A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine
Published on Fridays since January 2019
Writings/ Photographs/ Poetry/ Archives
NIGHT OWL SONATA (in one movement)
written by Holly Lee
What is there to say about Africa, the second largest continent of the world, people of the richest colour, running the world’s longest river; Blue Nile, White Nile, Lake Albert, Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, each named in the mid 19th Century by Stanley, Speke and Baker. In the name of finding the source of Nile’s water, explorers paved ways for exploiters. Where did this massive quantities of water come from, asked Herodotus 2,500 years ago, so did Pharaoh Ptolemy II and most Roman leaders, in particular Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Twenty years ago a Taiwanese documentary reported a trip to find the source of Yangtse River - the longest in China, and in Asia. The crew never reached the river’s source, the expedition was forced to abort because of treacherous weather. Around the time when the Taiwanese film makers in China were chasing the source of Yangtse, Christopher Ondaatje went to Africa, spent several months trekking along the Nile and travelling through the African Great Lakes, talking to and interviewing natives from border to border. He related his experience in the book Journey to the Source of the Nile, and had the opinion that the Nile is not by any single lake or any single river, it is fed by two large lakes - Albert and Victoria, and two mighty rivers - Kagera and Semliki. Joseph Conrad was nine years old when he saw Africa on the map, he had this boyhood fascination "When I grow up, I shall go there!”. I am a bit like him when I loom over the map of Africa; stout, vast and unfamiliar - I am going there! Surveying from above a continent of 54 countries, the second most populous and no longer unknown to the world, this vast land mass now clearly marked with borders, is still in the invincible grip of its late colonizers. I grab it with a hand-held, round glass magnifier, I look for the Congo River, places like Matari, Stanley Fall, Leopoldville (Kinshasa) and Zanzibar; I see black, then yellow, then white, then red, of gold, of diamonds, of blood, of ivories and rubber.
A selection of 10 photographs I created for CITY MAGAZINE 號外, in the Contents Page section (1988 - 1989)
From 1988 to 1989, I was commissioned to create a series of photographs for CITY MAGAZINE 號外, a monthly publication in Hong Kong. In the course of one year (or perhaps 14 months consecutively), I contributed, for every issue, an image for the design of the Contents Page section. After thirty some years, I can only allocate 10 images from my archive on that series. Images published here might not be in their original sequence, except the first one, which I am sure, was the initial photograph.
It was a very free-hand project, to a great extent it reflected my working style in this period, and the way I handled illustrative assignments through photography. Also, I was able to embed some of my very personal thoughts and messages into a commercial assignment, which I found both rewarding and challenging. Even though it was not a requirement, I always liked to begin with the main theme of the working issue, and pushed it a bit further from there.
When the photograph was published, there was a title to go with each. Since I didn’t have the full set of tear-sheet, at the time of writing I have to create new titles for those missing ones.
(Cityscape with a piece of red cloud) The rusty iron handrail at the centre was a prop from Holly’s photo assignment for a record cover - in which we had to recreate as a part of the background on the street. An ironsmith made this for us, now I regret not keeping this iron piece when we moved to a smaller studio in the early nineties. At the left lower corner is David Hockney’s book “A Retrospective” (1988). Another book of his “On Photography” somehow influenced my way of seeing photography in my early days. This was the first piece I created for the CITY MAGAZINE Contents Page series. I began the idea of placing a book in the photograph (of this series), a book somehow connected to the happenings or what the talk of the city was at that moment. The movie “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was showing in Hong Kong then, we chased the book after seeing the movie.
(Bird's nest, little red star and the elongated pyramid) Li Kam-Fai moved to Toronto in 1989 and lived in Markham. He visited us in Hong Kong and gave us this bird's nest, saying that it was from the tree at his backyard. It was his fresh days living in Canada. This photograph triggers me an emotion of sadness. Fai passed away in 2016 in Toronto while I was back in Hong Kong. Both Fai and Hong Kong are now very far away. Background of this photograph was the wooden floor of our studio, many layers of paint had been applied onto it, of course, many walks on top, models, art-directors, clients, and friends. The pyramid was an object for the advertising shot of Dragon Seed 龍子行, once a prominent department store in Hong Kong. The Bauhaus Chess Pieces in the middle of this photograph was by Josef Hartwig. In this issue, there was an article at Feature of Month section by Charles Chou “藝術商業等對平𧗾” (Equilibrium between Art and Commerce).
