Artist Inspirations

Inspirations from Tom Sachs

When you are looking for what you want to do for your career, the key success is to do what you love to do. The most important things in life are free. You know you are on the right track when you feel it. it’s important to do what’s really fun for you. Just get so good at it that people pay you for it.

The other thing is really important, whatever you do, even if something that doesn’t seem like a life passion, is to do it 100%.

 

How to define your own internal standards:

  1. authenticity – that is by building an extreme degree of detail and depth, the experience becomes real. This also demands endurance – 2 years is only an interest, 5 years is a hobby, and 20 years you start to begin a sense of mastery.
  2. intuition – the secret is to understand and accept yourself so you can have the courage to make just the right / wrong decision. Don’t take no for an answer, say yes and show them how. Art is a discipline for showing restraints and dedication to the work. Do the work in front of you then improvise. Creativity is not a leading strategy.
  3. transparency – be honest and transparent with your methods and intentions. Understand and exploit your own superpowers.

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Photography Reviews

Particles – Boris Loder

German photographer, Boris Loder’s recent book Particles has a refreshing take with the use of photography as a medium to talk about landscapes and human impacts on urban planning.

The concept of identity often seems like a container that can be filled with very different, even contradictory contents. With Particles, Boris Loder transforms the notion of identity as a container into sculptural photographs. He collected objects from various sites around the city of Luxembourg and took them back to his studio, where he packed them carefully into 10-centimetre square plexiglass cubes. The resulting constructions were then photographed, and the silhouette of the plexiglass edited out in postproduction. In this way, assumptions about urban planning intentions are contrasted with actual use. Fast food on a sports field or a drug stash near a renowned bank allude to socio-geographical realities that only very rarely surface in popular notions of Luxembourg.

© Boris Loder, from the book ‘Particles’; Source @ ASX

A landscape is understood both as a physical place and a representation of a physical place which both forms are reliant on the idea of a boundary – the first, on invisible political demarcations separating one tract of land from another, the second, on pictorial boundaries of linear perspective. What intrigues me was how he challenges the limitation of photography of transforming a 3D landscape into a 2D print. He cleverly uses fixed 3-dimensional cubes to building sculptural photographs. As Eugenie Shinkle from ASX puts it, “each photograph, in other words, is a two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional construct held together by an invisible boundary – a landscape by any other name.”

His other work Cloroplastics is also intriguing in that he uses plastic plants to try to answer where and why people prefer the substitute rather than the ephemeral beauty of the original.

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Photography Reviews

Interesting works from WMA

I know about WMA awards for a few years now. It’s a prestigious photography award in Hong Kong. Each year they have a dedicated a theme which attracts submissions that relate to social, environmental and political issues of Hong Kong.

As mentioned a long time ago, for me the function of photography has always been just about recording – a method or a tool to capture the split second of a moment which is subjective to the framer. The action is simple, and the photograph is judged by how it tells a story within the frame. While this is true still of course, but my tunnel vision of what photography is has been expanding in so many ways. For one is that photography is depicted as a symbolism of a concept or an idea. If types of photography can be analogised with literature, it is not only descriptive like how proses are, but it can be representational like how poetry is.

And according to this approach of photography, the more conceptual based work, I found a few that intrigues me – 1. their concept is clear and simple; 2. the work is visually striking; 3. it relates the theme really well.

Theme: LIGHT

Burnt by Wongweihim

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© Wongweihim, from the series ‘Burnt’; Source @ WMA

BURNT is a photo diary recording the recent social unrest of Hong Kong. All photos were taken using only the first frame of the roll (the frame prior to the camera hitting zero on the frame counter), on a 35mm film camera.

Of these ongoing anti-government protests, one incident caught my attention in particular—a photo of a girl who was shot in the eye during a clash between the protestors and the police in the streets. The vivid image of her injury reveals a partial truth—it shows the result, but not the cause. No one can follow or digest the plethora of news that is being circulated. No one can tell if the news is showing the whole truth, or if it is a collage of fictions.

The making of these photos was both mechanical and chemical. When a roll of film is being loaded into the camera, the first few inches of the film are exposed to light, and consequently they cannot capture a distinct image. For this reason, many photographers discard the first photo taken with a roll of film. However, I like the dynamic of having a scar-like line dividing the photo into two parts, making the image partly seen and partly unseen. It presents only a partial picture, echoing the ambiguities in reality.

Somewhere in Time by Tang Kwong San &Yuen Nga Chi

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© Tang Kwong San & Yuen Nga Chi, from the series ‘Somewhere in Time’; Source @ WMA

A ray of light pierces into a withered space,
reviving scenes that will soon vanish.

