(NuNaHeDuo DISLOCATION, 1 of 3) A Life in Publication
In words: two photo columns in the mid-eighties
Ka-sing was a man of words before his language proliferated into libraries of scalable, image-based syllables. For a number of years in the mid-eighties he wrote a column for PHOTO PICTORIAL 攝影畫報 (1964-2005), a Hong Kong based photography magazine edited and run by the veteran photographer Mak Fung 麥烽. PHOTO PICTORIAL was established by Li Ching 李青, Tchan Fou-li 陳復禮 and Mak Fung, with editorial contents emphasizing photographic equipments, films, shooting technique and the aesthetic aspect of Salon photography, regularly organizing photo contests, featuring winning and juried works. Already sustaining a steady market in Hong Kong, it was further circulated in China and South East Asia, gaining considerable popularity and following at that time. Ka-sing’s father was active in the Chinese photographic circle since the sixties and had befriended many photographers, including Mak Fung. In a way, Mak watched Ka-sing grow up to be a young man, one who loved to compose, and now photograph, the thought of asking him to write for his magazine was never too far. So it happened sometime in 1985, several years after we set up our studio, and established a firmer hold in the industry, Mak came to the decision to ask Ka-sing contribute a monthly column to PHOTO PICTORIAL, particularly writings on commercial assignments.
The first article Ka-sing wrote for his column at PHOTO PICTORIAL. Issue 237, March 1985. He wrote about the photography assignment for Le Carde gallery, a high-end furniture boutique which also provided unusual art framing service.
After three months launching his column, Ka-sing began to provide his own layout. In principal every issue was based on the same grid. The above article, published in the first year, was about an assignment for the singer Anita Mui, the record cover and poster for her concert. Holly photographed this assignnment for Alan Chan Design company.
During the last two years before the column transformed into NuNaHeDuo, Ka-sing wrote more frequently about his thoughts on photography (instead of assignments). In this issue he wrote about "PIN PUN", a four-person exhibition of photography work by Lau Kin Wai, Lau Ching-ping, Holly Lee and Ka-sing. Photographs displayed at the column were from the Dunhuang series (1991) by Holly.
Two years later, Yau Leung 邱良, a friend thirteen years his senior, a seasoned photographer as well as editor of another photo magazine PHOTO ART 攝影藝術, successfully recruited Ka-sing to write a column for his magazine too. In fact Yau approached Ka-sing several years ago about writing articles on photography but it never came to fruition. Perhaps the time was ripe, and Ka-sing was able to tackle writing for both magazines, in which many topics were on shooting assignments, evolved and developed over time into more critical and philosophical thinking on photographic practice.
In images: WORKS MAGAZINE (1988-89)
Ever since Ka-sing started to write for PHOTO PICTORIAL in 1985, and PHOTO ART in 1987, he took control to design the layout for both columns. The layout was clean, consistent and usually displaying images in large and engaging scale, thanks to his early training as a graphic designer, opening up his eyes and mind to the world of art and design. With foresight, Ka-sing had an agreement with both publications, that he was to keep the colour separation films after the article was published. He knew these films could be applied to future use, for books, monographs and perhaps others. In truth, in the pre-desktop publishing days, colour separation took up a significant portion of cost in the production of a publication. As he toyed with idea of further use of the colour separation films collected after the writings, he came up with the design of WORKS MAGAZINE. This lavish, sixteen pages stitched-bound full colour magazine was created for the purpose of our studio portfolio, mailing out to art directors of advertising agencies and design companies. The reception was great, helping raise our reputation and identity among the industry, especially when Ka-sing was just beginning to build up his photo-illustration style, WORKS MAGAZINE really worked as a good vehicle to promote his work. From 1988 to 1989, a total of three issues of WORKS MAGAZINE were published. The success of WORKS MAGAZINE in reality seeded the early idea of NuNaHeDuo: a publication on Hong Kong alternative photography. One may ask then why sixteen pages, and not more or less? In the language of printing, the number is a signature of paper; in fact a large piece of paper, after printing, folded into sixteen pages and make up the format of a 8.5x11 inch magazine.
WORKS MAGAZINE, a promotional item from our studio. Second issue, published in May, 1988; 24 pages, 8.5 x 11 inch. Featuring photo work by Lee Ka-sing.
