A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine
Published on Fridays since January 2019
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Polaroids from photo assignment
Lee Ka-sing

Type 50 instant filmsheet, 4×5 inch (105mm x 145mm)
work year: circa mid eighties to mid nineties


In 2016, the Blindspot gallery in Hong Kong organized an exhibition “A Permanent Instant: instant photography from the 1980s-2000s by Hong Kong artists”, I was one of the artists in that exhibition. My Polaroids were taken in the studio days, mainly for lighting and compositional purpose before an actual shot was executed.

After the show, some of my Polaroids went into the collections of Hong Kong Heritage Museum as well as M+ Museum, a new museum that officially opens to the public early this month. I must say, from the two decades (early eighties to late nineties) as professional photographers in Hong Kong, we have been keeping on files, a good collection of Polaroids from our assignments. Some of them are archived as part of the unique works in our portfolio.


(crayons, 1988) In the early years of our studio practice, we did assignments for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, for their publications such as Hong Kong Enterprise, Toys and Apparel magazine. Regularly, a number of active photographers in Hong Kong were doing editorial assignments for these publications, including the established photographer, Kevin Orpin, or newcomers such as Alfred Ko and us. As I can remember, the top notch British photographer David Bailey photographed the first issue of Hong Kong Apparel.

The CRAYONS was one from a series of photos on colouring products for the Hong Kong Enterprise magazine. Editorial assignments for these magazines were rather free-hand, as long as the given products were in the photographs. Usually I would use these chances to exercising my thoughts, or making tests for new ideas. In the crayon image I did in 1988, I also paid my tributes to Picasso and Irving Penn.


(for the cover of THREE FISH, 1988) After I had finished the series of editorial images on CRAYONS for the Hong Kong Enterprise magazine, I worked on the cover of THREE FISH, a collection of fiction by Yesi (Leung Ping-kwan). This was the second book cover I did for Ping-kwan. I walked along the same path, the way I created for CRAYONS, a tiny installation, a mixed media collage but finished (captured) in a piece of photographic film. Thereafter, I had created a good amount of work in this way, and gradually, it became my signature style to people in the industry.


(In Bangkok. The Oriental and the Orchid) In 1987, I got an assignment from the Australian ad agency MOJO, to work on 12 images for the 1988 desk-calendar of Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I was given freehand to create the images, but the twelve individual photographs, each had to feature the city flower of the cities where different Mandarin Oriental Hotels were located - Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver, and Jakarta. In the era where internet searching or online purchasing did not exist, I had a hard time to find all the city flowers in fresh. If they were not in season, I had to substitute them with silk flowers. For that reason, all the photographs, in a unique treatment, I placed a layer of lace over the subject, it created the mood. But the real secret was, it helped to cover up the artificial status of the flower. After this assignment, I had produced many work with one or more lace layers. It became also one of my signature style.


(In Kuala Lumpur. The Oriental and the Hibiscus)

(Contemporary furniture) Mandarin Oriental Hotel again. This piece was an assignment from EMPHASIS, a design company who handled the Mandarin Oriental Hotel magazine, and DISCOVERY, an inflight magazine for Cathy Pacific Airways. I worked with them with assignments for both publications. This piece was a testing Polaroid of the  photograph for the cover of Mandarin Oriental Hotel magazine, an issue with special features on contemporary furniture. After the shot, I made a self-portrait. I sat on that chair and the photograph was used as my official portrait for a number of years. I used it on occasions, such as interviews for the media when a portrait of me was required. My assistant Sheng painted the backdrop, a blue sky with clouds, on canvas.


(Wind, Breeze) One from a series of four, this was done in 1992, an assignment from Kan Tai Keung Design & Associates for the client Eton Properties. It was for the rental brochure of an expensive property, Woodland Villa. The four images were developed from a  Chinese proverb in four characters: Wind. Mountain, Water and Happiness 風山水起. This series of images got a Photography Award in 1992 from the COMMUNICATION ARTS, featured in an exhibition in the same year, and published in the Communication Arts Photography Annual volume 34.


