Helping Others See: The Work of Photographer Larry Louie
International photographer LARRY LOUIE leads a dual career. In his optometry clinic, he is a doctor working to enhance the vision of people from all walks of life in an urban North American city. On his travels, he is a humanitarian documentary photographer, exploring the lives and social issues of remote indigenous people. As an optometrist, Louie adjusts people’s visual perception. As a photographer, he seeks to adjust people’s view of the world. In both disciplines, he is interested in things that exist outside the regular field of vision.
Louie’s photographs have often been described as realism at its best. There is a story waiting to be told in every image. His documentation of lives around the world shows the strength and perseverance that defines humanity, revealing the light found in the darkest places. His photographs have received international recognition such as the TYOTY Award, IPA Lucie Award, National Geographic Photo Essay Award, and Humanitarian Documentary Grant with the Worldwide Photography Gala Awards. He is also an avid supporter of Seva Canada, an international nonprofit organization that is a part of VISION 2020, the global initiative for the elimination of preventable blindness by 2020.
How did you come to be an optometrist? How did this practice lead to your becoming a photographer?
Growing up, I actually wanted to become a National Geographic photographer, but my parents discouraged it due to the instability of earning an income. My second choice was a professional career which would provide a steady income and involve some aspect of dealing with vision. Thus, what better work than being an optometrist — gaining an understanding of optics and helping people with their vision. As my practice and career as an optometrist became more established, I began to venture back to photography and travel on a part-time yet serious and consistent basis, this time using both my photography and optometry skills to help people that are less fortunate in the world.
One reviewer has said your work has “a very distinctive style, straddling the fine line of a photojournalist and documentarian.” What is the difference between a photojournalist and a documentarian?
I think the two are similar. A photojournalist captures current issues, breaking news and issues that are relevant and sought after by television, magazines and newspapers. A documentarian uses the same images or a larger body of work to tell a complex story and/or explore certain issues or places. A documentary project can take years to complete.
In terms of being a documentary photographer, what are your goals? What have been some obstacles, if any?
I have two major goals with my photography. The first is to document some of the world’s vanishing cultures and their traditions. As a result of modernization and globalization, cultures that have been around for thousands of years are now disappearing and becoming extinct. Also, as our world becomes increasingly homogenous, there seems to be an increase in intolerance to cultures and things different from the norm. I want to bring an awareness to these cultures and their traditions and to let the younger generations know that the various customs, identities and values are just as important and valuable as all the new technologies and modern urbanization, and that these cultures should not be dismissed as being backwards.
My other goal is to increase awareness of eye care needs in the developing world, especially when most blindness is absolutely preventable or treatable.
As to obstacles, the main issues always seem to be time and resources. Many of these places I visit require a lot of time for planning, and for traveling. I’m fortunate to have a day job that supports my passion of photography, and am able to shoot and do stories that are important to me. I’m also lucky that my wife Joanna is willing to support me and my endeavors and work in the background organizing our trips, dealing with media, promoting our work and fundraisers.
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