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Author Candice Lee has just released her new poetry/photography book titled Escapism: Words + Photos, a full-color collection of poems and landscape photographs — all written, shot, and arranged by the author.
For the past 3 years, the 28-year-old UCLA alumni has been visiting national parks across the country and plans to visit all 58 parks. She is donating all sales proceeds of her book from the first year of publication (through Sep 2017) to the National Parks Conservation Association and the National YoungArts Foundation.
We caught up with Ms Lee to discuss her new book and the inspiration behind her work.
Last winter while visiting Glacier National Park in Montana, you slipped off an icy bridge and fell into a river (we are glad you’re OK!), an experience that moved you to complete your book. Why was this a powerful motivator?
Candice Lee: Thank you, I was very relieved that my injuries were minor as well! Yes, this experience did in fact move me. I remember looking at that bridge after I got out of the water and feeling utterly amazed and grateful. After reaching the trailhead, I sat there in my car wanting to call someone, a familiar voice for comfort or something of those sorts, I guess. I was alone up there and really missed home at that point. Of course in that situation, I couldn’t call my parents to tell them what happened since all it would do was make them worry. But I didn’t have anyone I could call. It was a very lonely feeling. So I started to think about a lot of WHY’s. Why was I up there alone during winter when the park is barely accessible without snowshoes? Why couldn’t I think of anybody to call right now? Why did a cautious hiker like myself act with such carelessness? What was I running away from and why was I so far from home? I canceled the last segment of my trip, which was to return to WA again before going back to Los Angeles, and instead I headed straight home.
The lesson that I learned was that my escapism (also the book’s title) was rooted from my fear of moving forward with my life as it was. Prior to this trip, my then-boyfriend had just left me and my two childhood best friends were no longer a part of my life. I was overwhelmed with grief and I felt stuck, hence the trip. Shortly after I returned, my dog died while I left her in the care of a family member. This was the final catalyst. The reality was, I was even more alone up there on that bridge than I was at home. The cure to my escapism was acknowledging what I was really running away from and the moment I decided to face it. I didn’t walk away from that fall for nothing, my purpose here wasn’t finished, and that bridge was not the end…this book and everything it stands for was my way to make sense of what I had lost and really, everything I had gained.
How does the marriage of different cultures influence your work?
Candice Lee: As a Korean-American, I feel blessed to have an understanding of both cultures. I know how hard my parents worked, to create a comfortable life for their children, from scratch. With that, there is some pressure I feel, as well as conflict within myself, in trying to find a balance between pursuing my passion for art and choosing a stable career path with more security. I feel fortunate that my parents have always been very understanding and encouraging in all my endeavors. At the end of the day, I like to focus on the commonalities that unite all of us, while at the same time appreciating how cultures shape the differences of each of us as individuals. Growing up in a cultural melting pot such as the United States, allows all of us to experience flair and individuality that make the American culture.
Your new book Escapism: Words + Photos has just been released. Congratulations! What’s special about this book?
Candice Lee: Thank you so much! This book means a lot to me. The poems are very personal and span across the last four years of my life. One time, my boyfriend at the time asked if I would share some of my poems with him, and I immediately exclaimed, “Nooo, I can’t. Maybe some. Nooo.” The poems in the book–they are my feelings, raw and exposed. This goes for all my photography in the book as well. Whenever I go off to shoot somewhere, it’s usually at a time when I feel emotional or have a case of escapism (nature soothes all). This book, from start to finish, was carefully thought out with each poem and each photograph placed for particular reasons, with meaning. The whole production has been my baby. I’ve come a long way from cringing at the thought of sharing my poems with someone as close as a boyfriend to now sharing them with the world to read.
When (and how) did you first discover your love for writing and photography? How are these passions evolving?
Candice Lee: I think I found my writing passion through situational circumstance. There’s one particular time when I can remember it really starting–I was 24 years old, I had just had a big fight with an ex-boyfriend I was living with at the time. I felt like I was suffocating–he wasn’t listening, I wasn’t speaking, and anytime we did communicate it didn’t go well. I took a pen and a notebook and locked myself in our closet and just sat there writing all day–everything I wanted to say, everything I felt, the ways he made me happy, the ways he hurt my feelings, my thoughts on our relationship, the broken trust we tried to mend but couldn’t. A few days later, I looked at what I wrote and couldn’t stop reading it all. What my writing really is, is journaling with some rhymes. It was a self-therapy that worked well for me and provided insight into my own thoughts that I wasn’t able to express. Sometimes, I compare old journals. Over the last four years, I can see how it’s evolving in a way that shows growth, a sense of identity, and strength. Thoughts that used to teeter-totter over ideas with hesitation are now thoughts written with conviction. Self-responsibility, lessons learned, and perspective-shifts are also factors that seem more evident in my recent writings than in those journal entries.
My photography interest started when I was in high-school and I took Photo 1 as an art elective. I really fell in love with the darkroom process and film developing. But then of course, life happened, and I forgot about it until about 3 years ago. I got a camera and went up to Seattle by myself to take some photos of the fall foliage. Shortly after that, I met a guy who was also a photographer (and a character in the book). Throughout our on-and-off dating spurts, I had many cases of escapism where I went off to isolated locations to shoot and be alone with my thoughts. I received a lot of encouragement from friends reacting to my Instagram photos and so I kept traveling, posting, traveling, posting, and one book later, here we are now.
What are you most looking forward to as you plan to visit all 58 U.S. national parks? How can readers keep up with you?
Candice Lee: There’s so many things! The sunsets, sunrises, hikes, climate, capricious mother-nature, backpacking food, wild animals. Most of all, what I look forward to as I visit all the parks are the adventures of exploring the unknown (or what’s unknown to me, at least). This experience in itself provides so much for me every time I return home. No matter how many trips I make to Yosemite, I found that I always came back with a different perspective than I left with.
Once I get the hang of the blogging thing, I’ll announce a feed on my site (candiceleephoto.com) of where readers can keep up with me.
In closing, how can we get hold of your book?
Escapism: Words + Photos by Candice Lee
Published by LYC Media
Publication date: September 30, 2016
ISBN: 978-0997948806 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-0997948813 (Hardcover)
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