Reshaping Reality with Sean Lee-Davies of Awethentic Studios

After starting out his career in film at Columbia Pictures, London-born Sean Lee-Davies, moved with the company to Hong Kong to continue down the path toward professional photography. While, at first, he strayed into the editorial scene, with roles at Prestige and Hong Kong Tatler, Lee-Davies eventually found his way back to film through directing a documentary with National Geographic on youth living with cancer.

“I was shooting everything from travel stories to celebrities on the red carpet in Cannes,” says Lee-Davies on his former roles at these luxury-focused Hong Kong publications. “I started Awethentic Studio to deal with pressing topics–topics with more depth and soul to them.”

Thus far, Awethentic Studios has addressed such pressing topics as the ban of the ivory trade in Asia and single-use plastics through a mixed medium. From a photography series to augmented reality, Lee-Davies was able to use his former experiences and connections with celebrities to draw attention to these “pressing” issues and create real change.

“We have to care about what we want to change, so it’s all about engendering that message back to the wild, which we’ve lost by living in the city,” shares Lee-Davies.

Lee-Davies continued to increase his platform’s presence by launching Project C Change–creating a platform for the younger generation and audiences to connect with the issues that face us. Through visual and augmented reality, he’s hoping this will ignite the conversation and desire to lead fearless change for generations to come.

We caught up with Lee-Davies in Hong Kong, to learn more about his background, some of his current projects and how he’s using media to raise awareness around some of the most difficult conversations we face as consumers today.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of these experiences thus far?

Project C change. And within that, I have an endangered wildlife exhibition, LOVE IS WILD, a platform to raise awareness about the endangered wildlife trade. I leveraged this in Hong Kong to ban the ivory trade, to make a change. When someone comes up to you and they say, ‘I read your article’ or, ‘I watched your TV show and it really made me think about my life and stopped me from buying ivory,’ that’s when I feel like it’s the most rewarding. Also, traveling to some awesome places, some of the most remote locations, and seeing the most incredible wildlife is the flipside of seeing the poaching and the devastation of the poaching I witness going into this deep and complicated issue.

Can you briefly talk about how your current projects through Awethentic Studios and Project C Change?

As a reaction to working in the luxury lifestyle industry, I had the privilege of traveling to the best parts of the world. But on side trips, I would also venture into the wild and see the destruction away from the public–and living in China, I’ve witnessed the rapid deterioration of the waterways and increased air pollution in just a decade. So, I set up Project C partly out of guilt, but also, part of traveling further into these issues and saying that we can’t just carry on as normal.

My first project was on biodiesel. I did a road trip to Singapore to Siem Reap in Cambodia–a biodiesel-fuelled trip–we used recycled cooking oil by putting waste cooking oil into a converter then putting it into the car for an amazing journey. It was an eye opener for me as well because we throw away so much; we can use that trash but we don’t because the way that things are set up are incredibly inefficient.

It’s a very complex issue that I couldn’t tackle alone. So I started taking celebrities out to photograph them–it was the only way people in Asia would pay attention–to create a neighborhood of murals, exhibitions and tv shows documenting the plight of these animals in Africa. I just try to do every bit I can, it’s not perfect, and we still have a long way to go.

Do you have a plan for your next project?

It is going to be around plastics. We have a massive generational problem with the amount of plastics dumped into the oceans and the landscapes. It’s so depressing to me because it’s something that can’t really be contained; even if we all stop using plastic in Hong Kong, the problem is so vast. I was diving in the Solomon Islands, one of the most remote places on earth and yet there was plastic all over the beaches. We need a real game changer–to treat plastic as an energy source so people who collect it can actually burn it and use it as an alternative energy source. Unless you incentivize people to collect it, I don’t know how we’re going to tackle it. You also can’t overwhelm people with all the negative information. To try and tackle this problem, we’re launching a new certification platform called Awethentic Dining for sustainable F&B. Think of it as a ‘Michelin-style’ guide for ethical dining–helping restaurants reduce food waste, plastic usage and increasing vegan/vegetarian and healthy options. So many of the world’s health and environmental problems are because we eat irresponsibly, so I’m hoping this new certification program will be a step forward in rectifying this giant issue, at least here in HK.

Do you have a defining memory that stands out as your reason for focusing these platforms on the environment, conservation and sustainability?

I had the chance to work and meet environmentalists such as Jane Goodell, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, and Jill Robinson the founder of Animal Asia Foundation. These people have dedicated their lives for a cause and meeting them has really inspired me. And of course, living in Hong Kong, having seen the deterioration and degradation of the environment. The pollution here is horrific, it’s in front of our eyes, but we adapt to it because we very quickly forget what used to be normal and seeing that happen in Hong Kong over the past decade has really impacted me.

How have you found the use of media to leverage your movement and messages across environmentalism?

I think the media is aware of the issues and trying to do their bit but the problem is you can also saturate the message and over do it. In using virtual reality, it’s a new way of giving a person an immersive experience that they may not otherwise have, which is a powerful tool for this generation. There are a lot of great wildlife messages out there, like Planet Earth, but you watch it and think, wow the world is incredible. For me, we can’t do that in this day in age, we can’t just skim over the issues and cover that up. I’m not going to lie, it gets really depressing and this year I had to take a break.

What have you found to be the the most efficient way to spread your platforms and initiatives?

I’ve pretty much tried all the media forms so far, just not a feature film. So, I don’t know what is the most effective but the photo exhibition has been a great way to communicate the message–the way we put the VR and AR in it, you’re strengthening the message in a different medium.

What do you think is the smallest change, that will have the biggest impact on our global footprint?

I’m not a strict vegan, but I am a vegetarian and I do think that reducing our meat and dairy intake is the easiest, single most important thing that anyone can do. Plus, they’ve shown that meat and dairy intake are directly connected to cancer rates. I also think the big elephant in the room is population growth. We’re going to have many more problems feeding 10-15 billion people on this planet in the near future if we don’t tackle the problem of sustainable and responsible dining.


Photos courtesy of Shawn Kei

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