Starting from ZERO (NuNaHeDuo 1992-1999)
As Ka-sing recalled, in the late eighties, he first suggested the idea to Yau Leung to create an independent zine embedded into PHOTO ART, the photography magazine Yau published. Yau Leung did not give a definite reply. Perhaps, it was not easy for him to picture this fresh concept. On one special occasion in October 1991, during a Chinese photo community annual celebration gathering dinner, Ka-sing was sitting next to Sylvia Ng, the executive editor of PHOTO PICTORIAL, they began to talk about PHOTO PICTORIAL and he mentioned his bold idea to Ng; suggesting a transformation of his monthly three-page column into a sixteen-page independent publication on alternative photography, embedding it in the last section of PHOTO PICTORIAL. This embed could also be part of PHOTO PICTORIAL’s new contents relating to contemporary approaches to photography, an area that PHOTO PICTORIAL had not touched. This conversation proved productive, and Sylvia Ng had a committee meeting with the chief editor and publisher in the following week. The proposal went through. The embedded sixteen-page zine was approved to kick-start in the January issue of 1992. Despite the short time window Ka-sing put together an editorial team of three people (Ka-sing, Ching-ping and Holly) and in less than a month filled up all sixteen pages with seven artists’ works. The name of the zine agreed on was initially 娜移, which was immediately deconstructed (for its visual impact) to form 女那禾多 NuNaHeDuo, and later took up the English name Dislocation. Tucked neatly inside PHOTO PICTORIAL, the inaugural issue of NuNaHeDuo was named ZERO by Ching Ping.
NuNaHeDuo女那禾多 (DISLOCATION) Zero Issue, published on 15 January, 1992. 16 pages, 8.5x11 inch. Cover art by Tommy Li Kam-fai李錦煇, editorial by Lee Ka-sing. This inaugural issue featured work by seven artists: Holly Lee黃楚喬, Comyn Mo毛文羽, David Liu呂兆偉, Lee Ka-sing李家昇, Lau Kin Wai劉健威, Lau Ching-ping劉清平 and Bobby Sham Ka-ho沈嘉豪.
From the start, the relationship between Ka-sing and the two magazines, PHOTO PICTORIAL and PHOTO ART was based on friendship, mutual benefit and trust. NuNaHeDuo survived to energize PHOTO PICTORIAL, which in return secured pasture for grazing. Ka-sing, while still receiving his original small sum of writing fee for three pages (instead of sixteen pages of contents), was further compensated by extra print-runs on thicker paper, 500 independent, sixteen-page, stitched-bound NuNaHeDuo copies every month. Starting from January 1992 to December 1995, we had a total of 48 independent issues produced (we call it: the first stage of NuNaHeDuo). To off-set cost of the extra print-runs, Ka-sing suggested reserving the back cover (of the sixteen-page NNHD) for PHOTO PICTORIAL for an advertisement. For the first year (1992) appearing on the back covers of NNHD were two alternate Hasselblad ads: one with the picture of a pheasant, and the other the back of a man carrying a Hasselblad 503CX, which seemed, to our eyes quite repetitive and boring. Approaching the second year, Ka-sing proposed to sell the advertising space to Agfa. He had good relationship with Agfa and had collaborated with the company on a number of projects. He persuaded Agfa to open up this advertisement platform for photographers, endorsing free-hand photo work every month, by using products provided by Agfa. For one and a half years (1993 - 94), eighteen photographers participated in this advertorial project, with their artwork featured prominently at the back covers of the NNHD.
The AGFA Advertisements on the back-cover: (left) Published in February 1994, work by Bobby Sham, for the Pin-hole photography issue. The image of this advertorial was a photograph taken with a pin-hole camera. (right) May 1993 issue, work by Comyn Mo.
(left) NuNaHeDuo (DISLOCATION) Annual 1992 - 12 issues (one year) in case bound, with cover jacket (original silk screen) by David Lui. (right) Annual 1993, cover jacket by Peter Suart. Ka-sing wrote a summary for both Annuals. "A Note on the First Year of NuNaHeDuo" with English translation by Mary Wong and Joe Spitzer (1992). "Review on the Second Year of Dislocation" with English translation by Josie Man (1993). From 1992 to 1995, four volumes (4 years) of NuNaHeDuo annuals were compiled.
