Norm Yip brought his art exhibit beyond skin to Untitled Space Gallery. Attendees were able to see his work and look at his 20 year journey. Attendees also were treated to the man himself Norm Yip guests being able to mingle and take pictures. I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Norm Yip to talk about his work.
Angel Alamo: What was the exhibit like in Bangkok?
Norm Yip: I was asked by RCB Gallery, or River City Bangkok to see if I was interested in showcasing my Asian male photography in their new gallery space. Quite honestly, the space took me entirely by surprise, which was more than 2,000 sq ft. My work certainly displayed inside the space really well, with twenty-eight photographs being shown in all. I think female nudity is fairly common in Thailand, so it was refreshing for visitors to see the male figure being showcased.
AA: What made you get into art and photography?
NY: I have always been interested in art and photography from a very early age. Much of my youth consisted of winning prizes in school and competitions, mostly in drawing and paintings of natural habitat. I learned how to use a camera and develop black and white photographs from my older brother. He taught me all the basics. We didn’t really get along much, but he was gracious enough to teach me. I owe much to him and his patience.
AA: What is your inspiration for behind the skin?
NY: The photographs for the exhibition was selected by curator and sponsor James Tong. Initially he asked me to select my absolute best photographs, but that amounted to me having over several hundred photographs. I needed someone to look and select the images objectively to make a cohesive story. My own story is less structured and more organic, and that would take a lot of image and story-telling to get the message across. James’ approach was tighter and from a different viewpoint.
NY: As for how I was inspired to take photographs of male nudes, it all began when I helped another photograph named Derek Lam do a book launch called Boynextdoor Hong Kong. I thought to myself I could do the same thing, but shoot the images in my own way.
AA: Will you be taken behind the skin to other cities?
NY: There are plans for the New York show to head to another city in North America, and the Bangkok show to go another Asian city, but things are still in discussion, so I can’t discuss much.
AA: What makes a good picture?
NY: That is a very difficult question, as it depends on what the image is aimed towards. A photograph meant for commercial means will have a different set of criteria as a portrait or fine art nude. I guess however, I can break it down to the following formalistic elements: light and shadow, tonality, symmetry/asymmetry, composition, line, texture, movement dynamics, expression, and colour. Most importantly for me though is the part that is more difficult to talk about, which has to do with mystery and transcendence. I think a good photograph is like a great musical composition, and can draw you into it’s world.
AA: What keep you motivated?
NY: I will be honest. I am not always motivated to create something new. It can be a struggle at times, since there is so much information being thrown at us on social media and events. There are countless other photographers that are taking up the genre of shooting Asian guys, and are much more successful at gaining Instagram fame than me. I know however I have my own way of approaching my craft and what I find beautiful and interesting. For that, no one else can be or do what I can. And I am deeply grateful for whatever opportunities come my way.
AA: Who influenced you growing up to be a photographer?
NY: My greatest influence stems from 2 vastly different areas of my life. Firstly, I think that growing up in the Saskatchewan prairies allowed me to connect with my environment. Every instance of beauty and awe was around us. The sky, rain, clouds, thunderstorms and contrasting weather conditions from deep freezing temperature to scorching hot summers gave me the necessary experiences as a young child to appreciate that life is about changes and cycles. I recall the aurora borealis, the freezing ice on the station wagon window while at the dive-in theatre. These memories are all embedded into my consciousness.
NY: Secondly, for a more direct answer, it would have to be the photographer Herb Ritts and his work with male and female celebrities. The simplicity of his work was something I admired greatly, where all the elements that I mentioned before come into play. He was a master in his own right.