The American filmmaker and photographer who is painting the contemporary sports imaginary through commercials, films and documentaries

“For me, it’s about telling and showing big worlds through small stories,” Miko Lim tells from his LA studio, revealing the most secret, yet accessible, of the ingredients that have made his productions admired on smartphones, computers and big screens around the globe.

Miko tells us about humans and sports stories. Stories that chronicle much wider, cross-cutting conditions. He tells us of visual poems, set in fascinating indoor spaces and sublime outdoor vistas. He tells us of lenses that delve into the athletic and existential flow to extrapolate common paradigms, or to inspire them. “I like to think and hope to do things that no one has done yet,” confides the two-time Clio Award winner, “The important thing is to start from curiosity, from what interests me most about the subject I am portraying. This is the basis of everything and is connected to the desire to always find new, alternative perspectives….”

Alternative is the career of a visionary who has long been marking the global sports imagery. A versatile artist who, despite being just 40 years old, can already count a long series of career watersheds and personal breakthroughs behind him. “In my 20s I was a medical student in Los Angeles, I was supposed to be a doctor. Everyone around me treated the human body like a machine. The philosophy was: if you fix it it’s fine, if you don’t fix it you throw it away. I realize that a doctor has to think like that, but I couldn’t do it. So I fell into a depressive vortex and decided to abandon that path. Around the same time I found an Internet advertisement for an unspecified movie studio. Shortly thereafter I started my internship there and found out that my bosses were Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton.

Then the further encounter with luck, or rather, artistic fate, “I was bringing coffees, I was the least important figure on the camera department team. Out of nowhere an argument on the set led to a photographer quitting, and so I found myself with the camera in my hands, ready to shoot. Suddenly I could be my own boss, I could take portraits of actors and actresses, it was the real ‘step in’ in this world….”

Fast forward to a few years later, New York City, Miko has risen to one of the most sought-after fashion photographers in the Big Apple (and beyond). From coffee pods to Vogue and Rolling Stones covers, his rise has been as relentless and frenetic as the travels and rhythms to which his camera has been subjected. The burnout process, however, is quelled by a special deus ex machina: the sports element. “It was all exciting, cool and glamorous, but at the same time I was wearing myself out. I had reached a point where I couldn’t wait to get off the set to devote myself to my great passion, sports. I grew up surfing, played basketball at the collegiate level, then discovered climbing and it completely captured me. Just by climbing in Yosemite I realized that I wanted to combine these hobbies with my work, that I wanted to completely change focus.”

Patrick Mahomes, Paul Pogba, Anthony Davis, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Russell Westbrook… These are just a few of the international stars that today, a decade after that choice matured in the middle of the Sierra Nevada, Miko Lim has managed to celebrate in works commissioned by giants such as Adidas, Oakley, Disney, Reebok and Nike. “When I direct these athletes I try to create collaboration. I don’t treat them as inanimate objects. I tell them that we are a team, that we all want to win on set, and when mutual esteem is established everything becomes easier: the athletes themselves come up with certain movements, certain situations that they know are more aesthetic than others. When I stand next to these athletes I always feel that I’m learning something new.”

And Miko’s sporting learning process to this day is not limited to shared lines and compositions, but exudes in the practical learning of the gesture: a progressive study based on the desire for others’ naturalness and authenticity. “Although I have always done sports in life, I have had to make huge strides in climbing, diving, skiing, swimming, and much more…. It’s not easy to swim underwater for a few minutes while holding a camera, you need preparation. At the same time I don’t want to be a problem for the athletes, I don’t want to slow them down: authenticity comes when they can feel totally in communion with their element, when they can be in their momentum.”

Many outdoor filmmakers or photographers share a specific background, Miko points out, “They are almost all former high-level athletes, perhaps stopped by injury. On the other hand, I come straight out of the art and fashion world. And this background has some downsides, but it also has some benefits, because it is a rare status….” An atypical condition that has forged the equally atypical artistic philosophy of the Seattle native. These characteristics deflagrate in the short films “Ocean Mother” and “KYRA,” which have already won multiple awards and will soon be featured at the ONA Short Film Festival, a Venetian kermis in which Miko himself will attend.

On one side is the oceanic world of Kimi Werner, freediving queen, and her maternal transition; on the other is the vertical world of Kyra Condie, Olympic climber, and her ability to overcome a severe spinal injury. It seems to take only a few moments for Miko’s camera to encapsulate their entire lives. Perspective after perspective, detail after detail, each of his shots becomes a kind of emotional telescope, a sieve capable of collecting emotional nuances and intimate reflections. “I decided to celebrate these women. Kimi is one of the most incredible human beings I have ever met. She can hold her breath, swim and fish for minutes at 200 feet deep. Now she has become a mother and is introducing her son to the ocean, to his home. Kyra is equally incredible: an incident severed a foot of her spine. Everyone thought she would struggle to even walk, but instead, after turning down the Paralympic Games, she was able to participate in the Tokyo Olympics as a Team USA climber.”

Little stories to tell big worlds. Stories that, in order to be shaped, need choices. This is the final, fundamental component of Miko Lim’s creative process. Each choice is decisive, he explains, and is determined by personal curiosity. And curiosity, in turn, is conditioned by evolving taste, changing influences, simple existential maturation. “You never really know what you’re doing. You just have an impression, especially when the sports you investigate are so different from each other and you go from a mountaintop to the sea depths, from an arena to an athletic track. When you portray someone you can focus on so many different things: the face and the emotions, the body and the poetry of movement…. The choice is yours. And that’s when curiosity comes back in. What are you most curious about? That is the essential question.”

Credits: Miko Lim
Text by Gianmarco Pacione