Writings/ Photographs/ Poetry/ Archives
A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine. Published on Fridays.



The shape of Time. On Flip Books
by Holly Lee


1. Flip Books as Optical Toys

John Barnes Linnett made the world’s first flip book in 1868, naming his creation Kineograph but the object was later classified under “optical toy”. I do not question him about choosing a windmill and a dancing skeleton for his experiment, but I couldn’t resist the thought that he might have the adventurous Don’s Quixote on mind at the same time of his invention.

Flip books play tricks with our vision, which has a tendency toward persistence. By flipping hundreds of sequential images in rapid succession we are led to the illusion of life and motion. Nobody took the idea of flip books seriously and considered them just “optical toys” - until they saw the birth of the motion pictures twenty years later, when moving images created an urgent sense of wonderment and anxiety, that we could keep time ‘alive’, that what had happened in life could be revisited. Time, already in the past every split second of a thought, was alas proven containable - that certain moments could be saved for the present and future in other forms, just think of the transformation of ice to water.

In the world of static and moving images, after one hundred and fifty two years since the appearance of the first flip book, technological advancement enables the medium a total migration from analog to digital. Theoretically things are made easier for us to use. Take for example my smart phone, burst as many pictures as you like, you won’t miss a single perfect action shot, or an admirable portrait ruined by closed eyes. It’s so convenient, take in everything and decide later! The inconvenient truths are many: we accumulate far too many images, organizing takes time and space (not to mention our devices need constant upgrades) but worst of all, we gradually lose our sense of judgement, and the ability to capturing the perfect moment.

I don’t remember when and why I bought my flip books (one of them is a gift from friend), perhaps they were fun, inexpensive, and most probably, I considered them as ‘optical toys’, and they are still. These flip books do not form a collection either, up to now I have only six. Four of them are horizontal, two are square. When I study them closely, two of the four horizontal books were published by B. Shackman New York in the early 90s - one showing a couple dancing titled Dance Lesson from the good old days, the other, an awkward Charlie Chaplin stumbling upon the woman standing with her back to him while blowing her nose. A series of stupid conflict developed. It really feels like a mini silent movie with the paper flipping sound as the only music accompaniment. On the cover it is written flipix™ a trademark for the movie flip book.

The remaining two horizontals are printed in colour - one from Walt Disney’s, flippable from both sides. One side shows the wise but mischievous Donald Duck shooting with a secret weapon, the other side appears a giant about to slam Mickey Mouse with a big clap. The remaining flip book named Polish Animated Film was produced by Studio Miniature of Warsaw. It presents vivid scenes of a Spanish matador fighting a bull. I think I must have bought this during a trip to Eastern Europe in the early nineties. Coincidentally, these movie flip books were printed in Hong Kong in the 90s, reminding me of a golden era when every business in Hong Kong was booming.  

Next, the two slightly larger square format flip books are quite unusual. One depicts ultra-high-speed photographic images by the scientist Harold Edgerton, in which a balloon is punctured by a bullet and bursts into pieces. Birthrite is a more artistic flip book with drawings by Ruth Hayes. Flip through its pages from back to front, the book reveals itself as the story of birth delivering. What’s interesting here is also the hand-written Buddhist Mahayana texts incorporated into each drawing, wilfully dedicated to the newly-born as a little poem, a hymn to life.

In retrospect, no matter how small my collection of flip books is, it has a hidden impact. It has pre-paved a path for me to work on a series of photo flip books many years later.

2. Flip Books as Vengeance

Flip book by Holly Lee. Making Tea at McDonald's 2012.


In 2011 I took a sequential series of photographs of Patrick Lee during lunch in a restaurant at Pacific Place, Hong Kong. Back to Toronto I began to work on the small production of flipping those moments, putting together more than a hundred frames into a flip book. The finished object filled me with joy. With my left hand holding the small, fat rectangular booklet, my right thumb flipped the pages rapidly to create a tiny animation. Patrick suddenly became alive, his vivid conversation intercepted with body gestures still remain fresh up to this day. I named the little movie Patrick. In 126 frames. This was the beginning of my flip book project, and from 2011 to 2012, I’d taken on more attempts and experiments on different subjects, firing my Canon in continuous mode to capture short-bursted moments.

Why don’t you just make videos!

It sounds almost religious in this grand digital age to go back to analog, or is the word ‘ridiculous’ more appropriate? At the time I might be out of balance, mentally exhausted with images bombarding from all sides. I refused to be drowned, so much that I wanted revenge, to slow down, I wanted that tactile memory, touch and smell again. From a contradictory point (or a convenient point) I was clever enough to skip hundreds of prints to be made personally in the darkroom, instead I would order prints online fulfilled by general photo centres in the malls. Despite the plan the majority of raw images laid in my hard disk for five years and the project of fifteen flip books did not kickstart until 2017. During that year I printed over two thousand images from photo centres in Walmart and Costco. Ironically, in pursuing this seemingly humble task, a punishing, labour intensive tale ensued. I became one machine and slave to my idyllic ‘noble’ course. The Vengeance to slow down the digital world has its consequence.