(Water), from the above mentioned series. The objects were placed underneath a water tank.





(East meets West) This was the third round I worked on the Cathay Pacific in-flight menu, for the PPA DESIGN. Because of my free-hand working style, the agency could not provide a pre-set layout to the client, which meant the photo image was not based on a given layout from the agency or design house. To solve that problem, in the second series (Five Elements) for Cathay Pacific in-flight menu project, I had to photograph one image first, before the approval from client. When we worked on the EAST MEETS WEST series, we did not have this problem again, because the client had total trust and understanding of my work. In that series I have to create four images in the EAST setting, the design company will strip-in a food photograph, a dish shot from the renowned chef Ken Hom, the guest chef for Cathay Pacific Airways.

Byron Jacobs was the art director of this project, he entered this series to the New York Art Director Club show, and we received an award.


(How to Insure) I photographed an advertising campaign, a series in three pictures for BALL PARTNERSHIP for the client Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The art director was Shen. Shen was a very good art director from Singapore, we had been working together for a few projects. He was also one of the very few art directors in Hong Kong who collected fine art photography. The others two I must mention, included Tan Khiang and Stanley Wong (aka Anothermountainman).

This image was displayed on the left full page of a spread-page advertisement. The ad copy began with a bold headline “How to Insure an Insurance Convention”.

I am still holding a fair collection of these kinds of religious and worship items, as well as the gambling gadgets that are mentioned in the below picture, good enough to hold a small gambling party for fun.


(gambling), from the same advertising campaign mentioned above. This image was displayed on the left full page of a spread-page advertisement. The ad copy began with a bold headline “Gambling Taught us many Things. Convention Planning. For Instance.”

The third piece, which did not have an image here, the ad copy began with “An Alternative Approach to Medical Conventions.” My photograph featured an array of exotic Chinese medicine as well as some traditional Chinese medical books.


(grand piano soaking in the water) I had photographed KENWOOD Audio in a number of campaigns for Leo Burnett before, this one was particularly memorable and challenging. The campaign for the new KENWOOD CD player, had included three images, all in the same concept. The Chinese copy can be roughly translated as “All you have is crystal-clear sound, unlike what you see in this picture”. This shot was a grand piano soaking in the water, the other two were - a dozen of musical instruments all bound together, and a drum set covered by a huge canvas bag.

In 1991, from a larger studio at Number 3 Castle Road, we moved to a smaller studio located at the ground floor of Number 5 Prince Terrace. We bought that new space, it was also our last studio in Hong Kong before we left for Toronto. A lot of interesting assignments had taken place in this tiny studio, as well as influential projects generated - DISLOCATION (1992), DIGI (1994), OP Editions (1995). After we left, the space was transformed into the OP fotogallery.

This KENWOOD campaign came just the moment we moved into this new tiny space. The most challenging part was to build a water pool to soak a grand piano in a tiny studio space totally measuring 500 square feet. It was in the analogue days, with no digital rescue. The first test-shot Polaroid shown above was in fact quite close, just needed some fine tune adjustments before the shutter was pressed for the final shot.




