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From Lawyer To Billboard Fame: How This M’sian Photographer’s Living The Big Apple Dream

It’s not everyday that you see Malaysians getting their photos displayed on one the world’s most recognisable billboards — the One Times Square Billboard in New York City.

But would you believe us if we told you that a photo of local singer Aisha Retno which was displayed on the Billboard this year was actually taken by a law graduate?

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

Meet Evan Lim Wei, the talented individual behind the photo, who took the bold step of pursuing his photography dreams after graduating from law school in 2020.

WeirdKaya recently had the opportunity to sit down with Evan and talk to him about his journey from a law graduate to one of the most highly sought-after photographers.

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From law to photography

Evan’s first encounter with photography began in 2017 when he was in law school. All this while, he took photos with his mobile phone and never had the chance to use a camera to do until a friend lent him one in September after observing some of his photos.

Upon graduating from law school, Evan went to work as a freelancer, where he found himself unable to shake off his growing love for photography.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

“At the time, I was seriously considering to turn to photography as a career choice. But knowing that it was no simple decision, I prayed to God and asked Him to give me a sign on what I should do.

It was a tug-of-war between what I studied academically and what I loved. I was really lost while juggling them both internally.

Fortunately, Evan received a sign confirming his calling into the photography industry and left the legal world to become a full-time photographer in November 2020.

Despite this, Evan still had some reservations about his transition from law to photography as he worried that he had let his family down, who had spent much time and money to fund for his studies.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

“Deciding to veer towards photography is truly scary as you’re venturing out into a field unrelated to your degree.

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“I decided to tell my mother about my decision and fortunately, she gave me her full support,” he said.

Telling a story through photos

As what many Malaysian photographers did, Evan started his journey as a fairy light photographer, inspired by New York photographer Brandon Woelfel, who was one of the pioneers of this photography genre.

“Brandon’s work revolves around pinteresty and tumblrish photos, which are what I used to focus on as well at first. I then started branching out and learnt from other photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Platon Antoniou, Sails Chong and Chen Man.

“My works are more of commercial portraiture currently, where I’ve taken photos for brand ambassadors as well as creating artistes’ profiles, album covers, music covers, EP covers for both local and international artistes from the Chinese and Malay media,” he said.

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From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

Carrying out commercial work is what he looks forward to, but storytelling has always been his first love upon entering the industry and still remains as the driving force to this day.

“When you look at photos by Leibovitz, Antoniou, Chong and Chen, you will be able to understand the story within. I wish my photos to be on par with these names.

You can take a nice photo, but if there’s no story to it, it’s just a vase. I’m still learning to add depth to the photos as it isn’t an easy task. Impostor syndrome has also always hampered me, making me feel like my works don’t belong at all.

Dealing with burnout

In a line of work which requires one to be creative, it’s common to experience burnout and Evan learnt this firsthand.

“As grateful as I am towards my clients, there are some projects that absolutely drained me out in terms of creativity and mental fortitude.

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“There will be days when everything I touched turned to crap and it’s very subjective when it comes to deciding whether something is nice or bad. If it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

In times like these, Evan would take a step back and focus on things that make him feel happy or refreshed in order to get his mind off the mental rut.

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“I’ll go to art galleries and space out in the face of creativity burnouts. It’s such moments that cause me to realise how small my works are in this universe. It also enables my heart to calm down and my burden to precipitate,” he said.

Being on the same page

When being asked which part of photography was the hardest, Evan said that every stage had its own difficulties.

“During pre-production, you need to think of the objective you want to achieve. While shooting, you will find out that there are many unpredicted issues. During the editing process, you might find out that the problem should have been solved earlier.”

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

However, Evan added that he would often try his best to lessen the complications by making preparations beforehand.

For instance, he and the team do a comprehensive research before shooting, where they pitch their ideas and proposal to ensure that they and the client are on the same page.

At the same time, Evan would play some feel good tunes during the photo shooting process in order to get the models into a positive mood, allowing them to loosen up and pose more naturally.

Fulfilling his Billboard dream

From the moment one of his friends had his photo of local girl group Dolla displayed on the Billboard last September, Evan knew that it was his dream too.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo via The Sun Daily

Even Evan congratulated his friend, he couldn’t help but to quip about his aspiration to see his work displayed on the Billboard as well.

