A Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing online magazine
Published on Fridays since January 2019
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Hollian Thesaurus II
Jinx, in front of Hong Kong Harbour, circa 1994
Photographed and written by Holly Lee
Jinx, in front of Hong Kong Harbour, circa1994. C-type photograph 46 x 38.5 inch mounted on panel, framed. M+ Museum collection.
This image was originally created in 1994 (year of the dog) as the greeting card of Joseph Spitzer Associates & Lilian Tang Design. Image concept and photograph by Holly Lee.
I always thought I was a snake, but to my recent surprise, I might be a dragon.
Or not. The date of my birth was ambiguous, for I was born at the tail of a snake and the horns of a dragon, I am an in-between. Still I prefer to be a snake, smaller and insignificant, less complicated and problematic. It requires so much more to be a dragon, its nature marked by a clear dichotomy between good and evil; one deemed benevolent and formidable in the East, the other, malevolent and dreadful in Western cultures. So when my friend Lilian Tang asked me to take photographs of her dog Jinx, I wasn’t thinking or aware of the contradictory attitudes people have on animals. 1994, according to the Chinese Zodiac, was the doggy year. It was also that year when Lilian, who worked as a graphic designer and her partner Jo, a corporate consultant, started to use Jinx as the official mascot of their companies.
Dogs are our best friends.
Or not. People in the East hold their opinion. Tradition is that, for thousands of years, animals have never been treated as human’s equals, let alone showering them with love and care. Cows, horses, dogs and cats are not only beasts of servitude, they are also meat for consumption. The Chinese even show their contempt toward people with a servile attitude by calling them running dog lackeys 狗奴才. Since when have dogs become our best friends? But look, in Toronto where I am living now, pets especially dogs and cats are essential members of the family, there are more pet stores than grocery stores on our streets, we visit the veterinarian more often than our family doctor. As societies become more affluent and civilized, attitude toward animals have also changed. There is wide resentment and intolerance for animal cruelty. We’ve become concerned with even the meat that we eat; chickens, pigs, cows and other farm animals, we need to know whether they are being raised ethically, if not we keep them off our plates.
Dogs are no doubt our best friends in contemporary times. Our appreciation and love for our canine friends grow even more when we’re told of their heroic deeds, their ability and remarkable service as guide dogs. But in reality, we love them because they provide us companionship, and unconditional love, and the general consensus that having a pet can make you a better person.
1994 was but three years before the return of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain to China. The unjust treaty in 1842 did not arouse too much enthusiasm in me. I was quite contented with life under the colonial rule, and since I was born in Hong Kong, I was fascinated by, but not overtly attached to Mainland China. We have very different style of living, and in many respects, differing ways to perceive the world. I was born eight years after the Second World War, a time when Hong Kong had stepped into a peaceful and orderly period. although my family was poor like the majority of Hong Kong households, I was never left hungry. In reality Hong Kong had become increasingly prosperous in the eighties and nineties, thanks to its free trade, free speech and low tax policy. During the early eighties I had just built myself a career as a professional photographer, and did not think too much about leaving the city that, after all gave me so much opportunities and gains. I couldn’t bear the thoughts of leaving my family and friends. The handover in 1997 was just a dark shadow lurking around that we never took seriously. Nevertheless we felt the pressure building up everyday and could no longer ignore what happened in the past, and reviewed our astounding but short history with mixed feelings. So one day, when Lilian asked me to photograph her loving dog Jinx for her New Year’s greeting card, in my subconscious thought I reflected immediately on doing a classical portrait of the dog. It seemed to me that it was a representation of the spirit of humanism that we’d enjoyed so far, that recent history told us the English loved dogs. Since the middle ages dogs have been their hunting partners, loyal companions and family pets. One does not have to look far for the fact. Look at Queen Elizabeth II, still well and alive, in her reign her Majesty has raised over thirty dogs, mostly corgis and dorgis; the number is amusingly larger than her royal family.
I never have a dog before. I had a cat when I was still small, a Siamese came into our apartment by mistake, and could have stayed with us happily ever after, had he not met his tragic fall from the eighteenth floor. My cousin and I were so heart-broken that we did not wish to have another cat. My training of handling pets were then over. During the shooting session, I didn’t know how to handle Jinx, and I needed help from Lilian and Jo who had to spend an incredible amount of time cajoling Jinx’s attention with cookies and junk food. Fortunately we were able to capture some decent shots. I always thought Jinx was a male (not knowing it’s a female name) and with her gorgeous profile, I presented “him” nobly, with an aura of aristocracy. I was able to accentuate "his" dignity by superimposing her as if she was standing in front of the 19th century Hong Kong harbour - with asserted elegance and grace. I chose an old painting in the 1840s by George Chinnery 錢納利 as the backdrop, he was an English painter who spent most of his life in Asia, especially Macau.
I have always loved the Hong Kong Harbour, crossing thousands of times between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula on a passenger boat called Star Ferry. Withal, the Hong Kong Harbour (renamed as Victorian Harbour in the 1850s) I remembered was always the impression from the 60s to the 90s. The memory did not carry me further backward, nor forward to present time. What was it like a century ago? It is interesting to learn when China agreed to cede Hong Kong to Britain in 1842, the deal was not at all pleasant. While the Chinese negotiator was blamed for ceding inviolable Chinese territory to the foreigners, the British negotiator was flogged for acquiring such an unpromising barren rock with virtually less than two thousand, mostly fishermen inhabitants. But the naturally occurring deep-water harbour was Hong Kong’s raison d’être. Within several decades, it grew to be one of the world’s busiest trading ports. Nowadays Victorian Harbour, with its countless spectacular high-rises and sky towers basking in shimmering lights night after night, mountains of treasures, gold, diamonds and iridescent jewels pouring out from this once barren island, proved itself indeed a jaw dropping prized asset, a significant legacy indisputably, after Nineteen Ninety-seven.
An 8x10 inch work print of Jinx, for the year 1995 (year of the Pig ), the Greeting Card of Joseph Spitzer Associates & Lilian Tang Design. Image concept by Lilian Tang, photographed by Holly Lee.
First used as a New Year’s greeting card, in practice, Jinx, in front of Hong Kong Harbour was the second photograph I conceived and included in the Hollian Thesaurus series - a sequence of portraits, some of which rubbed shoulders with the city’s history, leaping across time and space to settle in a compressed, two-dimensional surface. We continued to take photographs of Jinx for two more years. After the Year of the Dog, we were on location at Lilian’s home to take pictures of Jinx again. We met not only Jinx, but also another feline whose name I forgot. 1995 was the Year of the Pig. Following the slogan “Pigtails of the Year” Lilian tied two beautiful pink ribbons on Jinx’s ears. She looked so adorable and feminine in the picture, a striking contrast to the shot we took a year ago. Two yeas later in 1997 came the Year of the Ox, what creative thoughts did Lilian and Jo have for this crucial year in Hong Kong? It was impossible to ignore the political air steaming in the city, and it was even harder not to reveal any sentiments about the change. Promised by the Basic Law that the city, its system and life-style would remain unchanged for the next 50 years, the vast majority of people in Hong Kong stayed positive and proactive. To get fed is glorious, so said in the new year card of the Ox Lilian produced for 1997, and superimposed Jinx in a millet field, wearing a conical rattan hat. Have a peasant new year, a message printed on the back of the card. Yay, the “same old Dogma” said another line. I still love their wit and humour after all these years. I also like the foxtails (millet) as an idea after the pigtails. Then I suddenly realize, and wonder is it pure coincidence that I am dropping down these reflections exactly 24 years later, almost leaving the tip of the oxtail, in 2021?
For family reasons we had to leave shortly after the handover. Had we not moved to Canada, had we not left, we could have photographed another greeting card with Jinx for the year of the Tiger, which followed the Ox. Or, perhaps not. This time definitely the cat should be the flag bearer, for who could stand-in better than a cat for a tiger.
The front and back of the 1997 (year of the Ox) greeting card of Joseph Spitzer Associates & Lilian Tang Design. Image concept and design by Lilian Tang. Photograph of Jinx by Holly Lee.
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 - email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org