Self-portraits of two photographers

Holly Lee, self portrait, 2002
8x8 inches, archival pigment print


One very interesting topic in photography, for me, is self-portrait. In the past, Ka-sing and I had been invited several times to produce our own portraits. The two self-portraits published here was another attempt in 2002, featured in a group show organized by Gallery 44 in Toronto.

What do people expect to see in a self-portrait, especially one taken by the photographer himself, whose normal practice is just being an observer? Would he see only a mirror in front of him, his true “flipped” likeness, or would he work on a staged, preferred image to present to the viewer? That is a very interesting question. Sometimes, the photographer may decide to disappear altogether - hanging in limbo, or take the form of a piece of crumbed up newspaper. Could the fact be established then, if one leafs through pictures of self-portraits, he is looking simultaneously, through every taker’s mind and body?

In my 2002 self-portrait, I picked up a scene that’s been stuck in my head for many years. Sometime in 1975, I rented a room from a lady and became her housemate. Her husband was a sailor, and went often out to sea. My room was small, but it had a window which gave me the most extraordinary view - thousands of small wooden houses cascading down the foot of the hill. They were built by Chinese refugees who occupied the hill at the end of the 50s and subsequently transforming it into an empire of wooden huts. At night, I could always see millions of eyes laughing, and blinking at me. I used to put a formica square folding table (now considered retro…) in front of the window as my working desk. I loved working there, looking straight out of the window and getting lost in the magical forest of a thousand eyes. I even wrote a poem for the scene, saying that every night I was meeting a giant Christmas tree. So for the self-portrait here, I was trying to recreate this dramatic episode, only this time I wanted to look out to the cosmos, to meet and greet the twinkle twinkle little stars. Yet being in the city, in Trinity Bellwoods Park it’s hard to see any stars. Instead they winked and glittered in my imagination, and I could only hear leaves rustling in the gentle breeze.


Lee Ka-sing, self portrait, 2002
8x8 inches, archival pigment print

For the self-portrait, there is certain similarity to the way that I worked comparing to Ka-sing. We worked from memories. Around 2002, Ka-sing was working on an exhibition, a series he called ‘dot hong kong’, which he used the concept of re-photographing his old takes, to find new vision from originally existed images. Thus, for two years he continued to explore the idea through another exhibition, and realized the work in ‘The Language of ‘Fruits and Vegetable’, a collaboration piece with Leung Ping-kwan in 2004. In this way of working, I like to think, over the years the chef had prepared many delicious dishes, and finally gets time to sit down, to taste, and walk through from where he’d obtained the ingredients, in what way he’d cooked, while happily recall people and friends who had shared the experience. In this extremely slow tasting process, everything must have been delicately examined, and the undertaking, deeply satisfying. In Ka-sing’s self-portrait, my blur face was in the front. That also makes me aware that, I am never too far from the corners of his mind.

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