I don’t remember how I initially crossed paths with Irene Nam, I just know that over the years she has become one of my true soul sisters. She’s kind, thoughtful, loving, supportive and generous. She’s a very talented photographer, writer and teacher who lives in Paris. We talked about being multilingual, the joys of photography, collaborative communities and how one small act can transform lives. Irene is a beautiful soul and I’m so very pleased to interview her here.
1. When we converse, I’m always struck by how very fluent you are in English. I’m curious—did you study it in school or did you learn it on your own? And if it was the latter, what were your methods?
My method? Spending all my weekends at the theatre growing up and watching American movies with subtitles and not dubbed in French!
I first studied English formally in school when I was 12. I was already fluent in both French and Korean (Irene is the daughter of Korean parents and was born in France), so my brain was used to switching back and forth from one language to another. Learning English was easy for me and it quickly became my favorite subject in school.
2. This year you launched Irene Nam Kids Life Photography. I can imagine what some of the challenges might be when you’re shooting children, but what has been one of the unexpected joys?
Children are playful, they’re fully present and engaged, they’re not self-conscious and they don’t pretend. I always feel incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to capture a moment in their lives, as fleeting as it might be and no matter how wiped out I am afterwards.
Last summer I photographed a little boy named Kyllian who is autistic. He ignored me during the whole session. He didn’t listen to me, make eye contact or interact with me. But there were moments where I felt like he was gently allowing me in and we shared something. I still don’t know what it is. But it touched me deeply.
3. You’re a contributing author at Shutter Sisters, a wonderful online photography community (which is celebrating its three-year anniversary). For those of us who love photography but might be intimidated at the thought of joining a community of well-established photographers (okay, me!), what have you found to be the benefits of being part of a collaborative photoblogging community?
I wasn’t a professional photographer when I first joined Shutter Sisters three years ago, so I certainly understand why some people might be intimidated at the thought of joining our community, or any collaborative photoblogging community.
Joining Shutter Sisters has been a turning point in my life, not only because it offered me opportunities to get published and collaborate on wonderful photography projects, but mostly because being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same passion, doubts and fears helps me accept and approve of exactly who I am. And this is what I love most about this job, and inspires me to work harder every day.
4. I recently completed your 4-week online photography course, Simple Soulful Photography. One of the things I really loved about your course was that you incorporated so many gentle life lessons and suggestions. It reminded me that photography is often practiced even when we don’t have a camera in hand. What do you love about teaching photography?
I believe in sharing what you have and giving what you can. And I’m passionate about it, about helping people discover what they can do with their cameras, about inspiring them to grow creatively, to do what they love and live authentic and fulfilling lives.
5. I know you’re a passionate advocate of Polaroid photography. For those of us who don’t own Polaroid cameras, how can we incorporate some of the beauty specific to Polaroid into our point-and-shoot lives?
Just imagine that you have only 10 takes in your camera, no more. You will immediately slow down, become more thoughtful about what you choose to shoot and mindful of details like light, colors and shapes around you.
6. Irene, you wear so many hats--wife, mother, photographer, writer, teacher. As mother to 8-year-old twin boys, how do you create balance in your life so that both your family and creative needs get met?
I don’t. It’s just as simple as that. Balance is not something that I’m striving to achieve (although I’ve tried, believe me). Instead I wake up every morning and do the very best I can.
A few years ago I made the personal decision that my family is my priority. It means that I have to create a work routine around school schedules, activities and doctor appointments, turn down interesting projects sometimes and miss important work-related events.
But to my own surprise, and even though some days are definitely more challenging than others, I’m very much at peace with the decision I’ve made, regularly doing things that feed my passions, and full of gratitude for the life that I have.
7. You recently attended a conference in Amsterdam that you shared with me touched you deeply. Can you tell us a bit about that conference and what you took away from it? What one thing would you ask each of us to do in response to what you learned there?
The European Summit for Global Transformation is an annual event where activists, social entrepreneurs and change-makers from all around the world gather for a high-impact weekend. My experience there was humbling and transformative. I’ve met wonderful people whose work and dedication have changed the way I think and perceive things.
I am deeply committed to making a difference in children’s lives, and my workshop supports several non-profit organizations and projects like Blink Now Foundation and Wrap Up Africa that help improve and sustain the quality of life, education and health of children in under-developed and developing countries.
If I could ask one thing from your readers it would be to consider supporting these organizations, or any organization that resonates with their spirit. And to remember that one small act can change a life.
Irene has created a beautiful 2011 calendar featuring her photography. It's a FREE download and you can get yours here.
You can find her at Twitter here.
THANK YOU to Irene for an inspiring interview!
Irene Nam is a writer, Paris-based Polaroid and child/family photographer and creator of the Simple Soulful Photography workshop. She is the co-author of the book Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart and her photos are in the upcoming exhibition “Facing The Impossible” at The Impossible Project’s New York gallery store.