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Wild, Wild East: Interview with Photographer Daniel Lee Postaer

Daniel Lee Postaer is an American artist/photographer.

Born in Chicago and raised in Southern California by a Chinese mother and American father, Daniel recently graduated with an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2015 where he received the Fellowship in Photography. Postaer left an international marketing and entertainment career for the life-changing pursuit and craft of picture-making. His work explores the ways in which humanity reconciles and resists modernity – across global booms, busts, and the transitional spaces in between – as he addresses questions of capital, race/ethnicity, and historical belonging.

Postaer’s prints are wide-scale and of the hyper-moment; surreal scenes of the everyday urban theatre. These scenes, he describes, are roughly “eighty-percent non-fiction / twenty-percent fiction,” with as much interest in what a picture may never reveal.

Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti

Official site | Instagram

China-Underground: What is the main reason that motivated you to become a photographer?

Daniel Postaer: Having lived a previous career of international marketing, entertainment, and deal-making — the work I did, though at times fulfilling, felt largely fleeting. I’d always been passionate about picture-making. Experiencing the world with a camera is pure peace of mind and space for me.

There’s an element of control I feel within our chaotic world with a click of the shutter. That feeling keeps driving me to do the work. Photography, like no other medium, has the innate power to pause time. Pictures have a chance to live on far beyond our own lifetimes. I take great comfort in that.

Postaer recently completed two solo exhibitions with Longmen Art Projects. The first was a 33-piece, two-story experiential exhibition at the Longmen’s gallery of Motherland. The second was a solo show of his San Francisco, body-of-work titled Boomtown at Photofairs Shanghai. Current long-form projects include Motherland (Urban China), Boomtown (San Francisco), Tokyo, The Desert, Wilshire Boulevard and The River (Los Angeles).

C-U: When did you start? In the film or in the digital era?

D P: I started making pictures in digital’s relative infancy. And have always both accepted and embraced digital’s potential.

I’ve great respect for but have no personal nostalgia around film. One core philosophy that guides me through the digital age is that a photograph is not a photograph until it lives in print.

I’ve little interest on how the print is made – whether by originating through film exposure or processed through digital means. I remain concerned about what the photograph print actually does.


“Photography, for me and many others, has been a way to both slow things down and organize our chaotic world. There’s a theatricality to the everyday existence if you look for it.”

C-U: What is your favorite subject when shooting?

D P: Everyday urban life. The quotidian. The urban moment is fiercely short-lived. I feel a duty to make sense of the now.

C-U: What about your first time in China?

D P: I had freshly graduated from high school and my mom sent me on a trip with other students throughout China for five weeks.

As impactful an introductory experience as that was, I couldn’t have predicted I would later move to China for the beginning of my first career, let alone later creating an all-consuming body-of-work around Urban China as a picture-maker.

Urumqi Xinjiang China

C-U: What do you find in China that you can’t find in America?

D P: China is the Wild, Wild East. The Mainland’s growth is rapid beyond any country that I’ve lived in. The feeling once you step off the plane in the major China cities is both intoxicating, exhilarating, and utterly exhausting.

Every year in Urban China feels like five years. That energy can’t be found, on as massive a scale, anywhere else on the globe.

C-U: Did you find any cultural differences between Chinese American and Chinese from the mainland?

D P: Of course. There’s too many differences to speak of. The gap between the American experience and the Chinese experience is wide.

However, the relative opening of the China market, driven by the technology and the web, is narrowing that gap. We are becoming more interconnected in our everyday – particularly within the shared urban experience.

“All my photos are different, because the world without rehearsal is unpredictable.”

C-U: How would you describe your photography project Motherland?

D P: Motherland is on on-going, long-form picture story still unfolding. I’ve set out to record an era of time in Urban China. The pursuit began with a fascination, and a heavy longing, to understand where half my blood came from.

My Mother, Lillian Lee, was born in Shanghai in 1948, but my grandparents fled the Mainland when she a toddler. I’ve always wondered how her life, my life would have been if she had stayed. Perhaps these pictures bring me closer to some kind of peace around my own existence. Or an existence that never was.

C-U: Do you face some unexpected moment during your photography shooting that makes the difference for you?

D P: Everyday in the field is a new adventure. The photographic moment remains entirely unexpected and that’s one of the intrinsic values of straight photography that I revere.

C-U: What do you think will be the evolution of photography in the era of social media?

D P: Instagram is how most pictures are now consumed. And it’s unfortunate that pictures are viewed in the format of a vertical smartphone screen. Most photographs are now absorbed in that confining and instant mobile rectangle.


Details get lost and entirely missed in that format. Photography is in the details. I believe a well-crafted photographic print still delivers an experience like no other medium. However I do believe that social media is a tool to get the work out there, so I’m still putting my head around its necessity. I will likely start an instagram page soon to share some of my personal everyday.

I’ve begrudgingly put up a website with only a handful of pictures at 72dpi. I remain primarily concerned with making prints of the hyper-now and sharing those in a compelling way.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Postaer

Topic: photographer-in-china, urban photography, China urban photograaphy

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