Wednesday, 9 May 2012

French May

So it was Hong Kong again after all. Had my parents followed their initial plans, we would be in Vietnam by now, maybe reaching Saigon. Had that happened, I would be in a totally different situation as well. But why think about 'what if'...?

I arrived in Hong Kong right for a Chic & Glamour evening organised by Johnnie To and the French embassy for the launching of the French May Cinema. Gilles invited me. The event was to start with the opening of an open-air exhibition by French photographer Jérôme Bonnet on the Avenue of the Stars, in Tsim Sha Tsui. Unfortunately, the weather decided to spoil the fun and after a fairly sunny day (though extremely hot and heavily humid) little drops of rain gave way to an authentic Asian storm. Hard to imagine an outdoor social event.
My friend Yatchi had decided to come and see me in Hong Kong for the occasion. Our previous meeting in Taipei was somehow overshadowed by the presence of his partner whose behaviour tended to leave no much focus on anyone but himself... I was extremely touched that a friend would make such an effort. Another dear friend of mine is soon to come to Taipei and stay with me for nearly three weeks... Bévinda!
Yatchi and I met the previous day. We both arrived in the afternoon, so I took him to some places I liked, to the small streets of the city, away from the glimmer and craziness of Central Hong Kong. We visited the Broadway Cinematheque which was finally completely open to the audience after long months of renovation. 
"I usually would come to Hong Kong only for day, on transit! So it's nice to walk the streets and feel the local flavour." Yatchi said. Now that he and his partner are settled in Cambodia, coming to Hong Kong is easy. But finding good reasons to visit is another thing.
I took Yatchi to the Chic & Glamour party at the Grand Hyatt. It was to take place after the Jérôme Bonnet exhibition. Unfortunately for the organisers, a lots of money had gone to the drain with the rain, the violent storm compelled everyone to look for shelter indoors, to Gilles' dismay. Johnnie To was busy shooting a film in Beijing, so his brother (and manager) replaced him as the guest of honour. I had no idea who among the guests was there. I heard the name of Maggie Cheung being mentioned, but didn't see her. The rain maybe??? But I didn't care. It was already quite amusing to observe this parade of egos. People from the Consulate, chairmen of sponsoring companies, local celebrities and socialites... Gilles skimmed the milk for me and introduced me to a selected few, one of them being a charming young man, Calvin Hui, the PR for the French May festival. A thirty-something Hong Konger who also owns a gallery and is the chairman of the Hong Kong Fine Arts Fair... Some would boast about their achievements, Calvin did not and was delightfully modest and friendly.
His partner, a jovial and witty man named Mark brought a bowl of fresh in this parade of egos. Chic & Glamour didn't seem to concern him, for he wore a plain shirt and jean's.
"An is a musician, singer, composer, photographer, model, porn star..." That's how Gilles would introduce me to people. I had mentioned my upcoming project with Norm Yip, and he embroidered the idea with his own wit and imagination.
"You always get people hooked when you mention porn." Gilles said.
Two days afterwards, I was invited at Calvin and Mark's for a Sunday British lunch. Mark cooked the whole meal. A wonder for our palate. Simple but tasty food. Prejudices against how bad British food do not apply to Mark's cooking! Their flat was located in Mid Level. An old white house (one of the few remains of the former British colonial times) on the winding road, surrounded by trees, with a perfect view on Central Hong Kong. The place was tastefully designed and decorated. Art everywhere on the wall.
A selected few were invited: among them a young gallery owner from South Africa and her handsome German boyfriend (a decade older, he met her when she was 13 and started his courtship a few years later. Now she is 23n fully in love with him and they make the most striking couple), a crazy lioness of a woman in a flashy pink suit. "You'll see quite a creature tomorrow. She's crazy!" Gilles had told me before she arrived. Nathalie Decoster... An artist and sculptress from Paris who was to have her exhibition in Hong Kong the next day. Gilles was wearing a colourful set, stripy shirt and green pants, a perfect match the lioness'.
The whole affair started a on a polite note, but got more and more lively as the guests got acquainted to the wines that were served during the meal.
Mark was sitting next to me, at the end of the table, presiding the course of the meal. He kept boasting about me to the point of embarrassment to Gilles' assistant for the French May. She had been designated the seat opposite me so I felt compelled to find strike a conversation with her. She wasn't interested in me beyond reason so I just kept it to the courteous minimum.
So when Mark started wondering about why I should be single and asked her (no, compelled her to say) whether she would date such a handsome man like me, I wished I could just beam myself to the opposite side of the island! (Can't you see, Mark? She just doesn't care!!!)
Such parties are enjoyable but very exhausting. People act all the time.

Lunch at Calvin and Mark's lasted longer than I thought - I heard the word brunch mentioned and assumed it would be buffet style, not a four course meal. I had made an appointment with Norm Yip so we could have a try out for his book The Asian Male. I felt nervous. Gilles knew about it and kept teasing me. When Mark heard, he naturally made it a big piece of news at the table. The other guests certainly didn't really know whether we were joking. Musician? Composer? Model? Nude???? I left the mystery hover and left.
Norm lived at the other end of the island. His was a studio in a warehouse. I felt immediately at ease. Industrial style. Loaded with books of photography. Far from the lush interior at Calvin and Mark's.
We didn't have much time. Barely more than one hour. Would I have time to warm up and feel comfortable? Norm decided not to go too far for the first sitting. Even though I had been training more regularly at the gym, I still felt inadequate. The other models had all such perfectly chiseled bodies, I still felt out of place.
"But your face is far more interesting. It tells lots of stories. And that's what I'm interested in." Norm said.
The last series of shots were better. I started to let down my guard and play with the few indications that Norm gave me.
Another session would have been necessary. But not for this time...
Now I'm curious to see the result of that first session.

Norm had a dinner appointment right after the shooting, but we met again later for a drink (I had forgotten my keys at his studio) and talked and talked...
"Plant eggs"... I shall not be afraid to expand my activities.

"So how was it?" Gilles asked me the next day, maybe expecting me to tell him anecdotes worthy of Andy Warhol's Factory.
"Very chaste for the first session. Anyway we didn't have enough time and the photographer didn't want to traumatise me!!!"
(A couple of days before, I had done a few shots of myself in preparation...)

I saw Gilles today around noon to talk about my upcoming first photo exhibition. We met at his office at the French consulate in WanChai. As he had told me, his office was loaded with art books, press clips, magazines and documents sent by artists for possible exhibitions or show in Hong Kong.
I had spent hours making a preselection of photographs.
"Don't choose your pictures according to a best-loved poll", Gilles had told me a few weeks ago. "Find your own theme, your own way of presenting them"
Between two phone calls and appointments with crazed partners and sponsors (the French May was just starting), he browsed through the dozens of photographs I had brought to him.
"I can see a few main threads in your work: the architectural lines and curves in urban landscapes, shots that verge on the abstract, the patches of colour in monochrome, and the parallel worlds/through the looking glass approach. You have to pick two, or maybe even just one of those themes. Don't be afraid to show less. It's always good to keep people wanting for more."
Precious advice.

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