Born in Macau and living in Taipei, Puzzleman Leung approached photography during his years in high school, after his father bought him a digital camera. Dreaming about Tokyo since he was a kid, the city and the Japanese culture are still one of his biggest inspirations. This love drove him to the never-ending megalopolis several times and allowed him to work on projects such as Tokyo Tokymeki and Tokyotokkyokyokakyoku. It could be said that Puzzleman Leung’s series are always in between freedom and the unusual; he is always in search of the accident and as he mentioned, he is actually “learning to make the accident happen”. We had the opportunity to interview him and discover more about his uncommon creative mind.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Why ‘Puzzleman Leung’?
I was born and raised in Macau until I finished high school. After that I went to Taiwan to study, and now I have been living here for more than eight years. I have been using Puzzleman as my nickname since the MSN period, and Leung is my surname (but not the real surname on my passport). I called myself Puzzleman in high school because I wanted to have a name with mystery and unique. Since then I am confused with life and the universe. Life is full of puzzles, so I keep the name to keep questioning my life.
How and when did your interest for photography start?
My dad gave me a digital camera when I was in high school, and I started to take photos of my school life. Then, in university, I studied the masters – Richard Avedon, Araki Nobuyoshi, Helmut Newton, etc. The lecturer just kept playing documentaries about them. They still amaze me. Since then, I’ve kept taking pictures and reading more and more about photography and arts. This is how my story began.
The work that you have done is quite wide. You have documentary photographs, personal projects and fashion editorials. What do you like to photograph the most? And what does each type of photography offer you in terms of sending different messages?
Actually I like each type of photography as long as I have enough space to create my own images. The most important thing to my photography is freedom – no matter what kind, I don't set any boundaries to it, I just want to finish my own pictures. To me, photography is not only sending messages to the audience but also touching them. I am more interested in what kind of feeling will they get when I show my works. Surely, I have a goal when I plan my shootings, but it does not matter when the work is finished.
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Looking through your photographs, there is always an aspect that could be defined as surreal. I would like to know what artists influence and inspire your work, and if there is any inspiration coming from the Surrealist movement.
When I first learned art history, Surrealism was one of my favourite movements; I was so attracted to it. To be honest, what I know about Surrealism are just few artists: Man Ray, Salvador Dali and René Magritte. Besides that, I don't know much more. However, I think the seeds of surrealism grew in my heart the first time I learned about it. Until now, Guy Bourdin is the artist who inspires me the most, his works give me energy every time I look at them – the colours, the poses of the models, the mystery. Nonetheless, there are many other artists who inspire me every day: Steph Wilson, Viviane Sassen, Coco Capitan or Tyrone Lebon, to name a few. Yet my great inspiration is from daily life and something abnormal.
All your work looks extremely precise and detailed. There are lot of little objects around the space. In some photographs there are bananas, steamers, shoes, etc. Is there any meaning or symbolism behind them? How do you choose these elements?
Some have symbolism while some others don’t. I am always thinking about how could I use objects incorrectly by ignoring their original function. I think I can get inspiration by looking at them. I love to make objects become symbols in my photos but sometimes I just use them. Taking pictures with them is like when I played with toys during my childhood, sometimes you have a clear direction and sometimes you just have some fantasy. I choose my objects by their colour or appearance or function, there is not a specific rule as long as they inspire me.
Composition in your photography is very important. How do you decide the poses of the models? Is it an imagery that you first create in your mind? I would like to know how does your process work.
Sometimes I have ideas in mind, but I am usually unsatisfied when the result is the same as the idea I had planned. I am always looking for accidents to happen. The majority of the works I am most satisfied with are always accompanied by casualty; the poses of the models, the lighting, the setup, etc. Now I am still learning to make the unexpected happen. Undoubtedly, I also take photos of my daily life, which is a good habit for me to keep my sensitivity.
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Who are the subjects in your photographs?
You can see the same girl in Tokyo Tokymeki and in some other of my recent works. Her name is Bee. She is the strange girl I am looking for to match my pictures. She can be weird and soft, and also has some ideas to make the work more fun. We always get inspiration from the strange things we make with each other. On the other hand, she helps me a lot with my projects. Bee is my good companion.
Actually, your work Tokyo Tokymeki is one of my favourites. Can you tell us something more about it?
There are many fantasies about Japan in my mind because I watched cartoons and played video games when I was a child. I kept daydreaming that I was floating among the streets and buildings in search of the cartoons’ characters. Travelling to Japan was always a dream when I was kid. Now I know a bit more about Tokyo and the country. It is a kind of love that gives me the power to create my works, plus I always get inspired when I am there. Last year I finished a series with some friends (stylist, make-up artist and models) in Tokyo called Tokyotokkyokyokakyoku. That was a wonderful experience; I was in love with the city. I promised myself to visit it at least once a year. That is why I came to Tokyo with my girlfriend again in March this year. We had been planning to accomplish a project during the trip, but we didn't have a stylist or a make-up artist this time, so I think this one is different from the other we did last year. We (specially she) know some things about Tokyo and the Japanese culture, so we prepared some props for the project. We got inspiration from the Internet, mangas or places we were eager to go. You can see many different bright colours in the project, which is one of my favourite elements about Japan. Tokyo Tokymeki is just one of my projects about the Nippon capital or Japan; this place will be a big subject in the upcoming years.
Nevertheless, you currently live in Taipei. How much has the city influenced and keep influencing your work?
I have been living here for more than eight years. The city influenced me in a good and a bad way equally. Actually Taipei is not a photogenic city, though there are many unique cultures that you have to find by yourself, and I took years to get used to it. There are many good artists in Taiwan in different genres, music, painting, fashion design, etc. Most of them could be successful as long as they leave Taiwan because it is not easy to find the good audiences here. Also, the weather in Taipei is terrible for photographers.
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