Photo Critiques

Mama – Serey Siv

Cambodian-Canadian photographer Serey Siv, also the director of Mirage which is a contemporary art space based in Cambodia did a personal project about his mother during 2017’s Angkor Photo Festival workshop. Diving into his family roots, the work investigated the dual identity of his mother, and showcased how she feels pride in being both a Cambodian and a Canadian. Using both memorabilia and archival images, he also for the very first time bathe his mother as a Khmer ritual to thank his mother for everything.

© Serey Siv, from the series ‘Mama’ ; Source @ Serey Siv

I love the soft and tenderness throughout these pictures, the care he puts into when making these images can be felt immediately through his choices of light and angles of shooting. The work stamps from a simple idea yet at the same time speaks to audience who also have similar experiences, hence his expanded project “Language Barrier” which is about mixed-race Cambodian children.

Earlier at the 15th Edition of Angkor Photo Festival he shared his viewpoint when making images,

“Often before I start a piece of work, I ask myself – who is the audience? Is it just for your family or is it for a wider audience? Who are they? The other question I constantly ask myself is why I want to do this work, what motivates me deeply in the core that drives me to continue or to work on this project. Only you know best what is right for you.”

He also spoke about his respect for the timeline of a photography project, relating it to how he creates music as a song-writer. He mentioned that some projects are small and some are big and need more time. He disagrees with the myth of documentary projects that needs to be long-term and keep on going.

“What it is is what it is.”

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Philosophy, Photography Today

Graffiti – a form of art or vandalism?

 

 

 

Graffiti isn’t something that we usually come across with in the walks of Hong Kong streets. Here the streets are almost always clean and free from street and public art. In these 4 months and counting of the political outburst from the anti-extradition bill, there’s been a blossom of graffitis, spray-paint wordings, sticker arts, poster arts, street installation arts etc in all 18 districts of Hong Kong.

Almost everyday I have to take a cross-harbour bus to work, and everyday I walk on this footbridge from where the bus stop was to the MTR station, a journey of less than 5 minutes. On that footbridge, each and every time I walked along it, I am surrounded by graffitis and poster arts about the current political movement, slightly different every week.

One day from almost a month ago, out of the blue, the footbridge was swiped clean. The graffitis were wiped out and the posters were torn down, as if nothing happened – life goes on and the footbridge walkway becomes just as how it was before. This change threw me,

why does the society (well government) wants these to be cleaned? Were they “not-clean” beforehand? If so, what is “not-clean” about these graffitis? Is it because of the content? If so, surely only people who have knowledge of Chinese can understand it, or else it’s just a bunch of symbols? Or, is it because it is damaging properties? That it is somehow destroying the artistic minimalism of the property? What is the intention behind wiping these out? Is it really just about “cleanness” or are there hidden agenda e.g. induce the idea of forgetting / erasing what happened? There are actually street arts in parts of Hong Kong e.g. the one on Hollywood road, what makes someone / a group of authorities to say this can be on the wall and that can’t? What values are they judging by for these types of “art”?

During the movement these 4 months, there were actually street installations of origami cranes e.g. outside Fortress Hill station, why were these being removed? If the phrase 「時代革命,光復香港」were spray-painted with a bit more artistic quality and aesthetics elements, would they be considered more art than vandalism?

So many questions popped up from the experience that day, which led me to read up and research about the history of graffitis, the type of graffitis there are, why and how graffitis came about and how it relates to culture and politics (which will be discussed in the next blog post).

 

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Photo Critiques

Freezing Land – Ronghui Chen

Rising emerging Chinese artist Ronghui Chen, also a World Press Photo winner, talks about China and its urbanisation in his 3 trilogy work – Petrochemical China, Runaway World and Freezing Land. In his project Petrochemical China he looks at the country’s industrialized cities, Runaway World he points his lens at cities desperate to turn a buck through gimmicky tourist attractions. The final installment is Freezing Land, which Chen says is an examination of cities on the verge of vanishing.

The series Freezing land is about displacement and searching for belonging: in a rapidly urbanising China, how do the youth find belonging? What are the insecurities and anxieties they collectively share?

