Stay In Between

Leafy Yeh on how photography can be used to understand identity, culture and place 

American Home

Photography has many purposes. For Leafy Yeh, they make use of the camera as a means of exploring their identity. Born in China and currently based in LA, Leafy studied Media at The State University of New York and pursued roles as a designer and freelance photographer while working on their own art practice (not to mention the fact that they’ve recently joined Activision as a game capture artist). At the very beginning, Leafy centred their image-making on the more conceptual. Further down the line, however, and as they started to “grow”, Leafy began to steer more towards documentary, transfixed by its ability to “slow down and observe life more closely”. 

Applying this to practice, Leafy’s ongoing series Stay In Between encompasses their ethos as a photographer – and ultimately the reasons why they take pictures. It’s a long-term project that explores their traditional Chinese and Chinese American identity, having spent a decade in the US and constantly feeling adrift between these two cultures. Toeing the line between familiarity and disconnect, Leafy responds to feelings of unsettlement by taking pictures, using their lens to produce almost surrealist photography that channels their interests in heritage, place and the environment. Below, I chat to the photographer to find out more about the series. 

Chinese Takeout

What inspired you to start working on this project, what stories are you hoping to share?

This project comes from my experience as an immigrant. I live and work in the United States but China will always be my home. When I first came to America for college, I allowed myself to be very westernised so I could blend in. I started to loose a big part of myself and this has brought me a lot of pain. As I grow, I am embracing a unique space – where I am in between traditional Chinese culture and Chinese-American culture. My photos reflect the complexity of this journey through abstract forms in natural and urban settings. 

Having not been back to China for three years due to Covid-19, I’ve spent a lot of time at San Gabriel Valley and Chinatown to feel the familiarity again. Documenting these places evokes a lot of memories of my childhood, from ordinary objects to the architecture and language; they are reminiscent of China in the 80s. Based on my memories, I photograph this liminal space to imply concepts of continuity, isolation, transition and the overlapping of two cultures. This project is a way for me to navigate through them in search of a reconciliation of my inner juxtaposition: a home and a trip into normality. 

Courtyard

Can you share a few key moments from the series and explain their significance?

My favourite combinations are the bright red tree in the forest and the centre planter inside an office building in Chinatown, occupied by Chinese businesses. They’re the opposite of each other. One is so alive and outside, while one is trying to breath through the open air from inside. I love the connection and contrast between the two. 

Another two photos I really like are the long exposure of an airplane flying through electrical lines and the fan on fire. They share a sense of surreal-ness in reality. I photographed the fan when it was just lit so the original form is still showing. As the fan is burning away, the fire is opening up a gap. It’s reminiscent of the light beam slicing through the electrical lines and the sky over time. Both of the photos have a feeling of division – the power to break through space. 

Fan on Fire

How important is the environment and sustainability to your practice, is it something that you consider while making imagery? 

I try to keep a minimal impact on the environment when I am going into the nature. If I create something, I make sure it’s not harmful and very easy to remove. As I photograph more landscapes, the smaller I feel and the clearer I see the space inside. Environment and sustainability are more metaphorical elements in my practice – about finding balance in internal and external worlds. 

I think a good balance is finding a flow that overlaps the two worlds; I keep these themes in mind when I work on projects. But this could be a roadblock if I am overthinking. For a while, I didn’t know how to move forward, and I learned to let go and photograph with instinct. The action of photographing brings me inspiration later on when I see the connection to other photos in the series. I think if you are overthinking about the meanings, the photos lack flow. Overtime, as I go deeper into the project, some meanings change or I encounter other perspectives to talk about it differently. This is what I am still learning from this project. 

Cultural Publicity

What message do you hope to evoke from the work?

Most of my projects focus on looking inwards and finding a sense of home from within. The narrative of this project is a process of accepting and finding beauty where I am. I hope this project can speak to others that are like me – feeling in between things. When you can find a place inside, you can reflect that onto the outer world. There will be people telling you that you can only be one thing, but that’s very limiting. I hope you can find that space for you. 

What’s in the pipeline for you?

