(Norm Yip:) Ricky, No, 1 and 2 – When photographing the human body, I tend to use a strong contrast between light and shadows tempered by very soft lighting and diffusers. In shooting Rick, we started out with a full set of clothes for him to wear, and progressively moved to the point where he was nude. A proficient contemporary dancer and performer, Rick improvised a set of moves from which I found these two images to be the most poetic, balanced and symmetrical. For a more severe look, I opted to reduce the contrast between Rick’s body and the stark white background by making his already fair skin whiter. In the course of my experimentation, I finally ended up with the images you see here.
Reclining Cyrus, No. 9 – Nearly 2 hours of shooting has already transpired before reaching to this particular stage. Cyrus’ fear and inhibitions seemed to completely subside, allowing him to freely express himself to me and the camera. Covering the sofa with a large sheet of cloth, I decided light him by bouncing a strobe off from the ceiling. I did not provide Cyrus with any posing instructions or what to project for me; it came from him. Spontaneity. Looking into the viewfinder and on eventually on the monitor, I could only be in awe over the sheer beauty of form, color and expression.
BAP Blog. When you show your work what kind of responses do you get?
NY: It really depends on who I am showing the work to. For the most part, people seem to really like the photography, in particular the gays that are into Asians. However most men that like the photographs do so because they are interested in the guys, and not necessarily the photography. This usually disappointed me because they don”t see the enormous amount of effort I took to find these guys, to photograph, edit and post production work to get the photograph to the level that you see on the website. Some have criticized that my photography is pornographic, which it isn’t to me. What I do find is that women who appreciate my work will see the photography from an artistic perspective, which is always gratifying. We usually see the same things for what the photograph is trying to express.
BAP Blog. While appreciative of the art, Ifound your work from the political angle. How often is your art political how often is it explicitly political?
NY: I never looked at my photography from a political standpoint; it was always based purely on aesthetics. Yet the photography touched the political side when I tried to sell my book in Singapore. All books must go through the Media Development Authority before it allowed for sale in the city. My first book The Asian Male – 1.AM was banned indirectly. They said I could sell the book in any low profile bookstore and I was not allowed to promote the book through any of the major media. They never indicated why. A friend who worked in the government told me it was because there were certain images in the book that contained two men embracing one another. It was not because of the nudity.
It does not seem necessary for me to be explicit or literal in my photography. It is inferred just by the subject matter. I don’t need to have a photograph of two men holding hands and kissing to express the acceptance of gay relationship and marriage. I don’t feel the need to spell it out in my work. The photography is not violent or in your face, nor is it about sex, although it may be sexual or sexy. The photography is testament to the acceptance and proliferation of Asian men as attractive and beautiful by their own right. And I was lucky to find that beauty when I came to Hong Kong. I feel that my photography introduces the idea that both masculinity and femininity are acceptable trait in the male physique and psyche. Men can be vulnerable, gentle, and intuitive. While the rest of Asian (and North America) is playing the macho Asian male with the bulging muscles, I am bringing about the sexual and emotional male to the audience, and elevating it to an art-form without it looking artificial and glossed over.
BAP Blog: Let’s change gears , You’re living in Hong Kong but you’re from Canada? What was that like as far as dating goes? We don’t hear enough of the Canadian narrative, so really thanks for sharing.
NY:In Canada, I was very lucky and fortunate to have met someone whom I was in love for four years. It was very special — from the time we first met and until the day we parted. Apart from that particular person, I was very lonely and rarely did I have guys date me. It was primarily because I was Asian. If being gay wasn’t enough to be socially stigmatized; being a gay Asian put you in the lower ranks still. That all changed when I moved to Hong Kong. Although I was not particularly attracted to Asians myself, it seemed that the Hong Kong guys were attracted to me, and slowly, I developed and found them to be too. It was sort of a revelation. Suddenly, I was getting dates. To me, I found it exceedingly easy to meet other guys, both Westerners and locals. Along with this newfound acceptance, I also came to realize how heavily guarded I was while living back in Canada. I felt for the first time completely at ease with being gay and Asian.
BAP Blog: Thanks Norm!