Derek Li approached me with the idea of photographing him for the Asian male series. A passionate young man with a very strong, yet vulnerable mind of a person just starting to taste the intricacies of doing one’s own thing, which for him, is the world of dance. To go with one’s heart is always difficult; yet the inner, gut feel is right. He and I share the common feelings of not being good enough for our chosen field of interest. Kindly, he reminded me that we are like, if we are true artists — never quite satisfied with what we have accomplished, and that the past is only the past and what comes next must or should be better than what we have done before. I didn’t photograph Derek dancing, but of slow languid movements. The first image of him sitting, gazing afar, he didn’t like. I said to him ‘It’s a strong image’. It’s not you I’m photographing, it’s me’. He understood exactly what I meant as soon as I said that.
1. Where are you from Derek? Tell us something about yourself and your background.
I was born in Hong Kong. After graduating from university majoring in business administration, I was hired by a trading company but I found office work was not suitable to me. I decided to change my path completely and studied dance in an academy and now, I am a dance teacher and performer.
2. What kind of dance or music inspires you. Did you have any mentors in the industry?
I learned different kinds of dance including funky, jazz, hip hop, tap dance, theatre dance — all of this and it’s music inspires me. Pop songs from the west, musicals, and jazz music are my favorites. As for mentors, yes. At different stages of my career, I met different people that all influenced and motivated me to who I am today. I am lucky to have met them.
3. What is the most difficult thing about dancing and why did you choose it as a career?
I think the most difficult about dancing is you have to overcome your weaknesses both mentally and physically; hence a strong will is necessary to face challenges. Another reality has to do with age. It’s hard to keep up the strength dancers grow older. I chose it as career firstly because it’s my interest and my dream since I was small. I did not consider taking it as career until one day I really found my office job so boring and I could not tolerate in doing a job for 2/3 of my life time. So I must change and I chose my interest.
4. What is it like to be on stage? Do you become a different person?
Oh boy. Everytime I am on stage, I feel I am most honest to myself. I can express my true feeling and everything is just instant from heart. I can always feel I am “being in the moment” and instead of being a different person, I am closest to my true self.
5. The human body. Do you have any thoughts on it?
I guess it should be the most beautiful form among all creatures created by God. However, with more and more unnecessary stuff like plastic surgery are developed, seems it has violated the principle of natural beauty.
6. What was it like being photographed by me (Norm)? What was the experience like and would you do it all over again?
I think it was enjoyable and it was my first time to get nude in front of a photographer. The experience was memorable. I will always say I would like to do it all over again because I always think everything can always be better if I pose again in this way or that way, blah blah blah….but then that will be predicted and the shots may have no sparkle. So I should tell myself every shot must be the best and a unique one already at that moment it’s taken.
7. Do you feel that nudity is still a more taboo artform in Hong Kong? or that perhaps the naked body is associated with sex?
I think whether nudity is an artform or related to sex depend on how the model presents it and he or she is photographed. In general, Hong Kong people are getting more open and accept it as an artform , but maybe to a semi-nude level only. If the model is wholely nude, I guess the word ‘sex’ may inevitably appear on thier mind first, art always comes the second.
8. If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?
I would always want to have bigger bones in my body!
9. If you could give one piece of advice to a friend, what would it be?
Always follow your heart and do what you want. Life is short.