Bordering Russia and North Korea, the region, with ample natural resources, was the first to develop heavy industries in the 1960s and prospered for decades. There were 15 million immigrants to northeastern China in the Mao’s era. But since the 2000s, the northeast has become China’s most recessionary land as resources dwindled and other regions caught up. Dying industries and shortages of opportunities have been forcing people out of their home and to other parts of China in pursuit of work.

Using the social video app Kuaishou, he looked for young people who were willing to share their stories through the 8×10 large format camera. Connecting with his subjects through modern technology adds an additional layer of dystopian ambiance to the project, highlighting the modern methods that young people are using to avoid isolation in the region.

One of the most striking images in the series depicts a young boy sitting forlornly in a brightly colored room, holding a wig in his lap while staring at the ground. “The boy in this photo is 14 years old,” Chen explains. “He’s a live-streamer, or what some people call a broadcast jockey. Live-streaming is his direct source of revenue. If a fan likes him, they are sent digital rewards purchased with in-app currencies, which are bought with real money. He has lots of fans online to interact with, and he even makes money from them. But, he doesn’t have a lot of friends in real life. His life seems colorful, yet full of loneliness.”

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© Ronghui Chen, from the series ‘Freeing Land’ ; Source @ Ronghui Chen

References:

https://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2018/12/ronghui-chen-freezing-land/

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/ronghui-chen-freezing-land

http://neocha.com/magazine/freezing-land/

https://fotoroom.co/freezing-land-ronghui-chen/

 

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Artists Inspirations

Song Dong

In some way, he’s the Chinese version of Joseph Cornell. Using found objects as inspirations and materials for his art, he says that life is his main job, art is just a hobby. The philosophy behind his arts stamps from his upbringing, the way his mother has taught him about not wasting anything. Every object has its own value and life. Can we nurture their lives as beautiful as they can be?

His work really touches me, because I can feel so much love in there. It’s his way of responding to what’s happening in his life with virtues, culture and philosophy of the Chinese.

References:

http://www.artzip.org/song-dong-waste-not

https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/song-dong-borderless-wall/

https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/song-dong-a-world-in-a-well/

https://www.artnetnews.cn/art-world/songdongchichengshiyongyuwangcuihuita-75869

http://review.artintern.net/html.php?id=76542

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Photobook Wishes

Another Black Darkness- Saiko Nomura

I remember seeing Saiko Nomura’s work at the HKIPF Provoke show last year 2018. And her’s stands out the most because of the experimental way of printing.

“Another Black Darkness” is Nomura’s first experimental series created through solarization. The book, which consists of black ink oriented on black paper, has been highly praised for being the most experimental out of all recently published photo collections.

Would love to get my hands on this book!

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Artists Inspirations

Joseph Cornell

Heard from another artist about Joseph Cornell, and his famous work of shadow boxes somehow resonate with me. Maybe it’s the idea and theme of voyage and wanderlust. And the idea of collecting and using found objects to make art.

“He was a kind of magician, turning everyday objects into mysterious treasures. By collecting and carefully juxtaposing found objects in small, glass-front boxes, Cornell created visual poems in which surface, form, texture, and light play together. Using things we can see, Cornell made boxes about things we cannot see: ideas, memories, fantasies, and dreams.”

Throughout Cornell’s life, he has never left America but his wanderings around streets of Americas brought him objects and ephemera that allows him to travel within his own imaginations, through the centuries of history, the continents of the globe and even the celestial realm. His work is filled with a yearning for distant places and times.

Source @ Royal Academy of Arts

Podcast about Cornell and Surrealism: https://audioboom.com/posts/3550962-joseph-cornell-surrealism-and-time

References: https://www.josephcornellbox.com/

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Exhibition Reviews

The Bare Life – Philippe Grandrieux

Empty Gallery – one of my go-to galleries in Hong Kong which displays edgy contemporary artworks that are not exclusive to visual arts but other forms of medium or even crossing boundaries to other forms and media.

Philippe Grandrieux “The Bare Life” is currently exhibited from end of Sept til end of November. The text from the gallery describes the work really well.

“The performance in The Scream resemble an uncanny mixture of religious rituals, and choreographic workshop.  The affective intensity of these performances has only been heightened by Grandrieux’s decision to both to completely surround the spectator with images, and to introduce a slight delay of video, producing an effect no unlike the temporal blurring of which accompanies accumulated sensation. A sequence of 11 staggered projections surround the viewer within a purpose-built chamber, confronting them with a quivering multitude of naked bodies….

Bodies convulse and flail in an object choreography which oscillates between moments of surprising tenderness – the nearly automatic self-soothing activity of a body humming, rocking and whispering to itself – and moments of brutality – manifested not only by the titular scream, but also clawing, twitching, groveling of a body in distress.”

“The 3 single-channel work deals with the theme of anxiety – also explore the enigma of the human body and our relationship to our own materiality. Installed as life-size projections within the architecture of the gallery, each work present a human figure(s) enveloped by cover of darkness, moving according to an obscure logic beyond our comprehension.”

The works definitely confronts the viewers of their relationship with their sensations by being enfolded within the performer’s act. That confrontation sort of led us to awake our bodies as well and become extremely aware of how they respond to different stimuli. Visually striking and enigmatic, somehow disturbing too with the performer’s body almost felt as if she was not present, only with bones and skins moving according to the choreography. There were moments of her body postures which felt as if she was an alien, especially when the light source is not a warm but a fluorescent tone.  All in all, a mind-bending piece of work.

 

 

Snapshots of the single 3-channel projections @ Empty Gallery

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The Origin of Photography

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this BAFTA award winning documentary series about art and images. But every time I re-watch this again, something new inspires me. This is the magic of really great work.

Episode 1 – John Berger talks about the reproduction of images due to the invention of photography and new media e.g. television. How this has an impact on how we appreciate art from the past.

In summary, he talks about how art was appreciated within context – the frame, the place displayed which creates the whole aesthetic experience subject to that piece of art. And art was unique in that sense – one piece one place one time. With the invention of photography, art becomes trasmittable – we no longer need to go to a particular place or travel to a certain country to have this experience. The art pieces can be delivered on prints, on television, in the context of our home. But will this experience be the same?

Berger argues that how we see the original art piece is entirely different to how it is being transmitted and displayed in front of our eyes. In some way, you are able respond to the original art piece by choosing how to see and appreciating the authenticity of it; in contrast, with the transmitted work, how the art work is arranged (e.g. zoom in or out, panning left or right, what music to play in background) is entirely coded to what the presenter wants us to see. The art can become easily manipulated and diverge from its original meaning. It has become like words rather than holy relics. He emphasised at the end that we need to be sceptical of how these images and meanings are arranged.

 

Episode 2 – he talks about the differences between being naked and nude – where the former is about being seen as oneself, whereas the latter is presenting oneself as an object, being on display without clothing. This refers to the portrayal of the female nude, an important part of the tradition of European art. Berger examines these paintings and asks whether they celebrate women as they really are or only as men would like them to be. Photography has elevated this issue to raising beauty in the public image of women and how this influences how women see themselves today.

 

Episode 3 – in this episode Berger examines where the value of art comes from. Before photography, art was somehow raised above life, turning it into a kind of religion. He said that when you buy a painting you also buys the look of the thing it represents. Early paintings were representations of private possessions, and some how possessing these paintings deduce a form of pride – because the sense of what you can put your hands on became closely connected with the sense of ownership. The celebration of merchandise began.

 

Episode 4 – the last episode he talks about the publicity of images. Where traditional art shows private possessions that consolidates the owner’s sense and value, the public images share a message of what we don’t have. The sight of it makes us want to possess it so to be envied. Publicity is a way of manufacturing glamour. It plays upon fear. Objects themselves are neutral, only publicity and images that raises or demolishes their values.

“In the urban world, we are surrounded by images of an alternative way of life. We may remember or forget these images – but briefly we take them in. And for a moment they stimulate our imagination, either by way of memory or by anticipation. But where is this other way of life?”

