Director ······· Ricky Lam
Medium ········· Photo
Published ······ August 2019
Models ········· Calvin, Yassmin


“Cinderella” came at a particularly rough time in my life. I was already about two months into my job at the Department of State and I hadn’t done anything proactive in the creative field since about four months prior to that. The job hunt had taken its toll and I accepted the position on a whim, desperate to keep myself busy and not lull in the never-ending void of uncertainty and ghosting.

Unfortunately, being at the company wasn’t faring much better – it was in a completely different field I studied and the abrupt switch to corporate life battered me profusely. Some days I wish I wasn’t so stubborn with my preference on a “lively” work experience and I applaud others who are satisfied with conditions like this. Thinking about my time at an agency in New York versus being two stories underground with no phone service to keep myself busy made me constantly begrudge how ideal my past life was.

I guess because of that, “Cinderella” was my response to the pure rage and frustration I felt. I yearned for some semblance of my old life back and my creative block was preventing me from being inspired by others around me. Instead I climbed inward and tried to find any source of inspiration to delve off of. Part of me feels as if this, along with the other photo series, was me yelling into the void that I was enough and deserved better than the conditions I was currently in. In a way, “A Fantasy Based on Reality” was really my only source and affirmation to continue moving forward.

Delving deep into my sad song library, “Cinderella” by Mac Miller always was a bright spot amidst the ache and pain. While not entirely sad, the melody frames it as bittersweet and melancholic.

“I yell your name sinner, rebel. Never gonna find anybody better.”

My take on the story of Cinderella was about a girl who was constantly mistreated by how unfair life could be, but when she’s given one chance at freedom, she was seen and found her happily ever after. It’s a classic fairy tale that I wanted to twist and transform the blonde princess into someone else who’s typically glossed over – the Asian male.

“I didn’t hate everything about myself, it was only the little elements. I hated how my voice wasn’t deep enough compared to other guys. I hated that I was shorter than others. I hated that I didn’t enjoy sports compared to everyone else. I hated how I would check if my nails were too long, making it seem like I was flexing a fresh pedi. I hated the way I stood and spoke that made me seem sassy. I had a stutter so the only way I felt I could speak normally was evidently through the tone that made everything seem questionable. I wasn’t fit compared to most guys. It was only a few things.”

Based on my experience, I felt that there’s always this weird characterization that Asian men are deemed as “less than.” If you aren’t built like a “Kevin Nguyen,” you’re automatically deemed as “less of a man.” The one who is complicit and not taken seriously in any aspect. You are there to affirm and comply – being taught that minding your own business would get you far in life. In the beginning, I always felt at odds with what others taught me vs. how I acted on my own. I definitely exerted more emotion compared to most guys and I don’t think it ever really became apparent until I was called out for it. 

I think my issues with masculinity stemmed from the bullying I received near the end of elementary school. The moment that probably set it off was when I was asked if I was straight or curvy. Having little to no knowledge of what that meant, I said curvy only because I liked Arby’s curly fries. My friend group soon dissipated after that and the “f-word” slur was being thrown around. I’ve been fragile ever since, constantly being hyper-aware of how I acted around others and if that was the right image to be setting.

There was one time back in middle school when I was asked about my sexuality just on the basis that I usually stand with my right leg bent slightly with my foot out towards a 45-degree angle. I remember being caught off-guard that it was some indicator over me being “different” from everyone else. It’s those weird microaggressions that I look back on and realized how fucked up it was that there’s some standard we need to uphold so we can properly define ourselves as whatever we identify with. Combine that with being Asian and it feels like everyone is against you. I thought to myself, “Can there be some moments when people do not feel the need to simplify something so nuanced and complex into a generic label? Can people recognize that maybe there’s more to everything being black or white?”

In truth, I always knew that achieving any level of masculinity society yearns for wasn’t going to make me happy. Besides my sadness and tendency to be self-volatile, I liked my life the way it was. There wasn’t anything I wanted to change at that point. I was never involved romantically - I still don’t know if my busy academic and work life was just an excuse to ignore that I never really had feelings for anyone or if I was sexually attracted to just one gender. I knew I liked girls, but I didn’t have a reason to shut off guys either. I hated the idea that just because I complimented another dude that it would automatically make me gay. The concepts of masculinity needed to die and all I desired was to be the person to follow my own path.

To counter this, the entirety of the “A Fantasy Based on Reality” series was about what-if’s that were grounded in problems I or others around me faced. I wanted to tell a story about a man who was in touch with his feelings, not caring about where he stood on the masculinity scale, searching for his happy ending. So I decided to showcase a romance where the Asian male was the lead and he found his person that finally saw him for who he was.

Given my lack of a budget and resources, casting immediately went to people I knew. Luckily, months without content made my friend group yearn for more photo projects. After discussing my motivations behind this project, they were immediately in and wanted to portray this to the best of their ability. My closest friends were thankfully already in a relationship so finding the chemistry wasn’t too hard. I wanted to take a different approach from my usual portraits and instead wanted to illicit as much of “a day in the life” style photography as possible. My photos deserve to mean more than just purely looking nice – this was a glimpse into something entirely real. There were moments where Calvin and Yassmin just played off of each other like they normally would and me or any of my friends around that day would just be behind the camera like, “Shit this is real love... but can we go now?” It was that level of uncomfortableness that wasn’t necesarily bad – we were just caught off guard by how genuine it all was.

Looking back at the project now, it makes me happy how much this project turned out. I don’t know how much the message got through to people, but maybe that’s why I’m explaining it here. It was the first time I really took a photo shoot seriously. From making the initial brief, deciding locations and casting, getting schedules in order – I felt like my very own director who wanted to show the world what I was made of. Sometimes I take for granted how much trust my friends put in me and it means a lot that they’re so willing to sacrifice some of their time to ensure that I’m making the most out of myself. As far as masculinity goes, I hope at a certain point, men will learn that internalizing feelings isn’t the way to go. We’re all our own Cinderella – and I pray that everyone else has found their Prince Charming who see them for everything that they are.