Photography Reviews

Hello! How are you? — A Photo Exhibition by So Hing Keung

If I am to be completely honest, writing has been with my life even more so than photography. Since I remember I kept a diary close to me and it’s been something that I make sure I do every morning til this day. There’s always been this little voice inside my head that says I should write more but also not really knowing what it is that I should write. So I started and I stopped. I wrote a bit of this and that, and then I stopped again. This cycle repeated endlessly. The creative resistance is huge. Not good enough writing. Not good enough topic. Not interesting enough. Not genuine enough. Etcetera etcetera. I have struggles to make myself sit and sift through my thoughts to come to something that I feel is “presentable”. But maybe that’s the very idea that is blocking me. 

I once read a letter of Vincent Van Gough to his brother, Theo, from October 2 1884, he wrote,

“You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerises some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”

So this whispering voice is coming back to me again. And this time I’m determined to break this spell of “you can’t” and just write. Like Picasso would say, “you have to start painting to know what you want to paint.” A blank page is a scary thing to a writer, it is different to photography where one picks something from the world and frame it. One has to clearly organise their thoughts so to articulate exactly what they want to communicate. So here I am again, starring at this blank page and my fingers started to type, and then holding the delete button and retype again. Something beautiful came about from this act of back and forth, and then words start to imprint themselves onto this blank page forming sentences and paragraphs. Maybe all I really needed to get pass was the very first 15 minutes of panic, and just let myself sit through this uncomfortable space of the unknown. 

© Lumenvism, from the series ‘Hello! How Are You?’; Source @ JCCAC Happenings

Yesterday I went to the exhibition opening “Hello! How are you? — A Photo Exhibition by So Hing Keung” at Lumenvisum Hong Kong. I noticed that usually art reviews or exhibitions go-to articles are mostly written in Chinese (because after all it’s mostly for the local audience) but honestly, I’m just way more comfortable with writing in English. (Perhaps this can be useful for those outside of Hong Kong to know more about Hong Kong art and artist.)

I once did a workshop with So Hing Keung and his work is very much influenced by Josef Sudek. A lot So’s previous work, even the work at this particular exhibition, are mainly photographs of still life and rarely does he photograph people. His interest in photographing traces in our ordinary life draws our attention to the little things that we may overlook daily. In this particular work, he drew his attention to his shadow (which he refers to as death) and its relationship with objects and the surrounding environment. Playing by the idea of how photographers usually avoid shooting shadows, he purposefully investigated this relationship to question and document his existence. 

Further by displaying these photographs of the shadows in an exhibition format, it has an after effect of creating an illusion of “saying hello” and inviting the audience to join in the conversation with his shadows in co-creating our existence wit those photographs. On one of the walls, there are 4 large panels of work with one that looks like Lo Ting, a species half-human half-fish, indigenous to Hong Kong, as the poster of the exhibition. He referred these panels as “death rolls” and hence the looseness of the mount. The rest of the work were displayed in an organised home deco style of 15-20 thick white frames along the other three white walls. The frames were small and glassless, allowing the audience to look closely, like peaking through different windows, to speak to these strange aliens that never come to light. 

The work has a certain subtlety yet with a quick glance it can easily be interpreted as gimmicky and literal. Especially with the limited gestures (often with a hand wave) and rigid body postures of how the artist interacted with his shadows, I feel the work can be expanded much more if given the range of diversity to play. I guess this work comes with resonance to the previous days of working from home, social distancing and lockdowns where one would begin to ask deep questions about our very own existence, especially when we cannot relate to the physical world. Our shadows become the very fundamental thing that brings us back to our sense of placement in this world. Here, So recreated this journey for the audience to experience how we can reconnect with ourselves and the world.

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Artist Inspirations

In conversation with Mien Thuy

How do we define ourselves? And what makes us who we are as individuals and as a collective? Thuy is a Vietnamese self-taught photographer who is interested in using photography as a tool to navigate and explore her identity and her Vietnamese roots.

The image of her hands, using both her middle fingers and the ring fingers, stretching her eyes into 2 thin lines making a strange face in front of a mirror captivated me. I even tried it myself — the muscles around the eyes were stretched outside of their comfortable placements, feeling strange and unpleasant yet present. What intrigued me the most was her self-portrait in front of a mirror ironically puts her in a place of wanting this strangeness to be seen yet one cannot even see herself.

As a new member joining badeyesphotos, Thuy is joining me in a long deep conversation about how photography came into her life, her works and the process behind them and life in general. Hello Thuy! Thanks for joining me and discussing with you about your photography journey.

© Mien Thuy, from the series ‘Sisyphus’s sleepwalking’; Source @ Mien Thuy Website

When I was studying Thuy’s work for the interview, I could easily resonate with her emotional rides as a female photographer myself working in Asia as well. Our identity is constantly changing and shaping from our own changing body, our family influences and to the nation’s political and cultural impacts. Here Thuy is not afraid to speak and stand up for what she believes in, despite the world trying to categorise herself into labels of this or that, she used photography to express her struggle yet at the same time stood a unique point of view of expressing who she is as a photographer.

Her recommended Photobook: Jesús Monterde — Nemini Parco

Please check out her work:

Website: https://mienthuytran.com / IG: @may.ushuaia

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Slow Looking

The life of VR

What if we do live in games in our future… what would it be like? And what if we develop relationships with people inside the game… and not just a feeling but actually can do everything like what you can do in real life too and be able to sense all that… then what is the boundary between real and not-real? Do we then need reality? And then what if the people you developed relationship inside the games you discovered are the people that you actually know in real life too, wouldn’t that confused the fuck out of you? Especially in the games one can change their appearance and character… then again it goes back to… what’s real and what’s unreal? Who is the real identity and are both real and game you both you? And then, wouldn’t one thought about what if the reality we are now in is actually just a game that we are all playing in? And that there is a greater reality out there somewhere?

Sometimes I watch too much anime. The Sword Art Online anime made me think a lot about virtual reality worlds, and that really is like another world e.g. Mars or Moon that people can live in I suppose – with everything that can be adopted from the real world e.g. governance, structures, associations, relationships, homes, crimes etc. And eventually the world doesn’t even need avatar of real people, it can just be AIs. What will happen if each and one of us are able to create our own VR world with AIs in it… then do we even need other human beings? If everything can be replaced by AI… do we need each other, the social aspect of human connection? And then literally, if one can create more than one VR worlds, one can jump from worlds to worlds to experience different things or systems, relationships, power dynamics, rules etc. Then what is the significance of the reality? And would that matter anymore? Right now for all that matter I might just be in one of the VR worlds designed by someone higher, and that I am put in a place called Hong Kong to do what I am to do. Who knows.

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Photography Reviews

Evidence – Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel

Larry Sultan, famously known for his work Picture from Home, which documents the lives of his home with parents in Southern California with contemporary photography, film stills, fragments of conversations and his own writings and other memorabilia, collaborated with Mike Mandel for a work less well-known Evidence, a brilliant recent discovery while reading the book Photography and Collaboration by Daniel Palmer.

Between 1975-1977, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel worked together and curated selected photographs from a multitude of images that previously existed solely within the boundaries of the industrial, scientific, governmental and other institutional sources. The work Evidence is about juxtaposing these previously contextualised images into new forms of narratives which some become humorous and while others perplexing. The work demonstrate that the meaning of a photograph is conditioned by the context and sequence in which it is seen, and by isolating from their original context that these images take on meanings that address the confluence of industry and corporate mischief, ingenuity and pseudo-science.

© Larry Sultan, from the series ‘Evidence’; Source @ Larry Sultan

One needs to read the book to fully absorb and comprehend what they set out to do (And I wish I have the book to read it closely too!). The absurdity of these pairings somehow has a common thread that holds the whole book, transporting you to a universe that you may be familiar with yet completely off in some way – suggesting that we often read images in a contextualised form and when that’s been removed, what seems familiar becomes floating in a space that is waiting for us to make meaning of. When there’s a series of these and are carefully curated and sequenced, our brain has its way to fill in those blanks and create new forms of narrative. Evidently these are images of evidence, of truths, of events, of history… somehow in Evidence the value of these images changed and became fictional.

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Slow Looking

Do dogs dream?

The dog next to me was sleeping peacefully while I was doing some work on my laptop just next to her. Suddenly there goes some crazy sounds from my right end and I thought she must have been snoring. I took a quick glance over and saw her body was frozen in a crescent moon shape with twitching eyes and continuing with these strange sounds as if she was having some bad dreams. I then typed in google and asked, “do dogs dream?” Apparently they do. Just like us humans.

And then I wondered, “What was she dreaming about?”

Is it her mother? Or is it the neighbour garage dog that she sees everyday? Maybe she was picking a fight with him since she runs away usually in her awake world.

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Slow Looking

The fake valentine.

The workers are on a roll again. When I saw this tunnel full of fake pink sakura flowers hanging beautifully, I know it is the season of love soon. Their florescent orange uniform clashes so loudly with the pale pink fake sakuras that it was eye soaring. Standing on the side of the tunnel, they robotically take apart the pink sakura flowers one by one from sheets and sheets of them, leaving bags of green plastic branches, and bunches of never dying flowers that are waiting to be glued onto the tunnel that people enter into on their daily walks from the ferry pier to the city hub.

“I’ve had enough.”

I imagined one saying that, hanging his uniform on the roof of the temporarily built workplace next to this tunnel that overlooks one of the tallest financial building across the harbour.

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Slow Looking

The poetic dance of the mind.

