Sean Lee’s gamble in unconventional role-playing and dressing his family members up in superhero outfits pays off with his book of award-winning photographs.
By Christal Ong
As Martell Cordon Bleu held its centenary celebrations earlier this month on August 16 with the third edition of its prestigious ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu photography competition, one name made its mark on the local photography scene—Sean Lee.
The winner of ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2011, Lee, a commercial photographer and photography instructor, was in attendance to launch his debut photography book the parallel lives of Sean Lee.
The book is a collection of photographs which won him the prestigious award, shots of the legendary Martell House in Cognac, France, as well as his personal journey through France and Singapore. It retails at S$80 each from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, which is also the title’s publisher. All proceeds will go toward aiding financially-challenged students at NAFA.
the parallel lives of Sean Lee comprises two series of photographs. In the first series entitled “Method” where the colour red is used as a recurring theme to symbolise a transsexual’s life in Cambodia, Lee takes on the fantasy role of the transsexual Shauna who longs for acceptance and companionship in the red light district, even as he leads another life by day as Sean. The dramatic photography styles depict Shauna’s complex range of emotions. In the end, desperate for a breakthrough, she ultimately drowns herself as a sacrifice in one photograph.
“Homework”, on the other hand, is a monochromatic collection with an equally sombre feel but a more comedic touch. It stars Lee’s parents and his siblings in poses they would normally never be seen striking, some of which are complete with superhero garb. “It is heart-warming how photography can be a comedic device to showcase the people close to me,” says Lee.
Using his camera as a “healing device” and “comedic tool”, he persuaded his parents to touch and talk to each other as well as striking “crazy and silly poses”. As a result, his family has become closer. He writes in the corresponding pages, “Dad is less grumpy now.” In real life, his parents talk and laugh more with each other now.
The book reads not very differently from a story book, which has as many fictional components as it does autobiographical details.
“The process of putting the book together was a real joy because both these series of work took me about five years to complete, and to finally see them coming together in a book is a great feeling,” shares Lee. At the same time, it was difficult merging the two series. In the end, it was the hand-written text that brought consistency to the work as a whole.
Lee ends his book on a poignant note: “The reason I have always felt the need to create is because I was first created by an uncreated God.”