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Written by Maurice Lee 

Photography refers to creating a photograph—now, including an ‘instagram’ as well. Whatever it may be—it is always an image produced by the action of light on a light-sensitive material or device, with or without colour, but the only colour which remains is our memory. Without the memory of a photograph, we would not be able to remember how we loved yesterday.

Stardom is the capacity to translate artistic vision into reality. There is a popular and talented actor in Hong Kong who was raised in the film industry but then moved to develop equally well the stardom in taking photographs. He is Simon Yam(任達華), tall, fit and handsome, who often appeared in Hollywood movies.

I asked Simon, “You are gifted with the ability of acting and photography. Why did you choose to act only in the 1970s?” He laughed, “Thank God! Apart from the tragedy that my father died when I was small and the harshness that my family was very poor, I have been a lucky man. I humbly admit that when I was a young man in the 70s, I possessed all the advantages: a good body, a camera face and tertiary education. Trying to be a model and actor was the natural course when I wanted to be after quick money to help my mother in those years. Actually, my childhood interest and delight were more in the beautiful things which existed in the world: sky, mountains, rivers, flowers and even rocks or fossils. I drew and sketched. I, unluckily, got no money to take any proper painting class. In 1986, I bought my first expensive camera Minolta. I told myself, ‘Painting is a visual art but photography is one and the same expression of art through space, colour, line and shape. Photography is easier to learn although it takes something really special to become great. For me, I just desire to express myself through art and becoming great is not my next stage of concern.’ So, I started to take some satisfying photographs, with a couple of clicks and simple steps. That was how I undertook photography as my hobby instead of painting.”

I wondered, “Simon, how do you handle acting and photo shooting at the same time?” He smiled, “Whenever someone asked me to act, the joy of me being able to take pictures in a new environment would burn out my imminent fear of labouring. Acting could be a tough job especially when I worked outside Hong Kong and the location might be a jungle or desert. I would face a series of tough and tiring moments, which followed each other in an endless cycle. When pain did come near me, my happy salvation was to be able to capture, with my camera companion, the beauty of colours, lights and shapes through my photographic ventures in the new places which my actor’s career could take me to, in fact, as many as I wished. Because of my photographer’s dreams, leaving home and leaving the familiar in Hong Kong are not nightmarish anymore. I can say hello to beautiful scenery and people. Life becomes exciting all over again. My artistic journey consists not only in having new eyes, but of seeking refreshing photographic inspirations which will transform into my creative work.”

Simon took a break and continued, “If I go to a strange place on earth, I shall usually do 3 things: visiting art museums, purchasing some saucy postcards and searching for beautiful old walls which become brownie points in my lonely journey.”

I asked him, “What camera do you use now?” Simon said, “Mostly Canon. I also use iPad. I am learning ‘iPad painting’ which is a cool invention without the trouble of bringing with me drawing board or easel. I can share some with you.”

Simon piqued my interest. I asked, “Did you have frustrating experience about taking pictures?” He was funny, “When things were too beautiful and I did not know how to manipulate them into an expression of art, I felt very confused! For example, some geological formations near Mount Tai, Shandong Province(山東省泰山) are rich in fossils of fascinating shapes dating back to 500,000,000 years ago. The Five Flower Lake(五花海) of Jiuzhaigou(九寨溝) is a multi-coloured lake and its bottom is criss-crossed by ancient fallen tree trunks enriched by bold blue, delicate orange, electric purple and festive green colours. I stood there for a long time and could not figure out what was the best way to depict such wonders.”

I put my final question on the table, “What is the artistic difference of acting and photography?” Simon considered it seriously, “For acting, drama created me. For photography, I created drama. The drama of the former is human and the drama of the latter is visual. Acting is a collaborative exercise while photography is a lonely job. When I act, people capture my moments which I could repeat if they want me to act again. But when I take photos, I capture a moment of other people that can be gone forever and impossible to reproduce.”

Simon Yam is a unique and intriguing man in the film industry. Sometimes he is expressive and sometimes he is quiet. Sometimes he is reactive and sometimes he is shy. He is forever changing. His tender fickleness is a charming quality of a superstar. I always get the funny idea that Simon should record an artistic video selfie of himself—it must be riveting to see how he, under the dual roles of an actor and a photographer, behaves at the same time.


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