photography that celebrates a full-spectrum of asian masculinity
Alexandra Leese is a half-Chinese, half-English photographer, looking to dismantle tired stereotypes of Asian men with her imagery.
Photography Alexandra Leese
Photographer Alexandra Leese was raised in Hong Kong until she was 11, before moving to London to study. As with many biracial Brits, on moving to England her identity soon became defined by a sense of othering from her classmates and a subsequent desire to just blend in. “When I was younger I wasn't aware of being ‘the other'. But as I got older, I realised people would describe me as ‘the girl from Hong Kong', so I adapted and quickly became very English. The older I got, the more I realise that was something I had done.” Studying fine art at Chelsea College of Art, Alexandra slowly gravitated towards photography. Now based in south London and spending her time shooting fashion and portraits, her imagery contemplates identity with a refreshing, unique candour; one undoubtedly afforded her in part by a dual-heritage.
Looking to celebrate this heritage and reconnect with home, Alexandra travelled to Hong Kong with the intention of thematically exploring what it means to be young, modern and Chinese. “I had reached a point in my career where I needed to do something that meant something personal to me. I wanted to explore my hometown and get back in touch with it, as I had disconnected from it being in London for such a long time. I wanted to explore what was going on at home and what the youth culture was up to. I wanted to reconnect with myself as a photographer and how I would express myself without anyone telling me what to do.”
The Boys of Hong Kong, the documentary series and zine that came out of this trip, specifically examines masculinity in China, and the wider depiction of Asian men in photography. “Very often Asian men are met with a lot of prejudice and are seen as less attractive and more effeminate -- whatever these stereotypes may be. I wanted to counter this and create something that celebrates a range of Asian masculine beauty. I wanted to show the world that these stereotypes are just stereotypes.”
Exploring the paradigms of masculinity as a female photographer, Alexandra was also eager to examine these themes without any preconceptions as to what modern masculinity must look like, or any rules it should adhere to. “The problem with the male gaze is that it comes from a heteronormative idea of masculinity. They create their own idea of what it means to be a man. When it comes from a female gaze, we might be showing men that there is something else they can be, rather than set ideals that have been seen in art through the ages.”
A wide-reaching look at generational changes that are taking places, Alexandra enjoyed seeing a shift in the attitude of young boys she met in Hong Kong. “There were these school boys -- we were hanging out, and they were hugging each other all the time and holding hands and putting arms around each other. I just assumed they were together, and when I found they had girlfriends they asked me the simple question, 'Why can girls be affectionate like this but boys can't?’ It's this kind of questioning that is happening, which wasn't happening before.”
The result is an expansive and in-depth look at ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Ahead of her exhibition at London’s Red Gallery on 15 March, take a look a closer look at The Boys of Hong Kong. The zine is available to pre-order here.
Photography Alexandra Leese
Video Director Luke Casey
Creative Direction Alexandra Leese and Luke Casey
Boys of Hong Kong Jackie and Kenneth
Grading Studio RM
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.