Influences and Inspirations.

I have been asked many times what my influences are or whose work I admire. There are a lot, but the following list is a good start. Not all photography, of course.

Yugo Nakamura | Japanese web designer extraordinaire – when mathematics, code and art collide.  

David Lynch | Master Surrealist Film-maker. The World of Twin Peaks.

Lu Nan | China’s elusive documentary photographer.

Bruce Lee | The man, the art, the philosophy and the legacy.

Wisit Sasanatieng | Thai ‘new wave’ filmmaker I almost made a film with. His film Tears of the Black Tiger was the first Thai film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival. See also Citizen Dog.

Salvador Dali | The man who introduced me to the world of surrealism.

Park Chan Wook | Korean Filmmaker and his Vengeance Trilogy. That one-take fight scene (below) in Old Boy is a masterpiece alone.

Akira Kurosawa | A Japanese Legend. See this

Wong Kar Wai | Hong Kong Filmmaker. Almost everyone in Asia has been romanced by Wong and his color and mood at some point.

Shomei Tomatsu | The late great Japanese Photographer.

Masahisa Fukase | Japanese Photographer. For his tragic poetry.

Lu Chuan | China’s new voice in Films. See The Missing Gun, Kekexili and City of Life and Death (a B/W film about the Rape of Nanking. Trailer below)

Zhang Yimou | China Filmmaker for his earlier films. 

Joshua Oppenheimer | Filmmaker. For his macabre masterpiece Jagal / The Act of Killing.

Heroes and Legacies, Death and Mourning.

Lee Kuan Yew’s cortege passing The Parliament House of Singapore. Photograph © Kevin WY Lee.

Heroes and Legacies, Death and Mourning.

The photograph above shows Lee Kuan Yew’s cortege passing the Parliament House of Singapore on Sunday 29th March 2015. It was a gloomy, rainy day. Guards and officials lining the opposite pavement gazed and saluted. The policeman, head down, in his bright traffic greens was still and sombre. The drenched ‘silent majority’ consoled each other. Even the sky is crying, we will be silent no more they said.

The photograph below taken the night before at Hong Lim Park shows a tribute board with scribbled messages from the public. One of them read “Hero(e)s can die, but their legacy is immortal.” The board was cut, shaped and rendered like the dark silhouette of a faceless, mouthless man. An accidental portrait of the ‘silenced’ and a parody of anonymity and death itself.

I ponder the complexity of narratives, of his versus theirs, of heroes and legacies, and inevitably, the nature of death and mourning.

I can’t do much but not be blind. I hope at least he meets her. R.I.P.  

Public Notice Tribute board, Hong Lim Park. Photograph © Kevin WY Lee.

Exploring A New Chapter: Return of Hundred Daughters, and One

Return of Hundred Daughters, and One…

I had previously explored my personal history and my family’s diaspora through photography with my series Return of Hundred Daughters in 2012. The narrative traced the story of my father and our ancestral roots in a little village of rice farmers called Zhaolong Li in Kaiping, China. I made images of a rare family road trip from Singapore to China and also worked with archival images from family albums, weaving them into a seamless tale of departure and return.
Back in the day, a fortune teller told my grandparents that demon gods wished harm upon their first-born son. So when my father, the only son in the family, was born, they named him Pak Noi (Bǎi Nǚ / 百女) – Hundred Daughters – to fool the demon gods. Hence, the title for the series.

The images. I made a photobook dummy, and a few more.
Then I left them as they were, incomplete.

Making a photobook dummy

A photobook dummy, and a few more

Looking at images and editing with my father.

Family Album: Passport photos of my father and mother.

Return Of Hundred Daughters

So I’ve been in Singapore for around 18 years now. My parents are here too, as is an elder sister. We are all Singaporeans, in Singapore, on it’s 50th anniversary year as an independent country. The desire to explore personal histories still lingers, sometimes faint, other times fervent.

