Sunrise Illuminating the Lion Rock
Peculiar Proximity
Lion Behind the Wall
Above the Clouds
Junk and Lion
Bather in Lei Yue Mun
Doves In The Phoenix Tree
Youth Vibrancy
Glowing Pier
Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze
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Living the Lion Rock spirit

Twelve years ago, Frenchman Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze had a germ of an idea for the Lion Rock series. The first introduction came from his girlfriend, now wife, who told him about the mountain. Lion Rock was his first hike in Hong Kong, and the longer he stayed the more he realised the significance of this mountain to the people living in Hong Kong.

Visually it’s iconic, especially when seen from the point of view where it does look like a lion. Mona Chu provides background for the name. Writing in the book introduction that accompanies the Blue Lotus Gallery exhibition, the Lion Rock name rose to local prominence in 1973 when RTHK created Below the Lion Rock, a TV series about grassroots people living in Wang Tau Hom. She writes, “Then came the 2002 budget address. Chief Financial Secretary Anthony Leung quoted the lyrics from the theme song, urging Hong Kong people to ‘live the Lion Rock spirit’ and set aside differences in the face of a dire economic crisis.” The name has since stuck.

Inspiration for the photo project began in Japan. Romain was a design intern there before arriving in Hong Kong. While there, he saw an exhibition of the 1830s woodblock print series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai Katsushika. Hokusai’s prints made Mount Fuji an important part of Japanese identity. The global export of these inexpensive (at the time) prints became an icon of Japan to the world and influenced Impressionist painters including Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

As his idea matured, Romain recognised Lion Rock was like Mount Fuji, a landmark that represented both Hong Kong and its people, which sparked the idea that maybe this series could elevate Lion Rock to a status like Mount Fuji and become an icon of Hong Kong to the rest of the world.

But there was a compositional challenge. Hokusai’s art was not limited by reality. For example, he could position the mountain under a wave, impossible to do with a camera. Then five years ago, while in Brisbane, Australia he happened to see an exhibition by French logographer Henri Rivière. Inspired by Hokusai, he completed a 1902 series called Thirty-six views of the Tour Eiffel. Rivière’s prints emphasised that the Eiffel Tower was omnipresent within both the greater urban and suburban landscapes of Paris. The subject of one of Rivière’s prints was a tree with the Eiffel Tower far in the background. This composition prompted Romain to rethink his approach with a camera.

Junk and Lion is the polar opposite perspective of Above the Clouds and demonstrates that Romain is an acute observer of the city. Under his lens, the omnipresent lion has many faces. The rock peeps through gaps between high-rise buildings, oversees local neighbourhoods and casts its shadow on our famous harbour. It can be seen from the highest peak, from a low vantage point under a flyover, from a commuter bus or from a flat window.

Lion Rock also represents the spirit of Hong Kong. Time will tell if Romain’s series elevates the mountain to the iconic status of Mount Fuji or the Eiffel Tower. But it is certainly as ambitious as Hokusai’s and Rivière’s series. This exhibition provides a new perspective and a reminder that Hong Kong remains amazing for all who call it home.

Text Martin Wray / Photos Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze