an academic job. Here in Vienna, when my son was born, was when I really got into photography. I had started to shoot him and myself and realized it was fun. I really liked it and I also had time to learn different techniques and so on. Then I decided to do it professionally after taking a course.
I specialize in portrait photography for women. I call it beauty photography. It’s mainly portraits of women- glammed up style. The fun stuff. I really like it. I find that is very empowering to women to be photographed and to see themselves in the best light. We always invite a makeup artist who creates the perfect look. And I have a glamour wardrobe in the studio so it’s really like playtime. It’s fun. My studio is in the 7th district. And sometimes I shoot at home, in my home studio. It’s very flexible. That’s why I like it. It’s compatible with maternity.
At the moment I think I will continue with photography in the same genre. It’s really rewarding emotionally and creatively. I photograph different women from different walks of life, different nationalities, different backgrounds. At the beginning it was my friends. I was kind of practicing on them, poor them! They liked the photos though. Then I started participating in different expos. Most of my clients probably come from social media actually. Social media is very important.
Every shoot is fun because you really see the women how they truly are. They become so vulnerable in front of the camera. You really connect with the person. In fact, most of my clients are now my friends. We remain in contact. The one, though, which is particularly important to me was a women who had had cancer. She won a photoshoot give away we were doing at the time and when she came for the photo shoot she told me her story of how terrible the previous two years had been. But luckily she is now cancer free and full of life. It was just so nice to see her approach to life, which is completely different than mine. She feels on a completely different level. She feels life so deeply, and she shows that. This really was an eye-opening, mind-opening experience for me. The photos were really nice so she was happy too. She even wrote a book about her whole experience. In the book she mentioned the photoshoot actually and how important it was for her to see herself.
For me the transition was very small. I find Vienna to be very multi-cultural. And coming myself from a multi-cultural background, I feel very at home in Vienna. For example, before Vienna I lived with my husband as a UN spouse in Iran for almost five years. And there life was a bit different, quite different from what I was used to. It was still a Muslim country like Uzbekistan where I grew up, but it was quite different from the rest of my world. So the adaptation was hard. And here in Vienna was really, really smooth compared to other places. I like how uncomplicated bureaucracy is here compared to my country and to Italy. Compared to my countries it’s like speedy gonzolas to get things done. But everything is relative to your experience.
Iran was very interesting, so different, so unusual. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought in the beginning it would be. We had very lively social life. It was in the expat community, but still, it was quite lively. Much more lively than here in Vienna. In Iran your whole life was in some sort of closed environment. Here in Vienna you feel free to take a walk, go anywhere you want with people. There you had to be careful all the time. Although it was very safe, it was super safe. In Iran in five years I never experiences of theft or anything. Here in Vienna in the first months I lost my wallet twice- but it was my fault. I wasn’t being careful. Vienna is very safe. I feel very comfortable here.
I kind of let the German go here. Usually I am very controlled about the language. My background is actually in linguistics so, normally, when I study a language I want to study all aspects of it. I want to read, I want to write, I want to speak, I want to understand everything. I managed to do that in three languages; Russian, English and Italian. Then I have a little knowledge of French, German and a little Farsi. And there are my historic languages which are Korean and Uzbek. So I can use eight languages, more or less.
They say the more you know the easier it is to learn more, but it depends so much on your personality. I am also very controlled and before I speak up I really need to be sure I am speaking the right sentence. It’s a bit difficult to break that barrier. You know when you make a mistake and you feel stupid, but you consider yourself not to be stupid. That’s hard. People will judge you and how you speak. That’s the psycho-linguistics, social linguistics. It changes your position in relation to the other person. When you speak German with a German native speaker, they are in power. When you speak your language with a foreigner, you are. Ah, speaking German. It’s so funny. Languages.
I am happy that through photography I can use the universal language of images. With photography, you don’t have to sit there and try to find the perfect word, the best way to say something. It’s just there. There it is.
There are some cultural differences also in the image language, but they are so subtle. For example, in the Arab world they read from right to left but for us it’s the other way around. So in their world probably the direction of your gaze is different. The colors we use. For the Muslim world white is mourning and for us white is freshness, youth. For Koreans, their mournful colors are so different from black. It’s white or a combination of red and yellow. There’s lots of things to explore in photography. I personally like colors, very much. Especially in the face. I think it’s very important to show the color of your eyes, the tone of your skin, the color of your hair. Especially for a woman.
That was quite an issue for me in Iran actually. In public I had to wear the veil, hijab. Just in public, inside the house I didn’t need to. But still, it changed so much of how I perceived myself. All of the sudden I couldn’t feel the wind in my hair, it was so different. In the end you get used it. But I still remember missing the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair. In fact, if you notice the Iranian girls, they are makeup experts. They accentuate every feature of the face, the face is everything. You present yourself to the world with your face. For myself, I felt so bleached. Because there everything is accentuated. Strong eyes, strong lips, strong brows. And in the end I felt so out of place that towards the end of the experience I almost decided to do a brow tattoo. These body imagine kind of issues inspired me to photograph women. I started to feel a kind of solidarity with women I hadn’t felt before.