written by Holly Lee


In the early years of my life there were a few things I did with great passion, that somehow I discontinued, and was never able to return to. I am talking about singing, and doing woodcuts. I was that songbird perching on the folk music of Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and later on the invincible Joni Mitchell. I was that carving knife surfing and making waves on woods, to give voice to poetry and stories on paper. It was all during that period, from the mid-seventies to eighties, I met people who are important throughout my life, who’ve inspired and prompted me to be what I am today.
My cherished friend Donna Lok 駱笑平 and her then boy friend Cheung King-hung 張景熊 introduced me to Yesi (Leung Ping-kwan) 也斯 梁秉鈞 in the early seventies. I frequented his literary circle attended by poets and writers such as Xi Xi 西西, Betty Ng 吳煦斌, Ho Fook-yan 何福仁, Yip Fai 葉輝, 李國威, 淮遠, 適然, 康夫, 張灼祥 and 鍾玲玲. I started to contribute poems to the influential Chinese Student Weekly 中國學生周報 (1952-1974) when Yesi was editor of the Page of Poetry 詩之頁 (1972). When the Weekly eventually wrapped up its twenty-two years of publishing history, Yesi, together with his group of literary friends decided to launch the new Weekly “Big Thumb” 《大拇指》(1975-1987). I just graduated from an evening course on Art and Design and was asked to contribute to the cover for this Weekly. I did some woodcuts, and was featured on the covers of Issue 15 and 31. Coincidentally both images were of dragons - 1976, according to the Chinese zodiac was the Year of the Dragon, and the other woodcut was done for the Dragon Boat Festival, which befalls every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Happy Dragon (woodblock print) 
Big ThumbIssue 15, January 30, 1976. 265mm  x 385mm


Dragon Boat Festival (woodblock print) 
Big ThumbIssue 31, May 28, 1976. 265mm  x 385mm

To attain his Ph.D in Comparative Literature, Yesi left Hong Kong for the University of California, San Diego in 1978. A Taiwanese publisher was in the process of publishing his novel “Shih-man the Dragon-keeper” 《養龍人師門》and before Yesi left, he asked me to work on the cover. The book was published in 1979, the year that marked the beginning of Ka-sing and my life career as professional photographers, the year we moved up to Wyndham Street and officiated Holly & Wingo Lee Studio.


Cover for Shih-man the Dragon-keeper (woodblock print, 1979).
Book format: 130mm x 190mm

Woodcut also connected us to another writer Xi Xi 西西. She is one of our favourite Hong Kong writers, writing in a style of naïveté her poetry and novels are marvels teeming with imagination and creativity. During the period when Ka-sing and I fervently involved ourselves in making woodblock prints, I created a piece based on Xi Xi’s poem "I'm Happy" 我高興. I even carved out a few lines in Chinese characters:

如果早上起来看見天氣晴朗,牛在吃草你在喝牛奶,大家一起坐着唸一首詩, 我高興。
If I arise at sunrise and see sunny skies, cows snacking on grass and you knocking back glasses of milk, everyone amassed and seated and reading a poem out loud, I'm happy. (translated by Jennifer Feeley)


Someday you wake up at early morning (woodblock print, 1976).
CARDWORKS postcard (issued 1988). 100mm x 152mm

There in the print, you can see the sun, a lofty tree with dancing branches, cow, birds, grass and a "giggling hippopotamus". The woodcut print was made in 1976. Twelve years later it was produced as a postcard. We were (and still are) so enthralled by Xi Xi's innocent songs, of ode to joy and ode to life, we even used her poem “Can We Say” 可不可以説 in the letter sheet of Camera Work holly & wingo (1983). Come to think of it, I remember also working on the portrait of Donna in woodcut, a talented artist herself she's also an admirer of Xi Xi. The engraving was nearly finished, but the image had never been printed out. Through the years the wooden block has been moving with us, from container to warehouse, and storage to basement. Our lives has never been short of chaos, leaving many tasks unfinished, undone, and so with boxes, unopened. It would be in the late seventies when I began to work on Donna's woodcut. In fact I had in mind to do at least three portraits: Donna, myself, and my grandmother. I'd lost the latter two blocks and only Donna's image remains, in reversed on the antiquated block, wearing big black rimmed glasses, a knitted, colourful shawl wrapped around her shoulders, smiling, always in her twenties, bright as sunshine, a youthful face lithely envisaged in positive light.

My dearest friend Donna
Woodblock (nearly finished), late seventies.
200mm x 460mm




Issue 1112-2021

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 - mail@leekasing.com / holly@xpecial.com


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