7:42am. I messaged Zoe, “I dreamt of you last night.” And then she replied, “I thought of you last night and was going to message you today.”

Is there really something called telepathy? Or simply by chance that I thought of you subconsciously and you consciously thought of me too at the same time? Was it because I dreamt of you that somehow that thought came to you so you thought of me? Or was it because you thought of me so your soul travelled to my dreams? Or was it really a synchronised photon entanglement of transporting the same message to two people at the exact same time? Or it doesn’t really have any explanation at all but just plain coincidence. But… isn’t it beautiful? That when I thought of you and you also thought of me? The poetic dance of the mind where at that moment, in some altered universe, we were connected for a split second. And here… are the traces, the breadcrumbs of that beautiful encounter.

She said, “Oh yeah some how the art exhibition event at the gallery we went together during Christmas popped up. So I thought of you.”

I said, “You were teaching me how to play piano in my dreams, and performed first. Somehow you were so into it that you were glowing, and then in the middle of the tune, you stopped, went towards the electric guitar, picked it up and started rocking and rolling.”

Makes me wonder – are there any connections between the two?

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Slow Looking

My body is screaming – let me sleep.

Recognising inner mental processing is an art. And being able to distinguish between the voice of the head vs. the voice of the intuition is a constant cultivation from moment to moment. Am I really feeling this way or is it a disguise of my mind?

This afternoon the sun is piercing in this early Jan of Winter 2021. It makes one want to just lay down hugging its warmth and embracing its passion. The dog next to me is certainly enjoying herself under this temperature, dosing off to sleep from time to time. Watching her just makes my head feels heavy with the crown of my head tinkling, and my whole head just feels like it wants to melt and become one with this cosy air. My eyes can still vaguely see the yellowy orange colour of the sun when closed, my body shivers to contain the heat from outside… for a moment I forgot where I was – the rooftop of my home in HK – and entered into a space of where I could be in Spain by the beach right now, or in Sweden when it was Vicky’s wedding… different body postures transport me down to different memory lanes of similar feelings of this sun saying its hello. So really, our body register a lot of memory too, it’s not just the mind.

And then there, the world stood still.

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Slow Looking

I don’t have a title.

Beginning of this year, I am cultivating into my daily routine of slow looking. And slow noticing of what’s physically around me as well as the mental processes that is going through inside of me. I guess it’s sort of a meditative act into slowing down and really appreciating the present, especially during this time of mass information, past-truth era and everything outside of the realm of self seems so noisy and clustering. The point of this practice is to flow fluidly into the writings, and to be more mindful with little things in our everyday.

And there. My mind goes blank. It’s a good thing, because often we don’t like our mind going blank, and let it sit in the blank state for a while, information or gushes of urges to fill this void keeps coming in just so to relieve this uncomfortability. To be engage with something is our primary instinct? Or my primary instinct. I can’t distinguish. But definitely sitting with this blank state of mind is nothing but uncomfortable. I guess sitting still and watching how the wind blows the “daily schedule” sheet of paper right in front of me soothes me a little. The longer I watch, the more I notice about the heaviness of my stroke on my handwritten daily schedule sheet, how fluid they are or vice versa. And that repeatedly drawn line separately the time and the activity irritates me in a certain sense, because it is not straight and it is rough, with patches of ink around it – I believe it was my finger running on it while the ink wasn’t dry. The more I look at it the more I resonate it with my life line on my left palm. It’s complicated just like that, with different lines overlaying each other, brings me to think about my life path where I seem to go off to different roads before getting back to the main route, and those branches are I guess what makes my life tree interesting, rather than just a plain boring straight line with no characters.

I think I can go on with this automatic writing and practise of noticing but I will stop here. Because this will turn into pages and pages of thoughts that are just flowing through into my brain and just letting my hands be the mechanical system to physically executing them, on this screen and on this page. And honestly, it is very liberating.

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Slow Looking

Contact

Do you ever look closely what technology default functions do to you? What data are they collecting and what information does it provide you with these data?

If there’s no manipulation with these settings and if you input everything in those empty boxes (because you feel obliged to when you see an empty space plus some you must input anyway), what this information says can tell you whether you are on someone’s contact list (you’ll figure out the formula if you really want to…) 

Now what is a contact? Someone you would like to be in touch with? Someone you want to be able to identify (because you can input as much details as you’d like to label that person)? Someone you want to develop a relationship with? Now does it matter whether you are on his/her contact list or vice versa (since your name – if you choose to put your name as your name – will be displayed anyway when you message that person)? And why do you choose to add someone to your contact list and some don’t?

Probably this isn’t something you care about… but it is something that I came to think about. 

What is relationship? and with the advancement of technology, how does the data you give (probably without you noticing) indicate/influences our relationships with others nowadays? 

And now once you noticed, what information do you choose to share with these technology? And even if you don’t, do they secretly keep them anyway in their server?

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