Ideas Profiles

Shooting for the stars and the world: Henry Lee’s life of astronomy and photography

Cover image “Hauptstadt”, Berlin Hauptbahnhof © Henry Lee

While he’s based in Vancouver, a glimpse at Henry Lee’s Instagram profile might have you thinking that he lives everywhere, all the time. Traveling is a big driving factor in Henry’s life, but it’s certainly not the only one. His love for photography is what mostly takes him on amazing trips, and you can find the resulting artwork at his fotoeins blogsite.

Initially, we bonded with Henry through our common love for Berlin, but over the years, many more topics came up. For me what makes Henry’s story truly fascinating is his change in career path. As he himself puts it:

After he casually mentioned this to me once in conversation, I’ve never looked at Henry the same way. But what has drawn us closer is our unspoken understanding that none of us want to have children as we would rather travel instead.

In my quest to shed light into different lifestyles other than starting a family, I’ve asked Henry to share some thoughts about not wanting children and how that affects his life. I’m glad he agreed to answer my questions which are at times superficial and at times invasive, and that he’s the first person I’m profiling for Instead of Kids.

For that, Henry, I’ll be forever thankful.

 


 

Hi Henry. As I mentioned, we like to profile individuals building a life without children and following the “off the beaten path” lifestyles. In your case, is not having children a conscious choice or a circumstance in your life?

It’s something I’ve always considered since adolescence. Over time, the idea of not having children solidified as I pursued my doctoral degree and I took up research postings afterwards. Over the years, I keep meeting more people who view their lives similarly. Perhaps it’s commonality, perhaps it comes in the conversation, perhaps it’s even “selection effect”, or perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above.

Well, that’s exactly what happened between us! Tell me, In a scale of 0 to 10, how hard is for you to deal with children?

You haven’t calibrated your number scale to “difficulty dealing with children”! I assume you mean 0 means “not difficult” and 10 “most difficult,” in which case I’d put myself at 7 to 8.

That’s certainly high! Do you get bothered a lot about not having children? Do you ever regret it?

I don’t get bothered by people about not having children, but I know women who’ve made this choice unfairly get a lot of flak. I have zero regrets about the choices I’ve made in my life, including not having children.

How many countries have you visited so far? Or maybe easier: how many countries are left on your list?

I’ve visited somewhere between 25 to 30 countries. I’m uninterested in collecting countries like collecting baseball cards; I’m more interested in spending more time within fewer countries. But if you want to know in detail, here’s the comprehensive list of places I’ve been and photographed.

Not too shabby! But from all those, in which places do you feel truly at home?

In Germany, I’m at home in Berlin and Köln. In Australia, I’m at home most in Sydney.

Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof, Germany © Henry Lee

You speak like 4 or 5 languages – how do you think that shows in your personality and relationship to others?

I actively seek circumstances, locations, and people who are multilingual. And with people who speak multiple languages, I feel there’s a distinct sense of lateral thinking that arises in flexibility and open-mindedness where the generation, elaboration, and achievement of ideas are concerned.

Any place you are itching to photograph next?

In Europe, I’d like to photograph the North and Baltic Sea coastlines and villages and transportation high in the Alps. I’d would also very much like to return to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and New Zealand to provide more visual coverage of these places.

Tell me all about your change in career. Is this change permanent or temporal?

As I became less interested in scientific research, I turned to a different kind of research, one involving the historical and cultural documentation of places in words and photographs. I’ve begun climbing the steep learning curve where photography is concerned. This change is as permanent or temporal, until I decide otherwise.

Henry_Lee_Maptia_Chile_Andes

Cerro Pachón, ​near ​Vicuña, Coquimbo Region, Chile © Henry Lee

(If you’d want to take a look at the intersection between astronomy and photography that Henry likes to explore, take a look at his work in the Chilean Andes)

If you had a chance to change careers again, what would be your next jump?

I have no idea, honestly. But if I had a wish, I would love to do voiceover work on radio or television. Some people have told me I have an interesting voice, but I wouldn’t know where to begin cultivating that interest.

Which of all the troubles our world faces worries you the most?

I’m worried about three things. First of all, the rise of the far-right and nationalism: it’s as if all who perished in the first-half of the 20th-century died for little to nothing. Secondly, climate change directly affecting coastlines: a significant percentage of the world’s population live in coastal cities and there will be some very expensive challenges in the next century. And thirdly, I’m concerned about how climate change will affect fresh water supply and food production.

It’s time to be honest: in what do you spend most of your money? Is it cameras, trips, books, gadgets?

I view money spent on travel as “continuing education”. If I returned to university again, I would pursue degree(s) in European languages, 20th-century European history, and anthropology. Any time I now spend in Europe is something like ad-hoc coursework in history.

To wrap it up, are there any book/s that made a huge impact in you in your life?

I can say something about books I’ve recently read. I recently finished reading Susan Sontag’s 1977 book “On Photography”; I know many of her ideas will continue to impact the way I view photography in the future. Also, Jonathan Gottschall’s 2012 book “The Storytelling Animal” is a compelling look at how human beings need to tell stories, and have always needed to tell stories. Graham Holliday’s 2015 book, “Eating Viet Nam”, is a wonderful colourful look at the beauty of eating in Vietnam. Finally, Nahlah Ayed is a news reporter on the international beat for the CBC, the Canadian state-broadcaster, and she wrote in 2012 “A Thousand Farewells”, which is an illuminating look at the Middle East today from the perspective of a Canadian family.

That’s definitely a selection to bookmark. Thank you Henry for your time, thoughts and pictures <3

Anytime! Thank you for your questions, and for allowing me to speak to your audience.


 

If you wish to dig further into Henry’s photography – here’s a photo essay for you to explore.

And if you don’t want to have children either and you don’t mind me asking you questions about it, let me know – so next profile published is yours!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *