We all need an inspirational story to spice up our boring lives.
You know, to liven things up, distract us from our mundane tasks every day, and maybe set our brains on ‘flight mode’.
And what better than Leslie Kee’s life story to do that job? I mean seriously, how do you go from being a factory worker to a photographer making $40k per day?
Just who is this person?
For Singaporeans, he might not be a familiar face. But believe me when I say that this Singaporean is the hot package in Japan.
Do not be fooled by this man’s carefree style. He’s someone that makes headlines in newspapers, as well as appear on TV, on a constant basis.
And I haven’t even included the fact that he’s one of the country’s leading photographers with who earns between $20,000 and $40,000 a day!
Over the last twenty years, he’s taken thousands of fashion spreads and covers for magazines stretching from Vogue to Elle, campaigns for monster brand names like Uniqlo and Anterprima, and a long line of celebrities including Lady Gaga, Beyonce, One Direction, Ayumi Hamasaki, Aaron Kwok and Faye Wong.
NHK, Japan’s largest broadcaster, even selected him as its official photographer and film director to record the four years leading up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020!
But like many other self-made billionaires and celebrities, Leslie Kee hasn’t always had it easy.
He was born to a bar hostess mother who had two children – him and his sis – out of wedlock with two men, and he’s never seen his father. He grew up in a gloomy one-room rental flat in Tiong Bahru and was raised mostly by his grandmother.
The Bukit Ho Swee East Primary School and Victoria School alumnus was a reserved and lonely child, and often got bullied and shunned by other children.
When he was 13, his mother gifted him a camera for his birthday – a Minolta X-700. Four months after that she passed away due to cancer. That was her first and last birthday present to him.
How did his decision to film in Japan start?
After his mother’s death, he began working part-time at a Japanese cassette factory – four hours on weekdays and eight hours on weekends to help pay the household expenses.
At the factory, he listened to Japanese pop music for the first time, and that was the beginning of what was going to be a very illustrious and glitzy career.
“There was a room in the factory with fashion and music magazines. I was also very fascinated by the Japanese people who worked in the factory. They were so punctual, so disciplined, so different,” Leslie told the Straits Times.
Paving his path
His grandmother passed away when he was 17, and he and his sister went to live with one of his aunts. By that point in time, he was already using his Minolta camera with great expertise, filming wedding shoots.
The camera, according to him, gave him a voice.
After his O levels, he enrolled in an engineering course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic but quitted school after a couple of months to work full-time at the Japanese tape factory before enlisting in the army.
In 1992, after the completion of his national service, he worked at another Japanese factory for five months – saving $3,200 in the process – before leaving for Tokyo.
After touching down in Japan, he started learning Japanese, while doing part-time work on the side to support himself. Once he had more money, he bought a new set of cameras and got into Tokyo’s Visual Art School to attain a diploma in Photography.
After graduating in 1997, he took more than a year to land his first shoot – a small project for a pretty unknown magazine. Once he got signed by an agent, however, bigger projects came. His big break materialized when Hong Kong magazine City hired him to film Japanese-Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro.
He did such a great job that Vogue Taiwan contacted his manager for a job.
Within two years, he clinched deals to shoot campaigns for the likes of Uniqlo and Shiseido. He was only 30.
Jed Root – then a leading global creative agency for the fashion industry – had him in their sights and wanted him to move to New York.
Leslie’s career skyrocketed, with campaigns for L’Oreal and Esprit, and shoots for those in fashion and entertainment, including Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Beyonce.
He made great leaps, and his name spread like wildfire.
But his heart remained in Asia. So, in 2007, he returned to the country where his career first set off.
Back to Japan
In 2013, he was put in jail for nudity regulations in Japan – he had published nude images and showcased them in public. That incident affected him, and his career. For nearly six months after, clients – for lack of a better word – shunned him. Yohji Yamamoto was the first to give him a ‘second’ chance, and others soon followed.
Today, his name is known not just in Japan, but all over the world!
“I have no car, no house, no children but I’m happy. I came from nothing and I’m not scared of losing anything. I’ve achieved quite a lot of what I wanted to achieve. I’ve made statements and I’ve inspired people.”
Are you inspired by his life story? He wasn’t born into the most well-off of families and didn’t have the best of traits to work with at the start. But he had an interest, and he stuck with it. Through sheer grit, determination and initiative, he made it happen.
What about you?
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Feature Image: straitstimes.com
This article was first published on goodyfeed.com
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