Credits to wincci@AHS and iloveayu.com for sharing scans!
Music by Leslie Kee
The chance meeting between the song princess who believes in the “power of music” and the photographer who believes in the “power of photos”, and their tracks since “3/11”
On 23 July 2011 at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, the concert 「ayumi hamasaki ~POWER of MUSIC~ 2011 A」 opened. With more than 30,000 audience waving their pink penlights and cheering, the curtains rose to reveal a round centre stage, on which stood Hamasaki Ayumi, belting out 「forgiveness」 to the elegant sounds of classical instrumentation. Dressed in a pale pink ruffled dress studded with rhinestones, she sang as she conducted the orchestra, recalling the image of a divine Goddess from Greek myth. And in the audience seat in the arena, photographer Leslie Kee followed the song princess on stage through the lens of his camera.
The first photoshoot Leslie did with ayu was for the jacket cover of 「Daybreak」 single, released in 2002. When the photoshoot ended, the two learned that the destination that ayu would be travelling to the next day for the MTV Awards was also Leslie’s home country, Singapore. Chatting animatedly about gourmet yatai spots and other things, the two subsequently worked together on other shoots, such as album jacket covers, tour live documentaries, as well as visuals for Japanese and Asian magazines, and their friendship strengthened. In 2006, in aid of charity for the victims of the Sumatran Earthquake and Tsunami, Leslie started a campaign to photograph 300 famous people from Asia for collation into a photobook named 「Super Stars」. At that time, ayu also took part as one of the models, and her attention to details, completion and professional attitude touched Leslie.
Right after the Eastern Japan Earthquake disaster on 11 March 2011, ayu took advantage of the fact that she had over 500,000 followers across the country to help disseminate information about the disaster, evacuation centres, volunteer events and mental health care tips, continuing to provide useful notices to the affected areas. At the same time, Leslie was visiting in Ishinomaki City and Onnagawa Town in Miyagi Prefecture for a photoshoot when the earthquake struck, and he was at a loss for words after witnessing the situation. Immediatedly, Leslie sent a tweet to ayu, “Will you take part again in a charity project I’m undertaking to support the areas affected by this disaster?”. ayu sent off an instant reply through Twitter, saying OK, and many fans also expressed support for this project.
Leslie’s passion to help the affected areas touched the heart of Stephan La Faye, the CEO of Tiffany & Company Japan Inc, and the company offered their support by publishing the charity photobook. Its title is 「LOVE&HOPE」, a collection of the portraits of 200 celebrities from 32 countries, all taken when Leslie was working in NY. The only celebrity who had her photo taken at that time was ayu, who graced the cover of the book. The photoshoot took place on 30 April at Makuhari Messe, where ayu was holding tour rehearsals. The Arena Tour this year was also postponed because of the disaster, and everything from the costumes, stage, setlist, to the concert goods were all reconsidered and redesigned. The concert title was also changed, from 「HOTEL Love songs」 featuring the album released end of last year, to 「POWER of MUSIC」. The tour logo was drawn by ayu herself, and the message of 「LOVE」 and 「HOPE」 miraculously coincided with the photobook’s title.
In the short 15 minutes given to do the photoshoot, the two’s bonds as artists gave birth to the best shot possible. On 27 May, the 「LOVE&HOPE」 photo exhibition opened at Space-O in Omotesando Hills. ayu took time off from her busy tour schedule to attend the opening reception, generating plenty of media buzz. The photobook was sold out on the internet the next day, and about 15 million yen was successfully collected for the affected regions.
During the ending scene of 「ayumi hamasaki ~POWER of MUSIC~ 2011 A」, a video showing photos of the hands of international fans reaching up to the sky was shown on the large screens. The inspiration for the video came from the lyrics of 「Daybreak」, the first work created by Leslie and ayu. And then, ayu performed finale song 「a song is born」, which was the message she had dedicated to the 「LOVE&HOPE」 photobook. Listening to this, Leslie was extremely touched and filled with emotion.
Following that was a whole series of collaborations between the 2 artists who thought as 1, and Hamasaki Ayumi’s new mini-album, released on 31 August, had Leslie working on the jacket photo and 2 PVs. In response to ayu’s question about his idea for the cover’s image, Leslie raised his hand, showing the number 「5」. For this mini-album, ayu had written 5 songs. The DVD contained 5 PVs and 5 making-of videos. 「5」 is also Leslie’s lucky number, standing for the idea of “destiny”. Furthermore, Leslie wished for everyone to use their “5 senses” to feel and understand the photo, and with ayu’s approval, the album was titled 「FIVE」.
Hoshino Yasuhiko, the composer of famous song 「A Song for xx」, also composed the much-anticipated ballad 「beloved」, a PV which Leslie undertook. The theme for the PV is “priceless love”. Children from all nationalities and a Goddess-like ayu at a beach, holding their hands up to the sky, creating the idea of a waking dream that shows these 2 artists’ wish to bring smiles to everyone in the world. On the other hand, the mysterious and impressionistic 「BRILLANTE」 takes on the image from movie 「Cleopatra」, starring Elizabeth Taylor. In the midst of more than 50 macho men made up of models and mixed martial-arts fighters, ayu dressed as Cleopatra leads the impressive parade in this dramatic PV.