The day eventually came when I realised I had been neglecting one particular story, that of my mother, which now makes coincidence and almost strange sense. Ever since I was young, I remember my mother telling me that she was raised an orphan. Her father had left for greener pastures in Singapore in the thirties and disappeared soon after. Her mother had died from illness soon after when she was around 14. Her memories of her father are vague, if non-existent. It is believed that he worked in carpentry on a wharf in Singapore. During the first few years, he had sent money and letters back home. Then one day it stopped and no word nor sight have been seen or heard ever since. The disappearance coincides with Japan’s invasion and occupation of Singapore in the early 1940’s during the World War. It is firmly believed that he perished at the hands of the Japanese Military.

My mother has no images or memories of him, my maternal grandfather. His name was Luo Gen Ji, but she isn’t entirely sure. She resigned a long time ago.

I’m not quite sure what this all means, nor where it leads.

His name was Luo Gen Ji, but she isn’t entirely sure. I asked my father to write the name on a notebook.

Preliminary notes…

Bombing of Singapore (8th December 1941)

The bombing of Singapore was an attack on 8 December 1941 by seventeen G3M Nell bombers of Mihoro Air Group, Imperial Japanese Navy, flying from Thu Dau Mot in southern Indochina. The attack began at around 0430, shortly after Japanese forces landed on Kota Bharu, Malaya. It was the first knowledge the Singapore population had that war had broken out in the Far East.

The Battle of Singapore (8–15th February 1942)

The Battle of Singapore, also known as the Fall of Singapore, was fought in the South-East Asian theatre of the Second World War when the Empire of Japan invaded the Allied stronghold of Singapore. Singapore was the major British military base in South-East Asia and nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the East”. The fighting in Singapore lasted from 8–15 February 1942.

The Fall of Bukit Timah Hill and the Tragedy at Sleepy Valley (11th February 1942)

I was born exactly 31 years after The Fall of Bukit Timah Hill and the Tragedy at Sleepy Valley on 11th February 1942.

“By the time Gen.Yamashita’s army crossed into Singapore, he was critically short of supplies, fuel, ammunition and even food for his troops. His strategy was thus to conduct a tropical blitzkrieg – ‘hit them fast hit them hard’ – to capture Bukit Timah. It being the high point for observation also held the British ammunition, food and fuel depots which he coveted.
To raise morale of his troops, he set Feb 11 as the day to capture Bukit Timah Hill. The significance of Feb 11 was that it was the Japanese Kigensetsu, the day they celebrate the ascension of the 1st Emperor and the founding of the Japanese Empire. The task was assigned to competing 5th and 18th Divisions with untold glory going to the unit achieving the objective first.”

A dead civilian lying on the floor of a five-foot way along South Bridge Road, victim of the Japanese air attack on Singapore.

The picture above taken on South Bridge Road is very near to where I now work each day.

The Sook Ching (18 February to 4 March 1942)

The Sook Ching (simplified: 肃清; traditional: 肅清; pinyin: Sùqīng, meaning “purge through cleansing”) was a systematic extermination of perceived hostile elements among the Chinese in Singapore by the Japanese military during the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya, after the British colony surrendered on 15 February 1942 following the Battle of Singapore. The Sook Ching operation, which was overseen by the Kempeitai, was later extended to include the Chinese in Malaya as well. The massacre took place from 18 February to 4 March 1942 at various places in the region.

The Sook Ching was referred to as the Kakyōshukusei (華僑粛清), “purging of Chinese”) by the Japanese. The Japanese also referred to it as the Shingapōru Daikenshō (シンガポール大検証), literally “great inspection of Singapore”. Singapore’s National Heritage Board uses the term “Sook Ching” in its publications.

Preliminary Notes Sources: Wikipedia,

Aerial view: Having landed the night before along the Lim Chu Kang coast, by the afternoon of 9th Feb, Tengah Airfield was in the hands of the invading Japanese Imperial Army.

Civilians hiding in an air raid shelter at Tiong Bahru Estate during a Japanese bombing raid in December 1941.

13 Feb:  Smoke arising from bombardment of Singapore City Feb 1942 (photo Australian War Memorial)

15 February, 1942 The Surrender (photo Imperial War Museum London)

Using Format