I am working on a story about a Shanghai hair salon located in a strip mall in San Gabriel. Strip malls are quite unique to American urban planning in my opinion, so it’s interesting to see how the Chinese community adapts the look of the architecture and turn that into a mixed style. I want to use this hair salon as a centre to document the people and surroundings as they look like they are stuck in time from when they immigrated. 

Lunch Break

Overtime

Self-Portrait

Water Pond

Oriente Italiano

Ginori 1735 fuses Italian craftsmanship with floral embellishments in its latest porcelain collection 

For over 280 years, Ginori 1735 has been at the forefront of Italian design and craftsmanship. A company rich in heritage, its design legacy is a lengthy and pronounced one; its name, for example, refers to the 18th century origins of the company when Marquis Carlo Andrea Ginori launched the Manifattura de Doccia in Doccia, which is located in the family estate nearby Florence. He opened a porcelain factory fuelled by his interests in white gold, which soon became an icon in its own right and the Ginori 1735 brand we know it as today.

A few years down the line and Ginori 1735 evolved with a modernised direction, still remaining true to its core values and essence as a brand. In the 20th century, Giò Ponti was named creative director and the manufacturing expanded through Europe, causing an artistic revolution and the development of new innovations. The Ginori 1735 tableware sets, for instance, made their debut in the 1950s and were celebrated for their elegant, minimalist aesthetic. Collaborations, too, played high importance in the 80s, with Italian designers such as Franco Albini, Franca Held, Antonio Piva, Sergio Asti and Achille Catiglioni breathing new life into the manufacturing. In 2013, Manifattura Ginori was acquired by Gucci and placed under the direction of Alessandro Michele, before being untrusted under the Kering Group and a team of designers formed by Alessandro. 

And now, with a plethora of table wear, decor and fragrances housed in its collections, Ginori 1735 has launched a new line, the Oriente Italiano. Blending floral embellishments with Italian craft, the pieces are distinctive in their own right – from tea sets to table objects. Annalisa Tani, brand and product designer at Ginori 1735, tells me more about the collection. 

This collection is a fusion of Italian and Far Eastern charm. What does this mean exactly, and how is this represented in the design?

The combination between exotic beauty and Italian style of the Oriente Italiano collection is represented by decoration, which is the result of a successful dialogue between different techniques and the traditional craftsmanship that distinguishes Ginori 1735.

Florals are a key feature running throughout the collection. Did you reference any existing materials – such as real life plants or photographs – when designing the patterns? Or are they drawn from your own imagination? 

The flower that characterises the decoration of Oriente Italiano is a stylised carnation, an iconic decoration of the Florentine majolica since the mid-1700s. The flower, reinterpreted by Gio Ponti, takes shape in a rapid stroke that reminds water colours in which the gradient dissolves in the background colour.

The colour palette is calmingly earthy, with mossy greens, blues and pinks. How did you decide on these specific tones, what do they evoke? 

The Oriente Italiano palette, composed by ten shades – azalea, iris, purple, periwinkle, cipria, vermilion, citrine, barium, malachite, albus – creates surprising and unexpected combinations. These soft and sensual colours express the charm of a journey in distant lands with a perfect chromatic balance.

Can you tell me a bit more about how the collection was made?

The Oriente Italiano collection is very complicated to produce and has many several steps. First of all, the colour is nebulised on the whole surface of the piece through the airbrush technique. This technique also enhances the shapes because the colour becomes more intense on the embossments, creating chiaroscuro effects. It’s a very elaborate technique because it’s very difficult to maintain the same and the homogeneous tone of colour on all pieces and in every production. 

Then, the colour is hand-applied with a precise direction to respect the plate’s supporting beams and make each piece perfectly the same to the other. Finally, the piece is hand-treated with “ritrovature”, tiny embellishments created by small brushstrokes, realised, for example, on the mug handles. Moreover, there are many firing processes with different temperatures depending on the colours created. 

Where do you see the collection being used? 

Oriente Italiano is a collection that suits perfectly in domestic environments as well as in hotel spaces thanks to its wide range of pieces that includes tableware and interior decor objects. The tableware proposal, thanks to its vast array of colours, creates a perfect mix and match allowing everyone to express their own creativity. 

How does this collection fit in with the brand’s rich history and design legacy – have you incorporated any characteristics or elements that nod to the past? 

All of our collections tell a story of excellence, savoir-faire, tradition and craftsmanship. Elements that have distinguished Ginori 1735 brand for over 280 years. The stylist signature of Oriente Italiano brings together craftsmanship, tradition as well as the artistic and the cultural values of the Manifattura. As one our best selling collections, Oriente Italiano allows us to export and make our heritage known all over the world.

How important is craftsmanship and traditional techniques to the making of this Ginori collection?

Craftsmanship and traditional techniques are very important for us. Tradition stands for the respect of a sense of continuity; it means transmitting. Through its tradition, Ginori 1735 creates products that express beauty, artisanship, design and style, typically made in Italy.

What’s next for Ginori?

In June, during the Milano Design Week, we will present a new home fragrance collection and two other exclusive collaborations with two well-known brands in fashion and design sectors. Furthermore, we will present the new fragrances of La Compagnia Di Caterina, the LCDC collection, created in collaboration with the designer Luca Nichetto. 

 

Bad Form: Caribbean Literature

In an excerpt from the literary magazine’s seventh issue, guest editor Mireille Cassandra Harper celebrates the Caribbean through stories, essays, reviews and poetry

Illustration by Tomekah George

I am a second-generation Jamaican. Despite my grandmother moving here in the 1960s, my mother remained in Jamaica, a ‘barrel child’ and spent her childhood in the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine, raised by her grandparents and later her aunt. She has often entertained me with stories of her childhood, visiting then-untouched beaches, fond memories of picking fresh mangoes, oranges and cashew fruit (often surreptitiously), the goats, chickens and other animals that her grandparents reared on their farm, and the joys of a rural and idyllic childhood. 

I grew up with an intense love and appreciation of my Jamaican heritage, that was always supported and nourished. Our home was filled with the sounds of Morgan Heritage, Richie Spice, Tarrus Riley and other music icons. From Lover’s Rock Sunday sessions and Vibes FM car journeys (those who are familiar will recall the hilarity of the incessant interruptions declaring that the station was ‘the wickedest in the whole world’) to late nights on holiday in southern Italy, where my parents would drive out to arid, empty locations in the middle of nowhere so we could enjoy open-air reggae concerts with the likes of Jah Mason, my mother and I belting out “My Princess Gone” without a care in the world. Storytelling and literature played a big part too. I was regaled by tales of Jamaican folklore, my favourite being the story of River Mumma, a mythical sea siren. A literary lover from a young age, my mother sought out books that put Caribbean literature front and centre. She travelled far and wide to buy me countless titles about the Caribbean, many of which I still own. My personal favourites, Kwame and Netta’s Story, came from Black River Books, an independent publisher that sought to revive the fullness of Caribbean heritage by telling beautiful stories of the lives of Caribbean children, putting them front and centre of stories, rather than on the sidelines. I was taken to meet my heroes, John Agard and Grace Nichols, and cherish the beloved signed copies I went away with to this day.

As I’ve grown older, more complexities around my heritage have come to light. In recent years, I have grappled with difficult conversations with my grandma – if you have ever tried to persuade your grandma, especially a 92-year-old Jamaican grandma, to consider a different way of thinking, you’ll know how challenging that can be. I’ve also attempted to reckon with the fact that my family is split across towns, states and countries – disjointed in more ways than one, and tried to reckon with intricate and at times, painful family histories and hidden secrets that inevitably have come to light as I grow older. At the same time, I have built deeper connections with family members, expanded my knowledge on my family history and heritage, and both listened and taken in the wisdom of my elders. Outside of my familial relationships, I am seeing what it means to be of the Caribbean diaspora, redefined through music, art and of course, literature.

When I came across Bad Form last year, I felt like I had finally found a literary space that encompassed the richness, vibrancy and sheer brilliance of Black, Asian and marginalised writers. Headed up by the phenomenal Amy Baxter (who will likely own her own publishing house one day, mark my words!) and the stellar team – Morgan, Sophie and Emma who are all immensely impressive in their own right – I found Bad Form’s active and dynamic approach to platforming Black, Asian and marginalised writers a breath of fresh air in what can often be a stagnant, elitist and if I am to speak frankly, institutionally racist industry. I knew instantly that I would love nothing more than to work on an issue celebrating Caribbean writers and so the idea for Issue 7 (my lucky number, what are the chances?) was born.

We picked June by chance, but writing now, this publication marks an important time for the Caribbean diaspora. As this issue lands in your hands, Caribbean American citizens are honouring their heritage during Caribbean American Heritage Month and the UK celebrates the 73rd anniversary of the Windrush generation coming to Britain. This feels, in this moment, like a literary ode to what is a month of both remembrance and celebration. A celebration of the Caribbean and all its greatness, this issue boasts 17 stellar writers who each share their stories, essays, reviews and poetry for your literary pleasure. From opinion pieces on Jamaican patois and revelations on queer and non-binary defiance in contemporary Caribbean poetry to literary essays on West Indian revolutionaries and narrative poetry that bring folktales and legends to life, each piece is a gem in its own right.

Like Amy, I’m not one for favourites – each of these contributions is equally brilliant – but some left me reeling after reading. Ashley Roach McFarlane’s spectacular piece on the historical development and exportation of homophobia to Jamaica and Desta Haile’s breathtaking poem, Blue Blood – an ode to her late sister and her childhood years spent in Barbados are two I would recommend you devour instantly.

This issue’s mesmerising cover comes from illustrator, Tomekah George, who creates colourful artworks which sit between collages and paintings. Her abstract design pays homage to the diversity of the Caribbean – across its peoples, cultures and landscapes – coupled with the connectedness of its persons. A huge thanks goes to Tomekah, who approached this with such care and love. 

Thanks also to Duppy Share who have kindly partially sponsored this issue. Many brands co-opt Caribbean culture without consideration for its people. It has been a pleasure to work with an organisation that appreciates the labour, effort and time that the team at Bad Form undertakes for each issue, respects how we choose to present our respective cultures and heritages and recognises the value in this work.

And, of course, thank you, Bad Form readers. Without your support, this issue wouldn’t exist. I hope reading this nourishes your spirit. It has been an honour to work on this, to encounter incredible writers, poets and essayists, and to work with such a brilliant team of brilliant women. May you cherish it as much as I have.

Mireille x

Bad Form is available to purchase here

Ornament is Crime: The White City of Tel Aviv

Laura Francis explores the distinctive International Style of Tel Aviv’s UNESCO-protected White City, reputed to be the only ‘Bauhaus city’ in the world

© Rik Moran

Tel Aviv is a city flushed with youth. Perched on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and barely a century old, it is renowned for it’s long beach, its nocturnal party scene, and its religious and sexual tolerance. When I visited for the first time this September, I was overwhelmed by the incongruously Western atmosphere of the city, its familiarity – more a sunny outpost of Barcelona or San Francisco than a gateway to the Holy Land.

Beit Ha’ir © Rik Moran

It’s a feeling that’s enhanced by the prominence of modernist, and distinctly European, architecture. Built in the International Style – a movement that emerged in central Europe and marked out by the striking use of straight lines and the colour white –  these buildings, which number more than 4,000, has led to UNESCO to designate the ‘White City’ of Tel Aviv a World Heritage Site. Declared as “a synthesis of outstanding significance of the various trends of the Modern movement in architecture and town planning in the early part of the 20th century,” today tours of the White City appear in every guidebook, and are more often than not marketed with the label ‘Bauhaus Style’.

A little context. The Staatliches Bauhaus art school was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919. Its atmosphere was international and avant-garde, its teachings espoused functionality, rationalism and socialism. It would be these ideals that would be expressed in International Style architecture, notably in the use of clean lines and the absence of ornamental ostentation, a rejection of the opulence and excess they perceived in contemporary trends. Soon after Hitler came to power in 1933 the school was targeted as a centre of intellectual communism and closed down. Four Jewish Palestinian graduates returned to Israel: Schlomo Bernstein, Munio Weinraub-Gitai, Shmuel Mestechkin and Aryeh Sharon.

The impact of Bauhaus on Tel Avivan architecture is critically undisputed: it is the first, and only, ‘Bauhaus city’ said to exist, yet the concept of a ‘Bauhaus Style’ is wilfully paradoxical. Bauhaus represents a school, a socialist ideology, a set of philosophical tenets: but not a style. Shmuel Mestechkin denied that such an architectural movement even existed. After leaving Germany, the four architects never formed a collective, or even worked together on the same project. The majority of International Style buildings in the city were designed by architects who trained elsewhere, including Russian born Dov Karmi who studied in Ghent. Yet, for various reasons, the name stuck and the Bauhaus stamp endowed Tel Aviv with a sense of design gravitas, an anchor of respect and legitimacy that belied the youth of the city.

Esther Cinema © Rik Moran

“Ornamentation is crime,” our guide would often say during our tour of the White City. It was an aphorism that, the more we heard it, began to sound like a manifesto, proclaiming an authentic manner of artistic expression. Simpler, more democratic, cleaner, whiter. 

The beginnings of Tel Aviv also feed into an ideologically seductive narrative. ‘Tel Aviv’, literally meaning ‘historic spring’, was the Hebrew title chosen for Theodor Herzl’s Zionist utopian novel Altneuland, published in 1902. Appropriately for a city named after a book, the official foundation of Tel Aviv was an event infused with poetic symbolism. A photograph surviving from 11th April 1909 depicts sixty-six predominantly Ashkenazi families gathered on the empty dunes outside Jaffa, casting a seashell lottery to designate neighbourhood housing plots. This neighbourhood would be named Ahuzat Bayit and represented, according to state legislation, the official foundation of Tel Aviv.

© Rik Moran

It is an appealing story, with a touch of the parable. The barren landscape, the drawing of lots, the idea of men of law, medicine and science turning the sand under their feet into cement and building themselves a city. The impact of the Bauhaus school on the city also appeals to a sense of artistic justice. The survival of the Jews and the Zionist ideal in the face of Nazi persecution could be made manifest in the physical presence of International Style buildings. It is unsurprising that this narrative was adopted with such zeal.

Yet Ahuzat Bayit was not quite the beginning of Tel Aviv. In 1887, Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighbourhood in the municipality of Jaffa, was founded by Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemeni Jews who originated, unlike the Eastern European Ashkenazi, from North Africa and the Middle East. In the post-war period this quarter fell into disrepair, but was revitalised in the 1980s by an extensive regeneration project. The jewel of the district today is the Suzanne Dellal Dance Centre, a charitable arts foundation set up by a British property developer. The area itself is gentrified and chic, lined with galleries and concept stores.

Shlomo Yafe house © Rik Moran

Other early neighbourhoods pre-dating Ahuzat Bayit included Neve Shalom, founded in 1890, and the Arab quarter of Manshieh, which sat alongside each other uneasily. These were joined by Kerem Hateimanin in 1904, where a bustling produce market was set up as a response to Jaffa Port’s refusal to accept Jewish goods. At Carmel market, which stands there today, I bought dates and za’atar – a tangy, quintessentially Middle Eastern spice blend common in both Palestinian and Israeli cuisine. In 1909, these fledgling neighbourhoods were appended to Ahuzat Bayit.

Meandering northwards from Carmel, I followed the oblique line of Allenby Street, a main thoroughfare first paved in 1914 that acted as a spine for the developing city. After the city was granted autonomous municipal status from Jaffa in 1921, waves of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and North Africa, as well as more local relocations from Jaffa, caused the population of Tel Aviv to skyrocket from 2,084 at the beginning of the decade to 42,000 at the end.