Right after 3/11, the 2 artists continued to tweet on a casual basis, and having discovered similar interests, they worked together again in a collaboration. The song princess who believes in the “power of music” and the Singapore-born photographer who believes in the “power of photos” got over their nationality and language differences, using themselves to prove that when sorrow is born, so is “love and hope”.
“I can’t reach out without singing. For me, I have that song.” Hamasaki Ayumi
Behind The Scene 01 / July 18, 2011 @ IINO Hiroo Studio
For this issue, we have Hamasaki Ayumi adorning the cover. During the photshoot, we took the chance to get a cover story from her, starting with her tweeting activity right after the 11 March Eastern Japan Earthquake disaster. Due to their mutual feelings towards the disaster-stricken regions, ayu and Leslie started exchanging short messages on Twitter, leading to the creation of charity photobook 「LOVE&HOPE」. After 5 years, they finally meet again.
The photoshoot session with Leslie and ayu is going at an amazingly speedy pace. Pairing Viktor & Rolf’s fall/winter collection with her signature rock-styled accessories, ayu stands in front of the camera. Leslie’s eyes reflect respect for this song princess who represents Japan, as he captures fleeting expressions and poses on film. In this one cut, the two artists chat with us spiritedly (Leslie talking over his camera’s finder). Full of artistic vigour, as if giving a live performance, the two carry out the photoshoot, creating the best visuals as this interview is being conducted.
Hamasaki-san, what charm do Leslie Kee’s photos hold for you?
ayu: Leslie will not take photos of things which he has no love for. At least, that’s what I think. He will never take photos just out of obligation, or for any motive. When he takes a photo, it’s because, at that moment, he truly loves his subject. (scan is cut off) That is what is most attractive about Leslie’s photos for me.
Leslie: The ayu that I photograph gives me a feeling of scale and aura. And a strength to produce everything herself.
ayu: Furthermore, Leslie doesn’t just love his subjects, he loves the photos he takes as well. There are photographers who take vague shots, then do trimming work on the photos later, but Leslie definitely doesn’t do that. He instinctively knows things like “this shot will only work with this person in these clothes from this angle”. Because he maintains this mood throughout the photoshoot, photos aren’t just taken during that one moment, he takes photos of the subject before and after each shot as well…… It’s sort of like he’s taking a video. Oh, when the photoshoot starts later, he’ll be moving around lots. He is the only person I know who runs around so much while taking photos. (laugh)
It’s been a long time since you’ve last worked together. Do you both feel that the other has changed?
Leslie: For 5 years, starting in 2002, I’ve been with ayu almost every single day, having a hand in almost all of her photoshoots. It’s an honour, to have influenced one of Hamasaki Ayumi’s eras, and it’s one of my lasting inheritances. The photobook 「LOVE&HOPE」 has 2 different covers. One features a photo I took of long-haired ayu some years back, and that symbolizes “hope”. The other features the first photo of short-haired ayu after her marriage, and that is a symbol for “love”.
ayu: It’s been 4 years since the time we used to work together lots, and we were both 4 years younger than we are now, I wonder if our works then were edgy. Looking at the photos Leslie has taken this time, they are still edgy, but I also feel a sense of deep gentleness and love. I’ve written about this in my lyrics too, about becoming gentler after being hurt…… All the work he does now really inspires a feeling of respect.
Are there meanings behind the costumes Hamasaki-san wears on stage?
ayu: (scan is cut off) …even outside of my job, I usually link the clothes I wear to music. For example, when it comes to a concert, I have to decide on the setlist first, or else I can’t decide on the costumes. When I’ve decided on which songs in which arrangement to sing, and with what kind of sets and props, the colour and shape of the costumes will slowly form in my mind.
Even when I’m doing recordings, if it’s a rock song, I definitely won’t wear a frilly dress when I’m recording it. When I’m writing lyrics, if a rockish melody comes to mind, I’ll start dressing in a rockish fashion too. That’s why, even the clothes I wear normally are chosen to fit with whatever song is playing in my head.
How does the tour this time help us to believe in the “power of music”?
ayu: Initially, the tour was planned around the title 「HOTEL Love songs」. The stage sets, lighting effects, and most of the costumes had already been prepared, and it was supposed to be a flashy, highly entertaining concert. And then, the disaster happened, and I realized that “this is not what I want to say right now”…… What our society needs is not entertainment, but something more earnest. Then, I was painfully aware of my inability to do anything, and my mind was just a blank.
Leslie: Me too. When I was visiting the affected regions, I thought about the significance of me being there, taking photos. In the end, I had to believe in the “power of photos”.
ayu: After I calmed down a little, I managed to get all my staff together and tell them how I felt. Even without magnificent sets and costumes, I can still sing. For dancers, they have a body to dance with. Band members can still play their instruments. Everyone just wants to do what they can. We’re all alone, but if we can put all our talents together and perform the best we can, people may get courage and energy from that. Even though singing is the only thing I can do, I still have my songs. When I thought about that, a new show gradually came to mind. My energy started to flow, and that was the “power of music”. (scan is cut off)