We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Hu Chen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa Hu, we’d love to hear about a book that’s had an impact on you.
When I was in my 20s, married without kids, I became friends with a woman I would see every day for years in the locker room at our gym. She was older, a mom, very wise, and treated me so kindly. We talked about everything – career, culture, hopes and dreams, life. I often sought her advice and she was so good about giving it – respectful yet firm. Once, our conversation turned towards having kids and the responsibility of it all. I told her that I wanted kids but I also wanted to be ready for them; I wanted to travel, work, do everything I could before it was the “right time.” She said something so simple yet profound and it stuck with me to the core. She referenced a poem in Khalil Gibran’s book, “The Prophet,” about the essence of a parent’s role. She said that you are given your children for a short amount of time and your job is to love, teach, guide, and help them. You do not own them, nor do you control them. She said that if I truly understood the power of that, I would be ready. Shortly after our conversation, I bought “The Prophet.” Reading through it left a huge impression on me. The ways in which I approach parenting have come a lot from that fateful conversation many years ago, and from a book filled with profound and poetic prose, philosophies of the human condition, and simple life lessons. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself… You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…”
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a documentary photographer specializing in family, food, travel, sports, event, and commercial photography. If it sounds like a lot of “specialties” it probably is, but I believe that’s also what sets me apart. I will photograph anything. Often times, I’ll seek out brand new opportunities and approach them with the mindset that I’ve shot it a hundred times before. I suppose that’s my way of conquering those fears of the unknown. I started out as a graphic designer and after 20+ years and burnout, I needed a change – I wanted to be a photographer and to go all in to get there. I learned by reading, researching, taking online classes, attending workshops and retreats, mentoring with a photographer for one-on-ones and in small groups (extremely helpful), and practicing, practicing, practicing. Despite all of that, for a very long time, I could not find my way. For a while, I tried to box myself into a mold that I thought was popular and desirable, but I felt like a fraud every time I tried to claimed it. It wasn’t until I began the unfamiliar task of self-marketing on social media that I came across the relatively unknown genre of documentary family photography. When I researched more deeply, I became captivated by the images made by documentary photographers that looked like how I wanted my images to look, and I knew I was onto something. Documentary photographers use an approach to make photos based on observation, intention, and truth. I was already accustomed to shooting in this manner when I photographed my own family, so why not use that same approach when I photograph everything else? I realized at that moment: If I am true to myself as I look through my lens, the images that I make at that moment will be truthful in itself. That simple revelation saved me. After too much time meandering about and feeling lost, I knew that I had finally set foot in a space where I belonged.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Orange County living has the benefits of great weather, beautiful coastlines, incredible hiking trails, and Disneyland. In recent years, the food scene has exploded and now Orange County is a hot spot for amazing restaurants, lively bars, and innovative eatery concepts. If I were to play tour guide for a week, most of my itinerary would be based on food and the restaurants we’d frequent every day. From Anaheim Packing District, to the streets of Old Town Orange, to the stretches of beach cities along the coast, there is something for everyone. One of my favorite cities to go for great food is Costa Mesa. Within city limits, you can find all kinds of variety: incredible sushi, popular ramen houses, gourmet donut shops, breakfast gems, ice creameries, burger and pizza joints, The Camp, the Anti-Mall, East 17th, Street – the list is endless. As a former contributor to Female Foodie, I would research restaurants in Orange County and come up with top contenders targeted specifically for out-of-towners. Who wouldn’t want to reference a tried-and-true list made by a local when visiting a new, unfamiliar place? Don’t get me wrong. You can spend a week in Orange County, visit landmarks, beaches, amusement parks, and never get bored. You could also spend every meal eating to your heart’s content, and having a heck of a time choosing. That, to me, is the perfect, most exciting and fun vacation.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to dedicate my Shoutout to my friend, Keri O’Melveny. Keri, along with her co-worker, Carol Chen, humbly refer to themselves as the two “lunch ladies” at my kids’ elementary school. Believe me, they are so much more. Since the beginning of our state’s shelter-in-place mandate, Keri and Carol have been on the Frontlines daily, passing out free meals to anybody who needs one during this pandemic that has kept all the kids at home instead of in schools, rain or shine. As a personal project, I began documenting Keri’s incredible heart and spirit three months before the threat of COVID-19 blasted through our sense of normal. When Keri is in her element in the school cafeteria, her main goal is to serve the kids snack and lunch in a safe, fun, and loving environment. She knows all the kids and greets them with hugs and smiles by name, and takes immense pride in the immaculate, squeaky clean surfaces that could easily be messed up from all the food and little fingerprints. Fast forward to our current quarantined state, and the overflowing amount of kindness and love that Keri and Carol hand out so freely to the children continues to be a priceless gift. They do so daily and cheerfully despite the circumstances. They are truly my heroes.
All images were taken by Lisa Hu Chen, except the first image by her husband, Po.