Classic Glamour Photography: Pacific USA ’96 Calendar

Sung Hi Lee

Regular readers will know of my boredom with much of the current glamour photography emanating from the US, and as a semi-pro photographer myself (you can see my work at Sachiko McLean‘s site) I’m not just an armchair critic! So I thought it would be interesting and instructive to do a post about what I consider to be great glamour photography, and what I think makes it great glamour photography. And what better example to use than the photo that introduced many of us to the model who inspired the launch of Asian Sirens? I am of course talking about Sung Hi Lee, and her appearance on the cover of (and inside) Pacific USA‘s 1996 calendar.Although Sung Hi had already shot for Playboy by this time, it was her appearance in this calendar that really kick-started her modelling career. Of course you would expect good results from the combination of arguably the top Asian glamour model in the world with arguably the top Asian glamour model photographer in the world (Adam Yurman). But in this case I think the results are even greater than the sum of the parts, as Sung Hi was really in her prime and Adam had gained enough experience by this time to do great work, but still had enough time to make every shot the best he could do. But what exactly is it that makes this photo so great?

Of course every great photo starts with a great idea, and the bright, beautiful, yet simple backdrop of the poppy field certainly makes for a good start. However, Adam and his makeup artist (Anny Kim) really made the most of this in their choice of Sung Hi’s bikini. In fact, I think her bikini goes so well with the background that the result is better than if Sung Hi had been nude! Even the lines of the bikini are a perfect match for Sung Hi’s body and her pose in the photo. Indeed, the pose itself also makes the most of Sung Hi’s body.

Then there’s the attention to detail. For one thing, every hair on Sung Hi’s head seems to be perfectly placed to make the most of her pose – for example, her hair is swept back in the same direction as her stance. But the piece de resistance has to be the poppies in Sung Hi’s hands. This adds a certain delicacy to the photo, and simultaneously draws attention to Sung Hi while linking her with the background. Great stuff!

Adam got such great results with Sung Hi that she appeared no less than three times inside the calendar itself, and every photo is a winner. But for my money Sung Hi wasn’t the only standout in the calendar – he also got a couple of absolutely sensational shots with Hawaiian model Joy Nakagawa. Check this one out:

Joy Nakagawa

Isn’t that just beautiful? I really love the drama in this photo – Adam must have reeled off lots of shots to catch her hair blowing so perfectly (or he got very lucky)! Classic glamour photography at its very best. I always thought Joy was one of the most underrated Asian models of all time actually – look out for another post on her soon.

As alluded to above, photography at this level takes a lot of time and effort. And sadly, in the internet age this is usually no longer possible. Personally I’d prefer to join a site with a few thousand great photos rather than a site with a few hundred thousand mediocre ones. After all, how many pics can you look at anyway? But as comsumers have largely opted for quantity over quality, photographers have had to respond to this demand. So whereas before they would only have posted their best shots, they now have to post anything that’s just satisfactory.

Hence the monotony and lack of creativity in much of current US glamour photography (where most stuff for the internet is done). Even Adam is no more immune to this market reality than anyone else. And even worse, mediocre photographers are often able to get work just as easily as good or even great photographers, as mediocre work is all they are required to do. I don’t know about you, but I find this very sad and depressing. But until consumers start rewarding photographers for producing the best quality photos, I can’t see this changing any time soon.

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0 thoughts on “Classic Glamour Photography: Pacific USA ’96 Calendar”

  1. Lee….interesting post, thanks.

    Sung Hi Lee caught my eye in the mid-90’s (in Playboy) and she really caused me to take notice of the beauty of Asian women! I have only dated Asian women after that.

    BTW, does anyone know if Sung Hi reads Asian-Sirens on a regular basis?


  2. Lee, I hear what you are saying about too much quantity and not enough quality these days. I don’t like it either, but I understand it.

    Sad to say, but in the USA, MONEY IS KING. Everything here is marketed to produce maximum profit and usually with little regard for quality.

    Here is a parallel example. Look at all the mega pop-stars who have very little real singing talent these days. Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Beyonce.

    What these girls are really selling is their sexy outfits, dancing and flashy stage shows. The singing is a minor part of it.

    To me, a musical artist is someone with real musical talent that can perform a critically acclaimed show without all the flash.

    But the masses demand mediocrity and that is what they get.

    I really don’t see any solution because the % of people who will take the time and effort to demand excellence is very small compared to the number of mass consumers.

    But you know what…I don’t let it bother me because I know I can’t change it.

    Besides, sometimes it’s fun to be different from everyone else and seek out unique products and talents!

  3. Hi Northman, thanks for your comments! I have to say I do agree with you on your last point – appreciating ‘the finer things’ does allow one to feel somewhat ‘smug and superior’ these days! 😉

    And I agree it’s hard to see a solution, especially in the US. I guess one thing that really does sadden me though is that the internet used to be the place where people came to seek this sort of stuff out. It still is to some extent, but for the most part it is now as commercialised as anything else.

  4. Sung Hi Lee has always been one of my favorites, too. She’s so cute and natural looking. That’s what does it for me.

    My preference is still the southeast Asian ladies, particularly Thai ladies. A lot of that is due to a lower percentage of “modifications” – just more natural looking. But Sung Hi Lee has that quality too.

  5. Interestingly I’ve never thought of Sung Hi in this way – she’s certainly not fake, but not especially natural either. Joy’s a real natural though.

  6. Whatever the case maybe for me Sung Hi Lee is the epitome of Asian Beauty – I have followed her career for many years and a joy it has been also.

    Living in Asia I have the opportunity to view the natural beauties in their home habitat – so to speak – and she is still head and shoulders above the rest.

    Asian Sirens continues though to raise the bar on quality and it is nice to see that there is a place where beauty and not gynaegology is enjoyed and where there is a sensible and coherent debate on the merits of the beauties presented for our pleasure

  7. I have a Playboy special editon with a Sung Hi Lee photo in it, on which you can still see the scar of the breast-surgery! I guess they forgot to edit it in Photoshop.

    I could post it here, but it just doesn’t feel right to do that to the woman who all got this started many years ago…

  8. Ok, please forgive me Ms. Lee… The doc needs to see…

    Photo is from a Dutch Playboy special edition called: ‘de heftige zomer van 99’ (somethig like the real heavy summer of 99) There are three Sung Hi Lee photos in it. All by Gishino.

  9. dr lee, did you ever post a follow up regarding joy nakagawa as mentioned in your 10/29/05 article? i think she is beautiful, and am interested in your follow-up.

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