Norm Yip's Asian Male Photography

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Long-time gay activist and photographer Norm Yip is known in Hong Kong’s LGBT circles due to his provocative black-and-white nude works which put the sexuality of Asian men clearly in the frame. Hailing from Saskatchewan, Canada, the 49-year-old – who has lived in Hong Kong for almost two decades – was an architect before he decided to channel his creative energies into photography. And his images have caught the eyes of many photographic lovers as well as the gay community.

Yip’s first photo-book The Asian Male: 1.AM, which sported photos taken between 1999 and 2004, was well-received in the gay community. He continued with a second book, The Asian Male: 2.AM, in 2007, and started putting together exhibitions that raised money for charities like AIDS Concern and the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation. Yip launched the first issue of his Beaux Magazine in January, which is a quarterly that celebrates the Asian male form. He tells Time Out there aren’t enough flattering depictions of Asian men out there. And he wants to do something to change that.

Hi Norm! What have you been up to of late?
Well, my latest project is called Beaux Magazine. You can say it’s my baby. I want it to be a quarterly project that brings together artists who are interested in the Asian male form. I also want to refocus my energy on my own project – The Asian Male books. It’s been a number of years since the last one was released. I’m ready to come out with the third edition – The Asian Male: 3.AM.

What inspired you to focus on Asian male nude photography in your first book?
Actually, there are a few reasons. In 1999 I left my career in architecture and, along with several friends, we started this artist alliance called Meli-Melo. I began experimenting with photography and my friends and I put together art jamming sessions. One day a graphic designer named Derek Lam came by with his book, Boy Next Door: Hong Kong. It was a book that explored the masculinity of Hong Kong men through nude photography – and it actually sold. I thought ‘if he can do that – I think I can too’. When I think of the Asian men who have been explored in photography, it seems there are very few people going at it from the perspective I’m coming from. I don’t see it being done, so I’m the person to do it.

Do you think Asian men are underrepresented when it comes to sexual representation?
Asian men are underrated. I think, in Hong Kong, since it used to be a British colony, there is still this lingering kind of Western superiority complex which has put more of an emphasis on Caucasian men. Very few people have used their energy and captured the beauty of Asian men. There has been attention on Asian women but now it’s time to show that Asian men are just as attractive as, say, Caucasian men. I have a photographer friend in the USA who does male photography. For ages he shot mostly Caucasian men but then he started on Asian men. But his friends told him to stop and he was mortified because that’s totally racist. Funnily enough, he’s now moved to Asia.

What kind of feedback have you been getting?
I’ve talked to my guy friends who are straight and gay, and they see that my works give Asian men more confidence in seeing themselves as attractive and desirable. A lot of people, especially Asian men in North America, could never appreciate their own beauty because of poor media representation.

What are your goals now?
I have only touched the surface of the Asian male’s face and body. Most of the guys I’ve photographed are Chinese, so there is much more to explore all over Asia. You can say my work has an enormous layer of superficiality because I usually choose handsome guys with nice bodies. It’s the aesthetic that I like – but, hey, there’s a market for it and I think more people are realising this.

Beaux Magazine is priced at $160; beauxmagazine.com or check out normyip.com for more. 

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