July 11, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Chelsea Lee’s Obsessive Photography of The Home Aesthetic



What are you working on—on the side?

Well, I’d really call it more of an obsession, than a side project, but I photograph houses and doors (sometimes windows too). I can’t really pinpoint the exact origin of this obsession, but for argument’s sake, let’s say it began in 2012 when I moved to Chicago.

I fell in love with the city instantaneously. It’s the architecture, and not necessarily the skyscrapers of the Loop, although those are pretty great too, but the sunrooms, and workers cottages, and deck-lined alleyways. It’s the history and the little details that often go unnoticed that really inspire me. Sometimes when I see a house that is just so delightful, I literally jump for joy, and then pull out my camera.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I like seeing how people live, what the architecture and design is like, and how those things change from neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state and so on. I honestly can’t walk down a street without pulling out my camera, even if I’ve photographed the thing before, there's always something new to it. It could be the lighting of the day or new plants in bloom, and it’s these little things that scream to be photographed.

I especially love my walk to the train. First, there is the pink ranch; it’s actually pretty ugly. It has pink vinyl siding, pink stonework and cement stairs that are, big surprise, painted pink. It has a typical iron hand railing going up those cement stairs, that casts a beautiful shadow across them. I have a lot of photos of this shadow.

Next to the ugly pink ranch is my favorite house on the whole street: a red brick workers cottage with the most beautiful garden and a little old lady tending to the flowers. Soon, the whole house will be blocked by the row of sunflowers set to bloom. Next to my favorite house is the two-flat with peanuts under the welcome mat. I smile everyday as I walk by and see the pigeons and squirrels scurrying away with their treats, and I smile a little bigger when I think of the old man sitting just out of sight watching them. And as I continue walking down this street, there’s the overgrown ivy, decorated like a Christmas tree, and the dog sitting in the doorway, and the kid’s toys strewn across the lawn, and the pastries in the window of the bakery, as I cross the street to board the train.

I take so many photos, and with all this beauty, the real challenge is editing. I have a rule that if I’m going to take the photos, I have to share them (well at least some of them). I feel like you have to put them out there, so they have a bit of life and others can enjoy them. And I guess that’s where this obsession turns into a project.

Why have a side project?

For me, it’s really about giving yourself the space to indulge in your curiosities. It’s about doing something for as long as you’re inspired, and then moving on to the next thing that you want to do. Before this project, I spent 365 days making designs. I challenged myself to create something every day for an entire year and post them to my blog Significant Nonsense. But after that year, I was interested in other things, so I put that down and picked up my camera.

I think it’s important to find a creative outlet that’s somewhat separate from your job; in that creative-outlet space, the work can be all about you, what you’re interested in and what you like. Hopefully that work will inspire your other work. Or maybe not, maybe it will just make you happy.

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Chelsea Lee is an Experience Designer. Read her thoughts on design and designing in my series Designer’s Quest(ionnaire), consisting of 100 interviews—and growing.

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Diptych courtesy of Chelsea Lee.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with 50,000feet, an independent creative agency dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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