Honestly, the success of NNHD was mainly due to learning from our past mistakes, from publishing QIU YÍNG 秋螢, the poetry publication in the seventies. Despite squeezing in our personal time and resource, there were considerable discrepancies from editing, proof-reading to handling deadlines. Now, financially secured, weaknesses identified, we were able to run an efficient and quality art publication on "schedule". As PHOTO PICTORIAL was circulated to mainland China, that also gave us a good chance to import new photography to China, a time when Chinese Avant-garde photography was still in its incubation period. Seeing the success of NuNaHeDuo, Ka-sing was able to persuade Yau Leung to let him create another sixteen-page zine - DIGI 秩智, to be embedded in PHOTO ART, with art contents created on the digital platform. Working as creative and editor, Ka-sing and I had great opportunities in meeting some famous artists, such as Tadanori Yokoo, Daniel Lee, and Charles Traub, who were all on the frontier exploring digital imaging. In practice, everybody was at the initial stage of computer art, running a race more or less at the same starting line. From 1994 to 1995, thirteen issues of DIGI were published within PHOTO ART, printed also as independent copies, later collected into two bound volumes. Up to this day I still find the experience tantalizing.
The little known DIGI magazines. (left) Front cover of the first issue of DIGI, image by Ka-sing. (right) The opening spread page of the publication - visuals by David Lui, editorial note by Ka-sing, with English translation by Mary Wong.
(lower) The second spread page. "Ten artists on Talking Head", image on right hand side by Ka-sing, a work originated from an assignment as the cover of DISCOVERY MAGAZINE (Vino issue). Ka-sing's image was a tribute to Magritte, his favourite artist. The sky backdrop was painted by our assistant on a large canvas.
A transparent and translucent journey (NNHD ZERO and GLASS Issues)
In the editorial note of the second issue of NuNaHeDuo GLASS, Ka-sing wrote about a journey in late December 1991 to January 1992. He talked about working in the studio overnight to finish an assignment, brain-storming with Lau Ching-Ping the name of the second issue of NNHD, and settling on the name GLASS shortly before the morning departing for Tokyo. Due to our busy studio schedule we could only break during Winter, usually for a month. So that year our logistic coordinates were: Tokyo / Toronto / New York / Berlin / Amsterdam. After we left Tokyo we flew to Toronto, where we met Tommy Li and confirmed that he would create the cover for ZERO, as well as a work for GLASS. A member of the celebrated Illustration Workshop, Tommy had moved to Toronto for a few years and still continued his illustrative work with paper sculptures. Based on an old family photograph, in which showed his mother holding him as a young child, Tommy recreated the image in paper-cut, folding some parts to elevate it into a three-dimensional space, creating light and shadow, flowing and rippling movements. It was delicate work, and fit right into our ZERO issue: to explore the magazine’s name “NuNaHeDuo” through image and movement. By looking carefully, it is not hard to find a number of work inside the ZERO issue also had reflected this tendency.
We flew on to New York. There Lau Ching Ping faxed us, saying that he had confirmed with several artists to work on GLASS. We also met up with Ye Si, our writer friend, and Mui Cheuk Yin, a dancer, both happened to be visiting there. We talked about GLASS and invited both to submit a work. We discussed about how Mui could elaborate from dance, a 3-D space into 2-D work. Ye Si, who we were to meet in this journey again later in Berlin, promised to write a short story for that issue. In fact he began to write that night after we’d left, and finished it in Berlin. I can still remember the difficulty to fax the story back to Hong Kong from the Berlin Hotel. Yes, we brought the fax machine with us in that trip for “faster” communication. In the very beginning of the 90’s, we were still using fax and telex. Email was just at its infant stage. CompuServe started internet-based service in 1989, and in a few years time, around 1993, we began to own a URL address.
Ka-sing wrote this editorial note for the ZERO issue at a small hotel in Tokyo. He faxed it to Ching-ping in Hong Kong for graphic design. It was the day before Ka-sing and Holly continued their journey to Toronto, where he would confirm with Tommy about the cover art. This piece, hand-written note on the hotel letterhead, is an artifact, documenting the earliest stage of working process of NuNaHeDuo.