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Much to his surprise, he eventually got his own photo of Malaysian singer Aisha Retno on the Billboard a year later, making Aisha the eighth Malaysian act to be featured.

Recalling his jubilation upon learning the news, Evan said that it came like a bolt from the blue.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

“It turned out as a big surprise when Sony Music dropped this bombshell in the midst of our discussion on the shooting, making our team’s jaw drop,” he reminisced.

Meanwhile, Evan added that it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the combined efforts of the production team, hairstylists, wardrobe supervisors, makeup artists, and Aisha herself.

“Every department has its own significance. It’s not the effort of an individual, but of a team. It’s like building a LEGO, not on your own, but together.”

Always have that hunger

Looking back on his journey, Evan said that he started out wanting to be a renowned barrister but later found himself picking the brains of photographers instead.

He also attributed his decision to go full-time into photography to the inner hunger to add more fulfilment to his life.

Life is funny, it doesn’t always turn out as what you expect it to be, but you need to always have that hunger to seek out more. Give yourself space and time to learn and experience life itself. Through trials and errors, you’ll learn what you want and don’t want.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

“Even if you fall, you won’t fall back to zero. You always fall back to 1 or 2, and you’ll pick yourself back up. Opportunities will come and you’ll learn more about yourself, which is hard as society is harsh on everyone. Be kinder to ourselves with our failures as society won’t.”

Remembering early beginnings

Evan said that prior to becoming a professional photographer, he would invite a few friends to join him in making reels, where they try to make a story out of random sights aesthetically.

It was thanks to these little “experiments” where Evan eventually discovered his calling for photography.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

“We can accept requests of commercial works, but never lose sight of why you began the journey and always find time to pursue hobbies within the field where you started it all or else you might only be a machine which produces things in the factory.

We have to go back to the very initial love for that piece of art, and to create art for the sake and love of creating it. It’s important to have the time to do so as that is the only moment when we are not bound by commercial yeses and nos.

Aiming high

Evan’s next goal is to bring his photography skills to another level and tell more stories of important but unsung heroes such as heart specialists.

Commercial wise, he aims to maintain the quality of his work so that more can be displayed on the Billboard and open opportunities for him to work with bigger brands, with the hope that these brands will fully trust his team to deliver what they want.

“There isn’t a specific place I want my work to appear at, but if it’s about the photo getting international recognition, that is something I’m hoping for.”

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

When being asked if there is anything to say to the young photographers out there, Evan stressed on the willingness to learn and the determination to pursue one’s dream.

Always be humble and willing to learn, be thankful to those who trust you, and be sure to use those trust and service them well.

“Do what you love, and trust the progress. Stepping into a new field could be daunting at first, but go for it if that is really what the heart wants,” he said.

While Evan has been in the industry for three years, he still feels a tad pressured and anxious about the future.

“I’m still scared of what the future holds, but it’s part of the journey so I’ll see how it goes as everything will come together at the end of the day.”

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

Second Billboard appearance in Nov

Following the first appearance of Evan’s photo on the Billboard, another photo of his was displayed four months later, this time featuring Malaysian singer-songwriter Liesl-Mae.

From lawyer to billboard fame: how this m'sian photographer's living the big apple dream | weirdkaya
Photo courtesy of Evan Lim

As per Evan’s request, here are the individuals behind Aisha’s Billboard photo:

  • Producer: @aimeil95 & @arff.amn
  • Photography: @sonymusicmy, @sonymusic_malaysia, @spotify & @spotifyasia
  • Makeup: @syamielisma
  • Stylists: @azrulsamzard, @azreennazri_ & @afiqkhairudin
  • Assistant: @piecrafter

Individuals behind Liesl-Mae’s:

  • Producer: @aimeil95 & @arff.amn
  • Photography: @sonymusicmy, @sonymusic_malaysia, @spotify & @spotifyasia
  • Stylists: @ashaothman_ & @charaastyle
  • Makeup: @kemboja_s
  • Hairstylist: @blackink_gabrielhairstudio
  • Assistant: @piecrafter

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