In the 1950s, public phone booths were installed across Hong Kong by the British Hong Kong Government. As technological advancements have provided city-wide network coverage, the gleams of smartphone screens are seen flitting in the streets. Scattered across the city are disused phone booths that are about one square metre in size, with broken lightboxes inside.

We wrapped a disused booth in a reflective cover, and added a coin from the colonial era with a hole drilled in it, turning the booth into a pinhole darkroom. Through the inverted images inside the booth, the viewer shuttles back and forth between different landmarks before and after the handover, tracing the endlessly shifting political relationship between ‘deconstruct’ and ‘construction’ in the city.

A discarded phone booth waiting to be dismantled,
a memento of the Queen still being circulated today.

 

Theme: AIR

The Roadsider by Siu Wai Hang

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© Siu Wai Hang, from the series ‘The Roadsider’; Source @ WMA

Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution at street level in Hong Kong — particularly in urban areas. Of specific concern are emissions from diesel commercial vehicles including trucks, buses and public light buses, which produce large amounts of particulates and nitrogen oxides. In a crowded urban environment with busy road traffic, like Hong Kong, pollutants can be trapped at street level.

The aim of this project is to photograph collected samples of roadside vegetation from several districts in Hong Kong located close to or in landfills, container yards, and urban areas. These include Lung Kwu Tan, Tseung Kwan O, Lau Fau Shan, Kwai Chung, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. The plants were easily collected, because the roots and branches were weak and fragile due to the adverse conditions in which they lived. Dust, particles, and toxic gases block the sunlight, and stop photosynthesis, killing roadside vegetation. The same toxins that roadside vegetation absorb, is actually what we breathe on the streets everyday in Hong Kong. The death of vegetation is a reflection of Hong Kong’s abominable air quality.

Polluted plant specimens were photographed using a standardized typological photography methodology. Details of tiny particles and dust covering each sample of roadside vegetation are visible in each photo, emphasizing that vehicle emissions is a main culprit of air pollution in Hong Kong.

Kursaleté Prints by Kurt Tong

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© Kurt Tong, from the series ‘Kursaleté Prints’; Source @ WMA

For over 100 years, photography has been based on photo sensitive chemicals reacting to lights. However, with the advance of digital imaging, photographic prints are now overwhelmingly inkjet. In 1991, Jack Duganne, a digital print maker in California came up with the name Giclée, a French verb meaning ‘that which is sprayed or squirted’ for his inkjet prints. Giclée prints are now regarded as the high-end inkjet prints within the fine art market.

With that in mind, Kurt Tong is developing the next generation of photo imaging. Moving on from ‘ink squirted onto paper’, Kurt will be utilising dirt. Different adhesives are applied onto traditional Giclée prints and left on various roadsides in order for air pollutants to organically bind to the prints. Hong Kong was chosen as the first test city since it has one of the worst air qualities in relation to GDP per capital in the world.

To give credibility to the technique, Saleté, French for ‘dirt’ has been chosen for its name. Future prints will also utilize burnt bugs in street lamps and reclaimed land dust.

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Photography Reviews

The beauty of deadpan

I never believe in a certain style of photography that artists or photographers should work towards. Photography is photography and that they just reflect a certain stage of who you are at that moment in time or the story you want to tell requires this form of visual language. There was a phase when I really enjoyed the gritty, high contrast, emotional photographs e.g. Jacob Au Sobol, Trent Parke, Hajime Kimura etc. And somehow this is dying out and I start to appreciate the ordinary, deadpan aesthetics of photographs. Actually, more like I can now see their difference in purposes.

John Myers‘ recently published book Looking at the Overlooked speaks to me this way. It describes a way of encountering the world. The images, all taken within walking distance of Myers’s home in Stourbridge are scenes encountered without narrative or emotion, as if Myers were the first person to come across the places he turned his lens upon. The work is sequenced as a journey through a town, generic and not site-specific, a backdrop to the mundane and everyday that is too often seen and yet not considered as part of our visual landscape.

© John Myers, from the book ‘Looking at the Overlooked’; Source @ RRB photobooks

He explained to BJP, “I think one of kind of great problems in a lot of photography is that photographers think they’re creating a story,” he added. “For me, too many photographs are full of chatter and noise and movement – newspapers are sold on the basis of noise, the more noise you can generate the better, and photographers go down that route. But what I enjoy is work that is silent. August Sander, Eugene Atget, even Walker Evans, the photographs are silent.”