In 1982, Tommy Li Kam-fai of the ILLUSTRATION WORKSHOP published a postcard based on an old family photograph. The image showed his mother holding him as a young boy in the park. Tommy used this as a reference to develop the paper-cut image for the cover of the ZERO issue of DISLOCATION.
Ye Si's novel published in the GLASS issue. After meeting us in New York, he began to write that night, and finished the story in Berlin. Published on the left is a Polaroid SX-70 image by K.H. (Cheung King Hung張景熊)
Winding back just a little to that Winter trip, there was so much to do in New York. We were supposed to meet Grant Peterson, a top-notched photographer, who was coined Sun King for his exquisite use of sunlight as the only light source for his work, and invite him contribute a work to GLASS. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time and missed the chance. Somehow, as we continued the journey to Amsterdam, in the Stedelijk museum, we saw an exhibition Style Forms Function by Bořek Šípek. In the exhibition, which was accompanied by the photographs of Erwin Olaf, we spotted a man holding a beautiful glass vase, and thought it would be perfect for the GLASS issue. After contacting the museum, we obtained Erwin Olaf’s address and paid him a visit. It was the last day we stayed in Amsterdam and fortunately he agreed to contribute that particular image to NuHaHeDuo. Upon our departure, he also gave us his monograph Blacks (1990) as a gift.
NNHD had a longer life span and influence than we could ever imagine. The relationship between all the parties involved was healthy and encouraging. On top of that, in 1998 the magazine received a one-year publication grant from Hong Kong Art Development Council. But good news was followed by bad. NNHD was not able to obtain another grant for the following year (1999). With the establishment of OP fotogallery and NCP (NuNaHeDuo Centre of Contemporary Photography) there were simply too much on our team’s plate. The committee had to make a critical decision, as to whether we should continue the magazine on our own expense. We finally decided to focus on developing OP fotogallery and NCP, which was still supported by government fundings, and halt the production of NNHD. This was a heartbreaking decision but a necessary one, it released our financial burden and gave us temporary relief.
From 1996 to 1999, The hard-bound NuNaHeDuo changed to a slightly squarish format (8.5x9.5 inch). We adopted a stronger thematic approach. While still published monthly in PHOTO PICTORIAL, the specific topic could take up three to six months as a unit, and compiled into a volume with pages varying from 48 to 96. We call this the Second stage of NuNaHeDuo. It began with Volume 5 - DOCUMENTARY: Facts, Fiction, Fantasy issue (96 pages published July 1996), and ended with Volume 13 - Travel Photography issue (64 pages, published February 1999).
Binary language and angel number
With passing years, many things and events have fallen into oblivion, or starting to feel fragmentary, blurry, partly broken, some fractions idealized, others in distorted segments. To get closer to what really had happened we turned over boxes and trunks, sifted through old pictures and documents, readjusting our thoughts and angles, until we're persuaded to arrive at a point of clarity, a point that allows clearer, if not a thoroughly clean view.
The NNHD DISLOCATION story, contrary to collective memory and what has been put into history, does not end in 1999. After we settled down in Toronto and established a gallery base, Ka-sing was still travelling back and forth, actively promoting and developing cultural exchanges between the two cities. His trips were multipurpose and multitasking. We were still pondering on the possibility of breathing new life into NNHD. That hope was realized in 2004. We had organized and contacted numerous artists from both cities (and beyond) to participate in the re-launch of the magazine. Employing the digital platform, DISLOCATION went virtual and became an e-zine, with an inaugural physical exhibition in Hong Kong, then Toronto, featuring over seventy artists' works, the DISLOCATION re-launch issue, numbered volume 14, was published as a PDF. Traditional publishing was no longer feasible. The way to move forward, charting new territories and traverse across borders urged us to adopt newer technology. This change was pivotal and made survival viable, a strategy all the more pronounced today. Basically self-taught, probing and seeking our way, we learned to be agile and adaptive on the digital highway.
The Third stage of NuNaHeDuo published as digital format: an ebook in PDF. Two issues were produced. It began with Volume 14, a re-launch issue published in Summer 2004, with photography by 79 artists. An inaugural exhibition of the entire collection of photographs was organized in Hong Kong and Toronto. (above) The front cover of Volume 14. (below) The third opening spread page showing an index of the 79 artists.