On the streets of New York City, you can most likely find film photographer Sissi Lu carrying her Hasselblad 500cm, capturing portraits of elderly strangers. Known as 'Lady with a Hassy' for many, Sissi focuses her photography style on embracing the beautiful moments through "meaningful, real-people portraits."
A year ago, Sissi and her two friends debuted their Youtube Channel UNDER DVLP, posting a diverse range of analogue photography content, from photo walks in the city to tips and techniques for cameras and films. In the latest video, Sissi tested out the 110 format for the first time with help from fellow film photographers Birgit and Julien. Equipped with her Pentax Auto 110 baby camera, Lomography Color Negative and Redscale 110 film, Sissi and the two go on a photo walk with the theme of "little happiness." Today, she's here to tell us a bit more about who she is and how her experience was with our 110 films. Also, don't forget to check out their video on the bottom!
Hi Sissi, it’s great to have you in the Lomography community. Can you tell us about yourself?
Hi hi! My name is Sissi Lu, and I’m a film photographer based in New York City. Some people know me as 'Lady with a Hassy', because I always walk around in the city with my Hasselblad 500cm on my shoulder. Haha. The nickname started as a joke but somehow stuck around.
What is your relationship to film photography? What does it mean to you?
My relationship with film is always so random but yet felt meant to be at the same time. Each and every camera found their ways to my collection, so in a way, I never chose film photography, but it chose me (omg sounds so cheesy)!
How was your first time shooting in 110?
Omgsh, so much fun! I’m glad that I had the right people to guide me through my first few rolls while trying this new film format. The camera experience isn’t too far from shooting other films, the Pentax Auto 110’s SLR system is relatively familiar. But seeing the scans for the first time was shocking; I was pleasantly surprised with the details and the quality that 110 film provides. You can notice the difference right away compared to 35mm and 120 film scans. Grains are larger, which feels more nostalgic in a way.
“You do lose some details, but I feel like when you are shooting with smaller negatives, you rather are capturing the “overall feels” than the “technically good” imageries. It’s a completely different approach while shooting.”
Was there a specific challenge you had with 110 film? How did you conquer it?
I don’t think there were any challenges or difficulties while shooting 110 film. I think, as a film photographer, you need to trust the process in the unknown. Every mistake at the end of the day is a part of the process haha (at least I try to tell myself that, haha).
Has your perception of photography changed after trying out 110?
Nothing drastic. During our 110 photo walk, we had a theme of “little happiness” where we searched for small moments in life that bring us joy. I think because of the theme, I was more focused on still life, which is not my main subject to shoot.
What subjects do you gravitate towards in your photography?
With a quick scroll through my Instagram page, you would realize that I have a consistent theme of portraits of older people. For me, I definitely gravitate towards portraits more, especially meaningful “real people” portraits. But I do want to be better at still life and landscape. Shooting with Birgit and Julien that day really inspired me to do more than just portraits!
Your portraits of strangers are beautiful. How do you approach them and make them comfortable?
Thank you! I always approach them with a smile. Even with a mask on, I still nod at them before I walk over. The first thing I would say to them is that I think they look beautiful and I would like to capture this beautiful moment. Often they get shy or defensive, then I will try to explain why I think that they would look great in a photo (example: “the light is shined at just the right spot on you; the color you are wearing compliments your complexion; you and the background go so well together; I saw you from across the street and it’s a great scene that I would love to capture it if you don’t mind…”). I think if you kindly approach them, you would be treated kindly in return.
"However, that’s not to say that I never got rejections. I do get rejected all the time haha, it’s New York City after all. But just remember that rejections are not personal. Don’t beat yourself up on it, just move on to the next photo."
Is there a tip you picked up and would like to share for those also starting with 110 film?
Get your dream 110 cameras now haha, get them while they are still cheap!
What can we expect next from Sissi Lu?
I want to elevate my elderly portrait project. How? I am not sure yet, but I do have a few ideas. I would love to make this project into a photo book at some point. Not just going to be a rip off from what you see online. I want to learn how to hand-print in colors, and go through each portrait one by one, reselect, recolor, print, and rescan. It will be a long process, but hopefully it will come to life one day. :)
Finally, imagine you can never use film again. What format would you go for and what are you shooting on your last roll?
Omgsh whyyyyyyy!? This is such a tough question. I would for sure be shooting my stack of Fuji Pro400h. In 35 mm or 120? That I am not sure. Maybe 35mm with my Nikon F3, just because it’s my first film camera, and 35 mm gives me more shots. Either way, if that day comes, I know that I would be shooting each frame of that roll in tears. Why would you ask me that, I am sad just thinking about it…