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Photography Reviews

Jardin – Massao Mascaro

A garden is an enclosed space. A garden needs a frame if it is to be called a garden.
The garden is the moment when a place becomes a landscape.
The garden, or the orchard, is the germ of the settlement, the village, the town, the city and the nation.
The garden, we might be inclined to say, is neither completely natural nor fully human and as such stands at an equal distance between Man and God.⠀

Humans are makers of gardens just as they are tellers of stories.

© Massao Mascaro, from the series ‘Jardin’; Source @ Witty books

Young french photographer, Massao Mascaro, who is based Brussels did a book Jardin which talks about the mythical space of the garden, found in the streets and parks of Madrid. The scope of his work is profoundly political, as it is rooted in the need to explore how humans relate to the spaces (both cultural and geographical) they inhabit. His point of view is always intimate, his use of a soft-focus, a tight cropping and a narrow depth of field evoke touch.

I love the way he sees and the way he frames his images. The highlighted monochrome of the work makes it feel poetic and dreamy. The book looks promising and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

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Photography Reviews

Hanafuda – Will Matsuda

Will Matsuda, grew up in Honolulu and now based in New York created a series called Hanafuda during an artist residency which reminds him of home and his Japanese Heritage. “Hanafuda” which translates as “flower cards” is a 200-year-old Japanese card game with roots in gambling. The game is a 48-card deck with a dozen suits. Each suit has its own flora that represents a month in the year. His grandmother taught him how to play the game when he was young, and when he found similarities of these flowers during his stay at the artist’s residency, he started to create this series as a way to connect to his family and his home.

© Will Matsuda, from the series ‘Hanafuda’; Source @ Will Matsuda

I love his diptychs. As he mentioned in an article published by NPR, “Some of the resulting photographs look nothing like the cards, and that’s okay. When immigrants can’t find ingredients from back home, they go to the local store and make familiar but entirely new dishes.”

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Photography Reviews

Photobooks 2019 – Part 2

Yeah, it’s already February and I’m still writing about photobook list 2019. I know I’m slow at this but hey, I take my time to read upon works that I haven’t come across which challenges my small little brain. So here another few that caught my attention, because of how many been listing them as top books where at first I found hard to comprehend but took my time to digest and read more about.

1. Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road by Tim Carpenter published by The Ice Plant

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© Tim Carpenter, from the book ‘Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road’; Source The Ice Plant

In Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road, Brooklyn-based photographer Tim Carpenter (born 1968) revisits the Central Illinois topography of his first monograph, Local Objects, with a sequence of 56 black-and-white medium-format photographs, all made on a single winter morning. In Local Objects he meandered this semi-rural Midwestern landscape through changing seasons in an abstract sequence, but here Carpenter follows a straightforward path, literally taking the viewer on a two-hour walk from point A to point B. Nothing much happens along this brief narrative arc—there are fallow fields, standing water, dormant trees, the occasional tire track on worn pavement—yet Carpenter explores the stillness of this outdoor space with a palpable, almost erotic anticipation, revealing intimate subtleties as the journey unfolds. Made with an intensity of attention and a lightness of touch, the photographs in Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road are less about the confines of this specific time and place than about a poetic strategy for narrowing the distance between human desire and the factual content of the everyday world. 

 

2. The Rug’s Topography by Rana Young published by Kris Graves Projects

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© Rana Young, from the book ‘The Rug’s Topography’; Source Kris Graves Projects

“My complex relationship with photographs began when I was young. I remember tearing images out of publications and bringing them to my dad prepared with questions. Where I grew up, normative values defined by anatomy at birth impacted an individual’s gender perception and performance. Raised by a single father, I experienced a non-traditional family structure in my home. Seeing photographs portraying the “wholeness” of family contradicted my reality. Those psychological impressions provoked my curiosity and propelled me to solve the mystery of what existed beyond the scene depicted. In retrospect, my search for missing context stems from an interest in narrative and how the single frame of a photograph begs questions rather than provides answers. As I conceive my photographs I am in a state of reverie. In my work, I use the figure as a conduit to move between past and future. My aesthetic interpretations of intimacy, privacy and identity mirror a metaphorical cycle of introspection. Subtle clues within the photograph may evoke an individual’s aversions or desires. I am interested in this negotiation, and through my work, investigate foundations of gender expression.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316608424_The_Rug’s_Topography

