Creative Profile: Q&A with Alexandra Leese
by Olivia Cho | January 13, 2024
Born in Hong Kong and artistically trained in a British environment, Alexandra Leese influences the creative world of photography through her dynamic spirit composed of vibrant colours, the female corporeal elements and items of the natural realm. Through her collaborations with brands such as Marc Jacobs, Supreme, i-D and Calvin Klein, Leese presents her kaleidoscopic creativity both in the worlds of art and fashion.
My first interaction with Leese was through her work with the London fashion label ASAI. I was incredibly stunned by Leese’s use of vibrant colours, which created a beautiful harmony between the man-made garments and the rough terrains of nature. However, her self-published work, ‘Yumi and the Moon’, was the ultimate catalyst that ignited my genuine passion and interest in photography. Published in 2019 and still generating intensely high demand worldwide, ‘Yumi and the Moon’ captivates the viewer as Leese presents a delicate, dreamlike series. The folkloristic elements, namely the input from the Japanese tale of Kaguya-Hime (Princess Kaguya) and the output of Alex’s creative vision infused with femininity, blend with one another to produce an alluring, almost surrealist sequence.
In October, I came across an incredible opportunity to conduct an interview with Alex, where we discussed her current work, inspiration, future motives, and her most recent project – a feminine twist on the ‘Year of the Dragon’ Calendar.
What is the most important visual element you consider when producing your works?
“I believe every element is equally important to create something outstanding. When one element lets me down, it tends to let down the whole image, and the potential of what it could have been. Maybe that’s the perfectionist in me!”
I understood that your work ‘Yumi and the Moon’ is a re-imagination of the Japanese folktale, ‘Princess Kaguya’. It presents a refreshing visual twist on the story – which part of the folktale inspired you to create these photos?
“I fell in love with the story… I reimagined the story in a much more abstract way, using the symbolism and energy of Kaguya Hime. I liked how she was a strong and independent girl, full of mystery, divinity and beauty. Yumi is similar so I wanted to translate this through the pictures.
This project started with my obsession of the moon, and a fateful meeting with Yumi at a point in her life when she was experiencing a personal rebirth, It felt to me transitional both in mind and spirit as she started to gain a new perspective on life, having gone through significant experiences in her personal life.
We spoke about the moon and its powerful influence, and how it was often associated with rebirth and femininity, and found ourselves talking about the Japanese folktale of Kaguya Hime, The Moon Princess.”
Do you consider your photography as a visual ‘expression’ or visual ‘release’ of your voice?
“At this moment in time it feels more of a release. I find that it’s a cathartic experience, most of the time.”
When working through nudity, do you consider the body a medium to transmit your (Alex’s) creative message? or a vessel that stimulates one to think about their own creative freedom?
Lots of your works place a sharp focus on the raw beauty of the female body, often presented side-by-side with eye-catching florals. Could you explain the connection between the two?
“There is no denying our deep connection to nature, as well as the fact that flowers are often symbols of female sexuality. However I don’t over think how I present my images, I go mainly on instinct and marry images that speak to each other in some way.”
Do you take more inspiration from your Asian background or British education? How much of both (if either) come into play when creating your next project?
“Every aspect of someone’s upbringing informs how they see the world and in turn how they express themselves….So both my Asian and British background have played a vital role in shaping this.
For example had I not immigrated to the UK and stayed in Hong Kong, I would of maybe not experienced what it felt like to feel shame about my Asian background growing up in the same way as if I had stayed. This experience has driven me to untangle this personal experience by creating space within my work that celebrates Asian Culture and people.
Another example is that I got to experience different cultural perspectives from a young age. This lit a deep curiosity in me to discover where those ideas and ‘norms’ come from, and the fluidity of the so called truths we are told.”
There is a great sense of tranquility expressed in your works, even with your use of bright, eye-catching colours. What inspires you to emulate this sort of ‘quietness’ or ‘gentle’ atmosphere?
“I think it reflects a bit of my personality, I am drawn to quiet beauty.”
What does the term ‘oriental beauty’ mean for you as a creative? How does it shape your artistic narrative?
“Asia is full of beauty, and it’s a source of infinite inspiration for me!”
What connection did you see between female figures/female bodies and dragons? What made you lean towards these portraits?
“The Dragon has qualities that I associate with a lot of women in my life, they are powerful and tenacious, but also benevolent, empathetic and playful. I have always been interested in exploring themes around women’s sensuality and this is an evolution in some ways from my other work, it feels more sexy, and more direct. I wanted to push myself to not shy away from bolder expressions of sexuality, but it also needed to feel joyful, and freeing. The project is very much a celebration of culture, beauty, and the divine power of female sexuality.”
Compared to some of your previous works, the YOTD calendar seems to be filled more with softer, pastel, muted colour tones – could you perhaps explain your thought process behind the colour scheme of the calendar?
“Colour is an obsession for me, It’s always been an important aspect of my work. I am drawn to colours that feel rich, refined and not too garish. Blues and pinks tend to feature a lot in my work.”
What is your Zodiac Sign? Do you feel that it reflects your personality/character?
“I am a dragon, Yes I think it does. Dragons have a darkness and a lightness, they are kind, sensitive,, but also strong, and determined. I relate to these qualities personally.”
Hearing Alex’s thoughts allowed me to revisit and appreciate her works from a more refined perspective. Taking a second glance, I was able to notice that at the core of Alex’s works, there is a genuine sense of care towards her subjects. Every shot is crafted with a delicate sensitivity that permeates her raw subject matter, elevating her narrative on the artistic exploration of one’s body and identity.∎
Words by Olivia Cho. Images kindly provided by Alexandra Leese herself.