On the internet you can find everything and this is fascinating and also very weird. One day while I was looking through my paperwork and my inspirations online, try to guess who I found,with his contagious smile and happiness ? Benjamin Lee, the legendary photographer!
And he opened his heart and his world characterized by spontaneity,surrealism, pop-art,soul and his unique approach to life, for this special interview.
Alida: “Hello Benjamin! Can I do interview you?
I would like to begin this interview with a question relating the way to which we met : Facebook.
What do you think of regards these new media, as an artist, and what is your relationship with them?”
Benjamin Lee: “Having worked, as a advertising photographer, for 10 years in London, from 1977 to 1987, for most of the international Ad Agencies: Saatchi Saatchi, JW Thompson, Doyle Dane Bernbach and many others. So I’ve been involved in media world, quite a bit… Marshall McLuhan, once lectured us on The Global Village.”
Alida: “Do you think Social Networks are related to art? And if yes, what to do you think about art in Global Village?”
Benjamin Lee: “The comining of globalization. Well that’s what Facebook has become,a catalyst ,for this global village, connecting over a billion people. Myself, I find Facebook very useful for making connections with new friends, before visiting cities, on assignment. But I usually try meeting only one or two new people.It’s good for letting people know what you are doing, useful for arranging meetings, Facebook wall gives people an opportunity, to understand, what you do, who you are. Yes, in a way of course, Facebook and Social Media allows you to be in touch with new and familiar artist and galleries, museum and opening parties, private art gatherings.
Art in the internet age, there is so much, it can be mesmerizing/confusing, unless, you have a sense of what style/form of art you will pursue… Just imagine Man Ray, Picasso,Magritte… Living now…”
Alida: “Taking a look at your beautiful site I saw that one of your first work commissioned photos for Vogue was just for a classical pianist, the brilliant and talented Ivor Pogolerich.
What are your memories about that meeting?”
Benjamin Lee: “I photographed, Ivor Pogoreleich, about 1984, in his magnificent residence, behind the Royal Albert Hall. He was at the hight of his popularity, very precocious. If not a bit arrogant: he insisted to be stylized in Valentino, quote I must have Valentino it was a unusual triptych agreeable to him. He wasn’t sure what I was asking him to do, but when, he saw the final results, he loved it, well, he loved himself! Was a interesting way, to enter in Vogue. Have photographed, Issey Miyake, Haruki Murakami, Kawakubo Rei, Yohji Yamamoto, Sir David Tang and many others.
Alida: “Another pianist you’ve photographed is the great Ryuichi Sakamoto,who I’m a great admirer of. Do you have any memento of that meeting? Some particular anecdote?”
Benjamin Lee: “Ryuichi Sakamoto, I photographed formally two times. First time, privately, for my show at the Embassy Canada,using a 5×4 Plate Camera. Loved his music for Bernardo Bertolucci “The Last Emperor” wonderful film with John Lone and Peter O Toole. For which he recived an Academy Award. We became quite friendly, going drinking sometimes.
The second photography session, was for magazine “Pen”, for which I’ve just completed 100 potraits, in my signature, triptych style, four years later we photographed Ryuchi at the “Museum of Contemporary Art” in Tokyo, where he was involved in an interesting exhibition, where music meets art.
I was very fortunate to photograph him, with his elongated shadow on the wall. Originally curators said “There is not enough time for doing this”, but luckily, Ryuichi persuaded them and he was very happy with the final results and I’m looking forward meeting Sakamoto San again…”
Alida : “When you’re working, do you love listening to music? What is your relationship with music (classical) or in general with music?”
Benjamin Lee: “I do enjoy listening to my favourite music. Mostly theme music from movies, like “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” by Ennio Morricone. I enjoyed meeting him during his conducting in front of 800 VIPs in Civitavecchia in Italy, it was amazing. But generally, during a shoot on location, it’s so difficult to have music. You love present and it gives me a lift and create a relaxed atmosphere”
I can play for you some Chopin or Liszt. Ben send me and emoticons☺
Alida: “Your photographs are really something special, with a mixture of fashion, surrealism and pop art.
I’m really curious to ask you how it was taking pictures of the great artist Yayoi Kusama. I guess both of you work with an emotional feeling? I saw on Facebook the beautiful gift she gave to you!”
Benjamin Lee: “What a suerral question, You must have studied psychology… Photographed Yayoi Kusama, first time in 1993, Isamu Noguchi Plaza, “Sogetsu Hall/Center of Avant Garde Art” in Tokyo, led by the amazing film director/Ikebana master, Hiroshi Teshigahara. Do you know his surreal movie, “Woman of the Dunes”? Was a wonderful show, before she became globally famous, I followed her and did my show in the same space in 2002, nine years later. So, she inspired me, forward to 2012, magazine “Discover Japan” wants to do a whole magazine on Kusama’s art/life. Luckily I was chosen to cover her in 2012, the year when Luis Vuitton sponsored her shows in Madrid, Centre Pompidou (Paris), Tate Modern (London), Whitney (NYC) and launching Yayoi Kusama inspired Louis Vuitton in Nyc 10/11 2012. So we were everywhere that year, plus having photographed her 3 times in the Tokyo Studio.
