To celebrate Passion Passport’s five-year anniversary, we teamed up with ONA Bags and created a collection of travel-inspired camera bags in five limited-edition colors, each chosen to represent the vibrant nature of travel and the rich experiences that can be found around the world.
We gifted a different colored bag to five talented photographers and challenged them to incorporate them into their shots, and daily lives.
Next up is Justin J. Wee, a lifestyle and portrait photographer from NYC whose shots epitomize the beat of the Big Apple. We caught up with Justin to learn more about his journey with photography and how the bag impacted his creative process.
Creatives utilize multiple mediums to express themselves. Why did you choose photography?
I chose photography initially because it was a productive creative outlet for me. At the time, I was trying to be a writer and was struggling with the fact that it could take me weeks to pump out a single piece of writing because it felt like such an exhumation of everything in my soul. Photography felt like the antithesis of that. I was able to express the deeper emotions I wanted to convey, while engaging in a creative flow that felt more light-hearted, spontaneous, and active. I came at it purely as a hobbyist, but over time, I developed a portfolio and a certain amount of skill that was a result of a very low-pressure, high-passion sort of environment.
How has photography changed the way you look at the world?
It has given me purpose and ambition for the first time as an adult. It’s made me more curious, and it has forced me to be vulnerable to the fact that I will forever be a student of my craft. I think as creatives, we put so much pressure on ourselves to achieve success as measured by conventional metrics; we’re concerned with ascension and our desire to be the best or to be prolific at least. I still feel all of those emotions, but on the other hand, I trust that I will never know everything, and that the only solution is to keep putting in the work.
Tell us a little about your creative process — how do you go about planning a shoot?
It really depends on the sort of shoot I’m walking into. If it’s an editorial shoot, it’s likely that I will arrive at the location early and scout. I typically spend the night prior researching and putting together a moodboard to get me into a creative headspace the next morning. I also spend the evening making sure that all of my equipment is ready for to go. Then, in the morning, I do my tarot and ask the universe what intention I need to hold in the back of my mind as I move throughout the day.
On the other hand, the process of orchestrating a personal project is very different. I love photographing still life, but producing that can feel like a very bumpy process. I’m not a set designer or a prop stylist in any way, so devising how I set up a scene requires a lot of research.
Whatever the nature of the shoot, though, I’ve come to learn that over-planning is beneficial to my workflow, but ensuring that I remain malleable enough to roll with the punches is also a key ingredient. One can’t come without the other.
How does your environment impact your work?
Work, in some sense, feels really performative to me. I love working in public spaces because I feel an added sense of accountability, and my competitive streak kicks in — I will my body to match the energy of those working around me. I’ve found that some of the most productive places are not just cafés or co-working spaces, but trains and planes as well.
How would you describe your photography experience with the ONA x PP bag?
The bag is incredibly lightweight, but the padding in it feels super sturdy. A fear that I’ve had when I’m traveling for work is that something will break when it’s carelessly loaded into a car or slung over a shoulder. I once arrived at a shoot where my equipment had shattered because of improper handling, and I ended up having to Uber to an Adorama ten blocks away on a snowy day — which ended up taking nearly a half hour because of gridlock. So, I love this bag because it plays a part in ensuring the safety of my gear. More specifically, I was on a shoot recently that required me to travel light and be mobile, and the bag allowed me to store two lenses, my flash, and my camera charger on my shoulder, with my camera around my neck. It was such a great way to be agile on the job.
How does the bag facilitate your creative process?
Peace of mind can sometimes be taken for granted, but because this bag brings me so much of that, it really helps my creativity flow. It allows me to focus on the work and not worry about equipment breakages and all those other photography-related fears. The bag is also pretty cute, and sometimes feeling put-together and good about myself is the only thing that prevents an on-set internal spiral.
How has the signature bag color inspired you to get creative in your city?
Orange is a bright color that really makes its presence known and, as such, can also feel a little aggressive and overwhelming. That honestly sounds like New York City in a nutshell. The bag inspires me to keep getting out there, pounding the pavement, and doing the work.
Why do you think collaboration in the travel/photography space is so important?
Collaboration and skill-sharing is always helpful and informative, but within the travel space specifically, it is vital because it makes the experience more fun and digestible. Travel photography is an entry point into the photography world that so many of us start from, and it makes the technical learning feel less daunting. I know when I first got into photography, going on road trips with my friends was the only way I was able to surround myself with other creatives in an environment where we were all setting out just to create photos. Those experiences informed so much of the technical skill that laid the foundation for my early photography.
Like this interview? Stay tuned to read more in our ONA series — and if you’re a photographer, consider grabbing a bag for yourself!