Through the Lens | w/ Lisa K Cho
Photographer Lisa Cho can’t dance, but she still lets the spirit of O‘ahu move her
Born and raised in Honolulu, photographer Lisa Cho has always had a creative soul, but she hasn’t always wanted to be in Hawaii. Growing up in Kaimuki, she yearned for the excitement and glamour of Los Angeles and eventually made her way to USC for college. There, she nurtured both her creativity and love of the cinema and television that inspires her work today. After ten years in LA, though, Honolulu called her back. The city and people of O‘ahu are now her subjects, her home and her ‘ohana.
Lisa arrived at her photography practice in her thirties, just experimenting with iPhone photography, but has since developed a passion for decidedly more classical and technology. She now shoots entirely with two vintage cameras — one is over 50 years old — then scans and edits all of her own film. Her work, whether content for brands or her personal projects, reflects that kind of intimate and hands-on approach, offering life and depth to the images. We spoke with Lisa about her art, her favorite neighborhoods, and what keeps her going.
You mentioned that you shoot on a camera that’s over 50 years old — how did you fall in love with a camera that’s older than you are?
Yes, my Yashica 635 is 53-years-old. It belonged to not one, but two of my photography mentors. One of them used it in the field in the 1960s. Because of its history and how it found its way to me, the camera has a very special place in my heart.
The Yashica has a unique look and is also commonly shot at waist level — you can let it hang from your neck, look down into the viewfinder, and snap a pic while looking directly at someone. I often find it sets a subject more at ease. Plus having a “historic” looking camera draws a lot of comments like, “wow!,” “does that only shoot black and white?” “do you wanna buy my Hasselblad?” and my favorite to date, “What a cool, old ass camera.”
I also have a beloved 35mm Canon A-1 in her 30s, so while she hasn’t lived as many lives as the Yashica, she’s got a lot of experience under her belt. She has been with me during some of my most important shoots, including certain chapters of my award-winning series “Ballet on Film.” All the photos you’ll see here were taken with my Canon A-1 and on my favorite film stock, Kodak Portra 800.
Tell us about the Ballet on Film series. How did it come to life?
The project began during the winter of 2019, but interestingly enough it didn’t “come to life” until the pandemic was declared. began as a project to celebrate ballet in Hawaii, but as soon as I started going into the studio to document the teachers instructing virtually, I knew the story was changing into one of resilience, innovation, and the power of the human spirit.
Told over the course of 3 years, I documented Honolulu Classical Ballet school through pre-pandemic performances to virtual and outdoor classes during lockdown, ending with a triumphant return to the stage for their 10th anniversary.
Seeing how the school navigated the ever-changing pandemic landscape was fascinating. The teachers, the students, and their families all came together to celebrate the art of ballet and carve out their own stories in the new world. I felt honored to be a part of their journey.
Are you a ballerina?
I am most certainly not. One could say I’m an awful dancer. Babies have cried, people have moved to other states, food has spoiled... all after watching me “dance.”
Alright, no dancing. So what do you enjoy doing with the time you’re not behind the lens?
I grew up in Kaimuki and continue to spend my free time exploring the neighborhood. One of my favorite things about Kaimuki (and life, for that matter) is food.
I’m always out eating and drinking, trying different cuisines, and experiencing their unique flavors and textures. As you’ll see in the photos, I enjoy trying new spots (Obake, Kaimuki Shokudo) and introducing friends to my favorite haunts (EP Bar). If I’m not in Kaimuki, you can find me wandering around Chinatown, Kaka’ako, Diamond Head, or Waikiki.
In addition to all the eating, self-care is an important part of my life. In a typical week, I’ll hit the gym a handful of times, visit my favorite hike (Makapuu Lighthouse Trail), and gather with my fellow yogis at Sun Yoga.
If you could give a visitor one piece of advice for their stay in the neighborhood, what would it be?
Instagram and the interwebs are full of recommended places, but I’d suggest getting out and exploring. There are many hidden gems in Waikīkī and the surrounding neighborhoods (Kapahulu, Monsarrat, Kaimuki). Not only eateries and speakeasies, but specialty bookstores, coffee roasters, boutiques, and other places that will give you a unique Hawaii experience.
“People are my favorite part of life. Occasionally the worst, but usually the best. ”
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