Very soon her private museum be completed, just beside her studio/office building, looking forward to seeing this museum really soon. Having read her autobiography Infinity Nets. One has to admire her perseverance, against so many obstacles and at 84 year old, she is still creating her artistic universe. Hopefully my Yayoi Kusama Exhibition from 30 july to 6 september Galerie, “Eye of Gyre”, Omotesando, Tokyo will reflect, how we have influenced each other. Alida, you must come to Tokyo,then….”
Alida : “Of course Ben, with pleasure! You have worked and still work everywhere, we can say that you are a legend! But one thing that shines through is just your humility and your infectious smile, which broadcasts vitality and energy!
Looking at your profile on Facebook I was struck by your positive energy that shines through your smile. I think you are very spiritual,are you?”
Benjamin Lee: “Well, you could say, spiritual energy is perseverance!”
Alida:”What are the portraits of your career that are most important to you on an emotional level, which represented a special moment or that have changed your life?”
Benjamin Lee: “There are photographs from different periods of my life which were influential. When I was attending first year photographic arts course, street scenes and portraits. In particular a photograph of a ballet dancer.This took first prize in our school of 400 students. At this point, I realized my perception of some subjects was unique which encouraged me to develop my sense of perception. Later, when I arrived in Japan only knowing one person: Sir Hugh Casson, President of the “Royal Academy” of London. Sir Casson introduced me to Nobutaka Shikanai, founder of Fujisankei Communication Group a “Japanese Rupert Murdoch” . Nobutaka invited us to visit and stay at the “Hakone Open Air Musem”, which has the largest collection of sculptures by Henry Moore. I was commissioned to take a portrait of Henry Moore and that gave me a start in Japan. Once arriving Tokyo, I tried persistently to arrange portraits of Issey Miyake, Eiko Ishioka,Rei Kawakubo for two years unsuccessfully . Then, by a quirk of fate, British Vogue, commissioned me to photograph these personalities. After that they embraced me as a photographer, the movie director, Hiroshi Teshigahara, welcomed me into their circle .This was exceptional. Starting in Japan was a challenge but serendipity was on my side; “Lady Luck”. Concerning the “Elegant Humanity” exhibition and becoming good friends with Princess Hisako Takamado ( she gave me her personal message ” I have seen many photographs from Benjamin Lee and he sends us the message in regards to the importance of using our imagination and also encourages us to use our own imagination when appreciating art and his photography.Freedom of expression is what we all have and we can all express by using different art forms and media. However, to have the ability to fully express ones self by perfectly understanding ones own talent and utilising our own abilities like Benjamin, is what I call a true artist. There is something that appeals to our heart today when seeing his past art and appreciating his new images this time, there is still that same appeal that touches our heart”) Patron of “Canadian Embassy”, has become a wonderful memory.”
Alida: “Are you always travel around the world Ben! Born in China moved to Canada and now in Japan but anyway you are always “on the go”! In your travels what you take with you?
There are places in your heart that you’re particularly tied?”
Benjamin Lee: “When I travel I take a sense of optimism and prepare like hell making many arrangements and arrive, letting things happen as they will. Hopefully better than expected, infortunate to be reasonably well connected. But never,never, understimate Luck. It’s very precious!”
Alida: “I’ve heard about your wonderful exhibition at the Canadian Embassy entitled “Elegant Humanity”, what can you tell me about it?”
Benjamin Lee: “Well, hopefully ,those who visited if they were left with a impressionable view of how I see. I’m content!”
(Here the personal message from The Elegant Umanity to Benjamin Lee “There is something that appeals to our heart today when seeing his past art and appreciating his new art this time, there is still that same appeal that touches our heart”)
Alida: “Your fans will be curious to know in which project you’re working on now. Can you give me a «heads up»?”
Benjamin Lee: “My next and very challenging exhibition,from 30 July to 6 september at “Eye of Gyre Gallery Omotesando”, Tokyo. Portraits, Silkscreens , Insatllations, documentary photographs and portraying the artist Yayoi Kusama. Taking a lot of thought/imagination, whatever, it takes to reach the outer limits. I’ll let you imagine where that is! (HAHAHA!)”
Thank you Ben for this special moment that you shared with us! See you on the web!
In his long and brilliant career he has worked with:
Fashion magazines – Esquire, GQ, National Geographic, Valentino, Kateigaho, Jal (Winds), Ana (Wingspan), British Vogue, Spanish Vogue, Starwood Hotels, One & Only Resorts, Mandarin Oriental and much more
Advertising – McCann Erickson, Fuji Film, Kodak, Saatchi & Saatchi, JWT, DDB, Leo Burnett, CDP, Panasonic, Olympus, Heineken, Carlsberg, Toppan, Mazda and much more
Benjamin Lee website: http://www.benjamin-lee.jp
The New Exhibition ” The Universe of Yayoi Kusama” Photographed by Benjamin Lee
from 30 July to 6 September 2014
“Eye of Gyre”
Benjamin Lee covers her artistic work in Paris,London,NYC,Hong kong,Tokyo for LOUIS VUITTON
The Exibition about Yayoi Kusama
Insallations and silkscreens
If you visiting Tokio, don’t miss it!