RHODY CHAN, LESLIE MONTGOMERY, SHAWN P. GRIFFIN: PLAYING IT STRAIGHT
by Polina Shubkina



© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin,  'Playing It Straight' series, Hong Kong, 2016

Could you please tell us about your background?

Shawn Griffin (SG): I am a photographer and creative consultant originally from St. Louis, Missouri, USA. About five years ago, I moved to Hong Kong to pursue my MFA in photography with the goal of either returning to the States or moving on to Japan after. Hong Kong hooked me pretty intensely, though, and I ended up falling in love with the city. I've held a variety of jobs since graduating ranging from Instagramming for a cat food company, to voice acting for a theme park, but mostly try to focus on my photography work.

Leslie Montgomery (LM): I am photographer and multimedia artist living and working in Hong Kong originally from Kansas, USA. I received my B.F.A at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and M.A. in Photography at Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong. I have been living overseas for most of my life and found picking up a camera and exploring was the best way to adjust to these new places. I mainly focus on photography but lately, I've been entering into video and podcasting.

Rhody Chan (RC): I am an artist based in Hong Kong, graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. I work across different mediums including photography, installation, film, etc. Currently working full-time in the fine art industry and continue exploring the possibilities of art and photography.


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin, 'Playing It Straight' series, HongKong, 2016


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin, 'Playing It Straight' series, HongKong, 2016

Rhody, how did you come up with a concept for 'Playing it straight' series? Can you tell us about this project in relation to your art practice?

RC: The project came to my mind as a project under the theme 'last day on earth' when I was in university. If I were to live my last day on earth, I'd choose to live the life of the opposite sexuality for a day. 'Carpe diem', why not try something new?

So I came up with the idea of a photographic series of 'staged' photographs, which I invite people who sexually identified themselves to be homosexual to act 'straight', putting on an outfit that is extremely feminine or masculine and act like they were dating the other model during the photo shoot. The idea then got further developed into our final collaborating series.


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin, 'Playing It Straight' series, Hong Kong, 2016


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin, 'Playing It Straight' series, Hong Kong, 2016


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin, 'Playing It Straight' series, HongKong, 2016


How did you decide to collaborate on this project?

We initially thought up of this project as a single entry in a photo book which was meant to represent our university's photography department. After hearing Rhody's idea, we all thought it was a fun and meaningful collaboration to tackle, and we ended up shooting a scene for it. About a year after we had moved on from university, Gay marriage was legalized in the US and sparked a lot of conversation around Hong Kong about how the city was ready for it. The biggest concern, however, was the older generation having a hard time seeing why it mattered. So, we contacted each other and decided to fully flesh out the project in hopes of making an impact on Hong Kong that this is a real and present issue in the region that needs to be addressed.


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin, 'Playing It Straight' series, Hong Kong, 2016


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin,  'Playing It Straight' series, Hong Kong, 2016


© Rhody Chan, Leslie Montgomery, Shawn P. Griffin,  'Playing It Straight' series, Hong Kong, 2016

How do you share the tasks as a creative collective?

We managed the workload based mostly on our strengths and interest points. Rhody is strong with thinking of creative and boundary-pushing concepts, so she managed much of the art direction. Leslie has a solid background in portrait photography and documentary work, so she captured the individual portraits and collected the statements. And Shawn has worked shooting environmental fashion and fine art photography, so he photographed the "date" scenes. We would meet up to discuss the final image selection and split up the editing among the three of us.

What did it mean to you to do this project in Hong Kong?

Given the current political climate of LGBT issues in Asia, and Hong Kong specifically, we felt it was incredibly important to utilize residents and relatable areas in Hong Kong. It was essential to the series that we only used Hong Kong residents as models and reflected a range of the city's population regarding personal and cultural backgrounds.

In a time when there is not a strong support from the Hong Kong government or many outspoken straight allies, we felt exclusively using Hong Kong residents as models was an absolute must for the message. This sends a strong message of understanding and progress from all sexual identities who call Hong Kong home, even if the media is not making their presence apparent.

