As a young girl in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), Michelle was making her own magazine while everyone else was paying attention to the nonstop winning streak of the Edmonton Oilers. Her mother was a self-proclaimed portrait enthusiast and, while Michelle did not share a love for the format, she did gain an affinity for photography. She comments, “Despite my rabid interest in storytelling and image-making as a child, I didn’t know that I wanted to be an artist. I actually didn’t know what I wanted to be, for a really long time. I had a very limited idea of what I thought an artist was. To me, an artist was a painter and that was it. It wasn’t until I was much older that I even learned that all these other creative careers even existed.” It wasn’t until her adulthood and a malevolent life experience changed her direction that Yee fully committed to pursuing the life of an artist. In an extremely short time, she was embraced by the community and became the recipient of a great deal of attention.
While many regard 2016 as a devastating year for art (in terms of the mortality of many well-known creative personalities), it was a breakout year for Yee. While there were many exhibits of her work last year, the first exhibition of the year was “Drowning”, which was held at the Black Cat Artspace in April. Michelle had wanted to have a show at that specific gallery because it had a great reputation for showing both established and emerging talent. Both the credentials of artist who have been displayed there as well as the intimate (welcoming contemplation) atmosphere made it a desirable venue for many artists. Andrew Williamson (owner of the Black Cat Artspace and noted photographer) declares, “Michelle Yee is one of the most distinguished photographers active within her home country today. I first met Michelle when she approached my gallery to host her incredible solo exhibition, Drowning. The event was a massive success that earned impressive attendance numbers throughout its span at the Black Cat Artspace, with Michelle selling a number of her works to private collectors as well. The success of the event inspired me to seek out Michelle’s leading talents as a photographer throughout the Surface II Art Party, an art and cultural experience that features several of Toronto’s best artists and galleries.”
Another of Michelle’s professional admirers is Raf Katigbak (Creative Lead at Virtue, the agency arm of the internationally renowned and global media company Vice). Katigbak professes, “Michelle has distinguished herself within the arts world with her impressive accomplishments throughout numerous projects and exhibitions. Her solo shows Drowning and What Are You have celebrated glowing feedback and praise, while her leading roles throughout SOFIA’s Bad Behavior show further positions her at the very top of her craft. Each year, Vice Magazine dedicates an entire issue to the best of contemporary photography. For 2016, the editors decided to feature the creative individuals behind the camera and devoted the issue to the work of the most talented female photographers within the arts world. What Michelle has achieved as an artist exemplifies the raw quality that has evaded popular culture in recent years.”
Yee points to her first trip to New York City as the time when she recognized that she was truly in love with photography. Now, years later, she confirms that she feels drawn to the US again to place herself among the many artists there that have inspired her. Michelle declares, “Americans are bold…and brave…and they speak their mind. They don’t shy away from who they are and they don’t apologize for it. It is this attitude and approach that I want more of, both in my life and in my work. Americans are the best storytellers in the world. Look at your film industry. Hollywood has set the standard for the world to follow. Likewise, many of the world’s best photographers are Americans. There’s a reason why so many talented people, across multiple industries, gravitate towards cities that are already full with other talented people. Being physically part of a creative community allows for the rapid transmission and exchange of ideas and that can be hugely influential and impactful upon one’s creative output. I am ambitious and have always worked hard to be my very best. So, if I want to make things happen, I need to do whatever it takes to surround myself with the very best who can help me get there.” In many ways, this seems to be destiny. The American story is cross cultural and seeking to pursue the freedom to dream while proving one’s own merit. Michelle Yee is the child of a Filipino and Chinese parent, raised in a northern country, and dreaming of the opportunity to inspire others. She has overcome obstacles to become herself and now she uses her artistic voice to create a sense of belonging with others.