Photographer Julian Lee

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Leslie Cheug in Happy Together

His new compilation of sexual and provocative imagery

Photographer, writer-director and City University professor Julian Lee has been a pioneer in photography in Hong Kong since the 80s for his bold and provocative imagery. He has what he calls a ‘gay sensibility,’ markedly evident in his latest book, Hong Kong/China Photographers Eight: Julian Lee. The photography tome highlights his work from the past 30 years in chronological order – where he’s shot models and A-list celebrities like Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung and Joey Wang (who graces the cover), and director Wong Kar-wai invited Lee over to Argentina to shoot Cheung while filming the iconic gay love story, Happy Together. The images and sensual, voyeuristic and usually in black and white.

The book, which was released in conjunction with his month-long exhibition Visionaire of Senses (now ended), has been a labour of love in more ways than one. Back in 2007, after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Lee ‘s photography career – and life – hung in the balance. But after rounds of chemotherapy and surgery he recovered enough and had enough strength to go back to work.

Lee is anything but shy and doesn’t hide from his sexuality – in fact he embraced it early on, earning him the title of gay activist in the LGBTI community. “I was astounded to be called that,” says Lee. “But I never separate my public and private life.”

Since his early days working as a photographer and editor for City Magazine, he has pushed boundaries, challenged social norms and promoted a Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, type of aesthetic which celebrates the highly sexualised male form. “Male sexuality was taking off at that time and thought I should start doing something about it,” he says.

“Julian uses the male form as his canvas,” says director of Fine Art Asia, Calvin Hui who wrote the preface of Lee’s exhibition. “As Michelangelo adorned the vast halls of Italy with sensuality created from perfect abdominal muscles, so too does Julian. Julian Lee, rebellious? No, just honest with his sexuality.”
Arthur Tam

Note: Julian passed away on Friday October 10. A month after his exhibition.

Hong Kong/China Photographers Eight: Julian Lee published by Asia One, priced $300.

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