© Rhody Chan, 'The Waltz',  2014


© Rhody Chan, 'The Walz' Installation, Hong Kong, June 2014


© Leslie Montgomery, 'Hair' series, Hong Kong, 2013


© Leslie Montgomery, 'Hair' series, Hong Kong, 2013
 

What’s something you think that many LGBT people from the HK expat community don’t understand about being gay in a local HK community?

RC: As a local, I think what the expat community doesn't see is the subtle discrimination and stereotypes in the local community. Just like the heterosexual majority, there are expectations to be 'gay'- inside and outside the local LGBT community, you'd be expected to dress and act in a certain way to fulfill your role as a part of the community. Examples would be a lesbian couple in Asian communities usually consists of a masculine-looking and a feminine-looking woman; the more masculine one would be expected to look for a feminine-looking partner and vice versa.


© Shawn P. Griffin, The White Collar Female, 'The Target Market' series, Hong Kong, 2014


© Shawn P. Griffin, 'The Target Market' series, HongKong, 2014

How do you envision “Playing it straight” impacting its viewers?

We are hoping to challenge viewers who may be unfamiliar with or nonchalant to the struggles of the LGBT community in Hong Kong. While we are expecting a more LGBT-heavy audience from work, the intent is to reach the straight population who are unaware of the negative impact ignoring or accepting the current perception of same-sex relationships in Hong Kong.

Do you know any other Hong Kong-based visual artists, whose work focuses on the LGBT issues?

Hong Kong has some LGBT artists, but few really tackle LGBT-related issues in their art. The majority of LGBT artists who exhibit in Hong Kong are based in other countries around Asia such as the late Ren Hang or Japanese photographer Yuki Mori. Probably the most obvious example of Hong Kong work reflecting LGBT issues is Wong Kar Wai's infamous "Happy Together" which approached gay relationships in 1997, a time when the issue was pretty much shunned worldwide, let alone in Hong Kong. The film went on to win Best Director at Cannes as well as being nominated for Palme d'Or in addition to its 14 other international awards and nominations. It makes us question how, if Wong Kar Wai was able to bring the topic such exposure in 1997, why have not other LGBT artists or filmmakers been able to bring the topic to light in 20 years.


© Polina Shubkina, 'Poison Grace & Co' series, Hong Kong, 2015


© Polina Shubkina, 'Poison Grace & Co' series, Hong Kong, 2015

Last month Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. In your opinion, how far is Hong Kong from passing this law? Do you think the HK's society is ready for it?

Regarding societally, yes. The younger generation of Hong Kongers has a much more open acceptance and understanding of LGBT persons and issues with the rise in travel and their exposure to other countries and cultures where acceptance is the norm. However, as the topic is still highly politicized in the mainland, it is unlikely that any legal traction will be made as it did in Taiwan.

About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general, what's next?

SG: My work right now has gone in a more internal and fashion focused direction. I'm trying to branch out into doing more shoots for brands and finding my place professionally, but my fine art work has started going more personal and how these experiences that I've had in travel and my private life shape and affect me as a narrative of an individual. I've been looking back on some of my past works, especially ones reflecting LGBT-related content, and am starting to piece together something fresh from my past fragmented ideas of concepts. It's gonna be an exciting few months!

LM: I try to maintain a good balance between my personal and commercial work. I find that my projects benefit from doing both. I have recently been doing more video work; in the future, I will be doing a series of short videos about designers in Asia - specifically based around the Pearl River Delta area. Photographically, I hope this new project will explore the lives and spaces of this group and lead to more collaborations with other artists in Hong Kong.

RC: I am currently working on photographic based collages that touch on the issue of sexuality.


© Polina Shubkina, 'Poison Grace & Co' Series, Hong Kong, 2015


© Polina Shubkina, 'Poison Grace & Co' Series, Hong Kong, 2015

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LINKS

Rhody Chan
Leslie Montgomery
Shawn P. Griffin 
urbanautica China