© Rik Moran

A few days before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I walked from northern Tel Aviv along the beach to Jaffa. The differences between Tel Aviv and Jaffa became more acute the closer we got to the ancient city, which dates from the Bronze Age, and was until the twentieth century a lively port. Its main export still bears its name, though Jaffa Oranges is now an Israeli corporation. The suburb has suffered significant urban deterioration, the dilapidated streets a repository for waste disposal: the antithesis of Tel Aviv with its lively brunch culture, tree-lined boulevards, efficient street recycling initiatives, and United Nations-enshrined architecture. The cleanest and best-maintained spot in the city is HaPisga Garden, which lies on the remains of the Old City. Not much remains of the old Palestinian capital, only crumbling sections of the old city walls and the al-Bahr mosque. Tourists crowd on the brow of the hill to admire the view northwards, along the beach, towards the White City.

What I had initially foreseen as a fairly straightforward essay about modernist architecture had grown thorny. When I spoke to Israeli architect and writer Sharon Rotbard, author of White City, Black City, a study of International Style architecture in Tel Aviv, the very whiteness of the White City seemed increasingly to convey an institutional blanking out of history. 

© Rik Moran

“International Style architecture was not limited to Tel Aviv,” he explains. “There were many examples constructed in Jaffa and Manshieh between the wars.” A recent exhibition and catalogue, Bauhaus in Jaffa: Modern Architecture in an Ancient City, commissioned by the Bauhaus Centre Tel Aviv, appears to be the only study of its kind attempting to piece together a picture of the vanished city. “Apart from that, as far as I know the subject has not been much explored.” 

In January 1948, members of Etzel – a Jewish paramilitary group – blew up the Seraya town hall, and with it the main archives of the people of Jaffa. A full-scale attack was launched on Jaffa on 25th April. The city was decimated by fighting, and surrendered on 13th May. The state of Israel was founded the next day. By the summer of 1948, Jaffa’s Arab population had plummeted from 100,000 to 4,000. Any professional or civilian records records remaining after the destruction of Seraya were pulped. Street names were changed from Arabic to Hebrew. The history of an entire civilian population was eviscerated.

Most of Jaffa’s International Style architecture was destroyed in 1948. The few structures that survived were not included in the conservation schemes protecting the International Style buildings in Tel Aviv. “Recently, the International Style British Post Office building, designed in the late 1920s by Jewish architect Yitzhak Rapoport, was demolished to make way for a block of luxury apartments,” Rotbard tells me. The Alhambra cinema, designed in 1937 by Lebanese architect Elias Al-Mor, is now a Scientology centre. Bar a few exceptions, the architects that operated in Jaffa are unknown, and no plans or documentation that recorded their buildings remains. As Rotbard points out: “There is no architectural record of Jaffa’s modern heritage.”

Esther Cinema © Rik Moran

Walking back along the beach to Tel Aviv I passed through the flattened remains of the Manshieh neighbourhood, razed to the ground between April and May 1948 by members of Etzel. The remaining ruins were cited a health and safety risk, and completely cleared in the 1960s. Only two original structures remain: the Hassan Bek mosque and, almost on the sand, the gutted remains of a Palestinian home. The three remaining walls have been appended with a glass box, echoing Walter Gropius’s original drawings for the Bauhaus school in Dessau. The building was converted into a museum in the early 1980s, dedicated to the Etzel members who fell during the ‘liberation’ of Jaffa. The museum makes no mention of the architect, builder or original inhabitant.

Though architecture has a longer lifespan longer than individual people, as a historical testimony it can easily be altered to fit the narrative of the victors. In the case of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, one of the world’s youngest cities had devoured one of its oldest. Architecture, like all art, is politics. Expressing the notion that the Palestinian situation is complex and fraught is to state the obvious, but when we speak about Israel and Palestine, we are frequently baffled, rendered mute by the sheer weight of history and injustices perpetrated on both sides, the accumulated scar tissue wrought in flesh and stone.

Photography Rik Moran.

Rik Moran’s work documenting the White City of Tel Aviv was published by Flâneurism in 2016. He has most recently launched two books also with Flâneurism, the first showing passersby at Trump Tower the day of the election, the second depicting the scene the day after.