To make entirely from hand, even as simple and primitive as a flip book, there are many considerations and some technical requirements. Specifications like size, number of images, thickness, binding etc. To flip with the right thumb or the left thumb, which side first (or flippable both sides for two little movies?) etc. etc. On the whole most problems were solved, with some degree of imperfections. Due to the slightly uneven edges (all photos were trimmed by hand) I could not flip the little book very smoothly without being occasionally caught. Each flip book is “almost unique”. If one flip book is considered one photograph, then, due to the amount of work involved very limited editions can be produced. I have produced two editions for each flip book: one for exhibition and one for myself. In that sense It has almost no market value. The value lies purely in the making, which is also the thinking and learning process of it.

The shape of Time

What are the subject matters in my flip books? What do I shoot? To work on this particular photo project I must answer these questions first. That’s when things become more philosophical and complicated. That fraction of time on my hand could be a portrait, a person reading a poem, clouds roll by, or sitting inside a train running from Tokyo to Yokohama. Time can be stretched, or contracted. From 2000 to 2020, Noah Kalina took selfies of himself every day for twenty years. The resulting 7,263 images are made into a video of eight minutes long. To look at his time-lapse self of twenty years in mere eight minutes! Yet it’s nothing new since the existence of videos. For countless times we have seen videos of flowers blooming from buds - in just a blink of the eye. Scientists spent decades and decades recording retreats of mountain glaciers, to present before our eyes in just under a minute. On the other side of the coin, to be able to see a bullet going through an apple captured by a flash strobe in millionth of a second, raise another serious question on the relationship between image and time - we can never fully understand, or perceive time. The ability to manipulate image and time at this level is like counting the infinite, spotting bright stars in our observable universe, among galaxies which our astronomers estimate more than 200 billion exist. Do we have enough time to know time?

The Flip Book Keyboard

Those flip books, all fifteen of them, were put together in 2018 in the exhibition Both Sides Now. They were displayed on one long ledge projecting from the gallery wall, with partitions for individual book. The idea of the display was using the form of a piano keyboard. There is always the challenge to display these books, they are tiny and delicate, vulnerable to theft, tear and wear. But without the actions of touching and flipping defeat the function and purpose of flip books: as portable little movies, thumb theatres, gadgets free and techno free. Some time ago, it was a little heart-broken for me to learn that some pages from my flip book of reading Ya Si’s poems were torn off at a former exhibition in Hong Kong. But it was a calculated risk, and I am happy still to have my own personal copy, the only intact copy left in the whole wide world. However, with every solution comes another question: given another chance to show, would I be willing to use my only precious copy, expose it to an unknown audience and open up dangers of damage and theft again?


The display of the Flip Book Project at the exhibition Both Sides Now (Gallery 50, Toronto, 2018).



Patrick. In 126 Frames
Pacific Place, Hong Kong
#2 of TWO copies

Lee Ka-sing. Bellwood Sunset (138 frames)
Trinity Bellwood Park, Toronto
#2 of TWO copies

Holly Reading a Poem Written by Leung Ping Kwan (135 frames)
50 Gladstone Avenue, Toronto
#2 of TWO copies

Clouds etc. (99 frames)
Gladstone and Peel
#2 of TWO copies

Gardiner Expressway (128 frames)
Heading east of Downtown Toronto
#2 of TWO copies

Iris in Train (83 frames)
#1 of TWO copies

Ipadmaniac (134 frames)
Lau's Kitchen, Hong Kong
#1 of TWO copies

Above Clouds (92 frames)
#1 of TWO copies

Making Tea at McDonald's (118 frames)
Shibuya, Tokyo
#1 of TWO copies

Spider in Roppongi (77 frames)
Roppongi, Tokyo
#1 of TWO copies

Crossroad Shibuya (82 frames)
Shibuya, Tokyo
#1 of TWO copies

At a Photographers' Gathering (112 frames)
Gallery Z, Hong Kong
#1 of TWO copies

TV Manga at a Tokyo Hotel (128 frames)
Shibuya, Tokyo
#1 of TWO copies

Roof Top Basket Ball (103 frames)
Central, Hong Kong
#1 of TWO copies

Hing Kee
Lyndhurst Terrace, Central Hong Kong (292 frames)
#1 of TWO copies




Issue 0807-2020

A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine. Published on Fridays.
Published by Ocean and Pounds and archived at oceanpounds.com
All rights Reserved.

Selective items in this publication are available at the OCEAN POUNDS online shop. For items featured in CURRENT WORK, VINTAGE, ARTIFACT, PUBLICATION, OBJECT, BOOKSCAPE and COLLECTION, please send a request to: mail@oceanpounds.com.

If you are a researcher or writer and want to use the material, please write us in advance. Some of the materials might have different level of copyrights involved.

Not to miss a single issue, please subscribe to DOUBLE DOUBLE Release Notification. Visit - http://doubledouble.org

DOUBLE DOUBLE previous issues were archived at -

leekasing.com is a portal website for current and earlier works. Apart from exhibitions, Holly and Ka-sing use extensively web platforms to display photography and writing projects. Contact us for a detail list of links.

Holly and Ka-sing currently live in Toronto with their daughter Iris, and their cat Sukimoto.


Back to blog