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Photo Critiques

Buttons for Eyes – Priya Kambli

Recently, I’ve been looking a lot into theories of photography for sure, and also photomontage works. I used to have this narrow vision of photography of Bresson’s decisive moment, praising Magnumphotos as God, and that was it for me for photography. Blindly ignoring what a big world is out there for making work with images. Maybe it was a good thing, so to just focus on one type of photography or maybe it was a bad thing, because there are so so so much more other possibilities with photography.

What changed me was, I got tired and bored of decisive moments. They are yes, decisive moments, of what claims to be moment of “truths”. Yet theories of photography opened up the question of photography as a medium. I mean, really opened up how I view and understand this medium. And photomontage, is one way of working with images that I feel I’d like to have a taste on. Similarly to decisive moments, there are already materials to work with (former, with what’s happening around the world; latter, with archival images and other materials).

Most immigrants exist in two worlds, the world of memories and visual connections of their growing up and the new realities of living in a culture where all is not familiar. This search for what is home, for the roots of that connect them to the most primal self is the main theme of Priya Kambli’s work.

“Buttons for Eyes” talks about loss, memory and identity (I guess I have a subconscious love for identity and loss, because of the work I’m drawn to). Kambli physically manipulates old family photographs and then rephotographs the altered artefacts. She uses light and flour as manipulative elements to add layers for starting a dialogue about cultural differences and global similarities.

© Priya Kambli, from the series ‘Buttons for Eyes, 2017- ; Source @ Lenscratch

She works with archival images which allows her to connect the past with the present, to bring forward memories, and to reimagine them adorned with tokens of the everyday – in a sense, making these memories physical. The way in which she maintains the photographs is akin to how Indian housewives tend to their kitchen deities – hence the use of flour. The meticulous patterns crafted on it symbolises the “Indianity” of her past identity (literally these patterns of flour can be blown away in seconds) – imprinted onto a physical form that she is re-creating for the present.

Much of the work talks about the separation and the exchange of cultural differences and similarities between herself and her sister, whom chose to stay in India whereas she immigrated to the US after their parents passed away.

There’s a final layer of narrative to this work which comes from the title “Button for Eyes.” It comes from a question her mother used to ask, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?” Her mother’s concern was about Kambli’s inability to see trivial objects right in front of her, but also about our collective inability to see well enough to navigate the world. “It is a question laced with parental fear,” she says. Which goes back to, are we ignorant to these cultural differences and global similarities in the world? The laced patterns on the images may also symbolises not only the ignorant we ourselves may have, but those that derives from the parental fear in order to protect their children.

References: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/female-in-focus-buttons-for-eyes/

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Photo Critiques

Solastalgia – Shi Yangkun

“Solastalgia” by definition it means the distress caused by environmental change. In the case of Shi Yangkun’s series, it is about a form of melancholy evoked by changes that have happened in the used-to-be familiar home context, referring to a special homesickness sensed by people when they are still within the home environment.

What drawn me to this work is probably because of my own history of leaving my home Hong Kong, and studying and living in UK, and now being back, everything has changed. And that sense of loss is permanent, unlike nostalgia which may just be temporary.

Quoting from Shi Yangkun,

“People are eager to go back home because they feel safe and comfortable with familiar attachments. From the view of nostalgia, the loss of attachment is temporary, because a person believe that they can go home sooner or later. The memory of these attachments could provide comfort. However, in the case of solastalgia, I would argue, the loss of attachment is permanent, which means even though they are standing in the original place they cannot find these attachments any more.”

The photographs speak to me because I totally understand that feeling and I can really resonate with the visual images. In his work, he questions not only the impact of the industrialisation but also reflects his uncertainties under a particular environment.

© Shi Yangkun, from the series ‘Solastalgia, 2016- ; Source @ Shi Yangkun

References: https://phmuseum.com/Henri/story/solastalgia-106f85fec8

Interview with SCMP: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2091520/photographer-misses-his-home-especially-when-hes-there

 

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