(Itinerary of a trip) In this issue, Feature of Month by Peter Wong “無雨的英倫” (The Rainless England), “I left My Heart in Berlin” by Julian Lee.
(The Inward-Expressionism) On the upper right corner is a small painting by Iris, my daughter when she was six.
(Other side of the Alps) The map is 珠穆朗瑪峰峰（Mount Qomolangma). I bought the black and silver silk piece in an invitational trip to Xinjiang. In that trip I also acquired the Konghou (underneath the silk cloth), an ancient plucked string instrument, which is said to have been introduced to Xinjiang during the prime period of the ancient Silk Road. A number of metal strings in my Konghou were broken, the snake skin in its musical belly a little peeled off. The small book is, here I take the liberty to translate as Wandering in India, “印度放浪” by 藤原新也 Shinya Fujiwara, his writings and photographs of a trip to India. He has another book in the same series in our collection as well (Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong). The centre piece is a jewelry work by Kwok Man-ho (Frog King), a gift from Kwok when we visited his studio in New York in the mid eighties. He was working and tossing his jewelry in a large Chinese Wok. the way a chef would prepare his food in the kitchen.
(The Golden Temptation of December) I can’t remember if this was the second piece I did for that series, it was published in the December issue of 1988. The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis’s book “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) aroused a big stir at that time, especially after the cinematic adaptations.
(The Seduction of Power) We brought this pair of glove-hand in a trip to Italy in the mid eighties. The main feature of CITY MAGAZINE was on Seduction. Right at that time, some deplorable incident happened that triggered me to develop the contents page image into a photograph on the Seduction of Power - by making use of the glove-hand. In order to photograph the glove in a flattened manner, it was placed underneath a thick glass.
In my exhibition “Thirty-one Photographs” in 1993, I included this work in the show. Just recently when I was sorting things at basement, I found the glove-hand oxydized and become a piece of harden object. I should have taken a new version of this transformation as an update to reflect the current happenings.
(The interpretation of Seduction) I noticed on the tear-sheet, the Feature of Month on Seduction was published on September 1989, featuring six articles by various writers. This went with my 'second' version of photograph on Seduction. I have totally forgotten, either the Seduction contents were postponed, or the previous version - Seduction of Power was published to go with other content material.
(Tea leaves and other growing ideas in early Spring) In 1988, I designed the cover for Leung Ping-kwan’s book “三魚集” (Three Fish). This photograph was used for the February issue in 1989, the Vanity Special section, featuring six articles on “Tea”. The Corian Flower in the photograph was original a piece of prop for the photo secession to promote the new building material, a solid surface artificial marble. I redesigned the arrangement, the flower was changed into a semi abstract object, but still keeping the original DNA.
(The zigzag feeling of days and nights looking through the water, we have sunshine) Published on December 1989, this might be the last piece I did for the CITY MAGAZINE Contents Page section. It was also the most complicated set up among the series. The world map was a plastic shower curtain, backlit with a large light-box. On the top there was a water tank, objects were placed a layer below the tank. Movement of water created the distort illusion.
In 1989, I was awarded “Photographer of Year” presented by the Hong Kong Artist’s Guild. RTHK interviewed me and wanted to film a photography section while working. This photograph was taken on the day while a large film crew was at my studio. I must admit that, that made me a bit nervous. Perhaps, if the film crew was not there, arrangement of the photograph would be slightly different. Normally, I kept the technically aspect of my photograph to very basic, the hard core of the photograph was the performance of psychological movements while working on the set.
In 2016, Blindspot Gallery mounted the exhibition ”A Permanent Instant: instant photography from 1980s-2000s by Hong Kong artists”, in which I presented some of my assignment Polaroids. For that occasion, the original Polaroid for this piece is now in the collection M+ Museum.
Tear-sheets of various issue of CITY MAGAZINE, 262mm x 380mm each
A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine. Published on Fridays since January 2019. Published by OCEAN POUNDS and archived at oceanpounds.com
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Holly and Ka-sing currently live in Toronto with their daughter Iris, and their cat Sukimoto. Contact with email at - firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com