“The Rug’s Topography began with me photographing my intimate partner of six years. Simultaneously, we were facing an internal conflict: how we identified as individuals differed from the roles we occupied in our partnership. As we began to grow apart romantically, our anxieties rose in response to the distance widening between us. Our individual identities within a romantic context stemmed from the commonality of both having witnessed predominantly cisgender roles during our formative years. Our performance of those expectations was perpetuated by inexperience and an impulse to adhere to, or in my case “correct,” our potential family structure. Recognizing a shared inherent foundation opened our dialogue and together we began unpacking our preconceived notions regarding societal norms. Collaborating visually to express our reflections served as a catalyst for the reconciling of our emotional intimacy in the midst of a separation. It is through the juxtaposition of gaze and gesture we create blended self-portraits, expressing our emotions in relation to who we were and who we’ll become.” –LENSCRATCH.

 

3. The Island Position by John Lehr published by MACK

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© John Lehr, from the book ‘The Island Position’; Source MACK

The “Island Position” is an advertising term that describes the premium position of an advertisement surrounded solely by editorial content. In The Island Position, John Lehr explores the facades of American commercial spaces that are threatened by the emergence of e-commerce. In a rush to remain relevant, storeowners emblazon their windows and walls with anything that will grab attention: tessellations of quick-fading ads, floor-to-ceiling decals of fanned money or flowing hair, haphazard product displays, and desperate, hand-scrawled invitations. They repaint, renovate, rebrand, and rearrange, gestures which point to the desires and anxieties of people who are being left behind as our thumbs lead us into the new economy. The work presents a turning point in our cultural landscape: the transition from a physical culture to a virtual one.

Masquerading as a typology of storefronts, the surfaces in The Island Position embody something unseen: the people who constructed them. The signage is not simply an appeal to consumption, but a typography of emotion: vulnerability, ingenuity, distress, and hope—the language of capitalism as a form of public address. Lehr is not interested in what is for sale. He is interested in what is at stake.

A great interview was done by ASX with Brad Feuerhelm.

 

4. A Few Model Palm Trees by Bruno Roels published by Art Paper Editions

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© Bruno Roels, from the book ‘A Few Model Palm Trees’; Source Art Paper Editions

A Few Model Palm Trees is a remake, an interpretation, an appropriation, an adaption of Ed Ruscha’s famous book A Few Palm Trees from the 70s. Instead of using real palm trees, Roels makes use of downsized plastic trees that are used in architectural scale models, or that are used as children’s toys.

Roels often works with (photographs of) palm trees. All palm trees look alike, and as a symbol the plants are highly recognizable. Historically they’re connected to victory, triumph, endurance, religion, hospitality, wealth, luxury, vacation, paradise but also to colonization, trade and globalization. Palm trees have meaning across cultures. By using photographs of palm trees, Roels makes the idea of copying, mimicking and representation (all part of the very fabric of photography) very tangible. Now he takes on the next step by appropriating Ed Ruscha’s book.

Conversation with Brad Feuerhelm at ASX can be read here.

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Photography Today

Photography = a piece of belonging?

“To the imagination, to memory, nothing is really lost if
it is experienced with affirmation. … In my photographs…,
I attempt to arrive at something poetic, something I can hold on to both as an image and as emotional sustenance…”

Taken From Memory published by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg is the result of a 25-year long-time project by American photographer Sheron Rupp (b. 1943 in Mansfield, Ohio). Searching for connections to her own biographical past, Rupp took these photographs in rural America looking to find a piece of someone else’s life to give her a sense of “belonging”. Personal in nature, these photographs offer a stirring glimpse into the life in the commonly disregarded rural areas and small towns between the bustling metropolises of the East and West Coast. Without pretence or irony, without assertation or judgment, Rupp’s impressions from the past also work as a commentary on today’s US society.

To be honest, just judging from seeing the images on the screen, I like some of the images from the book, but I’m not in love with it. But what I really want to talk about from this book is what Rupp said, “these photographs were taken at a time when I felt desperate to find a piece of someone else’s life, which could give me a sense of ‘belonging.’” The question is, aren’t we all photographing something which gives us a sense of ‘belonging’? Isn’t that the reason why we take pictures? Because that’s the stuff we care so much about, which basically is really something that we truly want to be associated with? I belong to this community, I belong with this concept, I belong with this social issue. We are objectifying these feelings into images and prints so that we can hold onto and present them, so others who happen to want to ‘belong’ to the same space would resonate, would want to be part of it?

The notion of making pictures feels like a constant need to lead ourselves to be part of something, to belong somewhere, to associate with a moment in time. I don’t know for certain. It’s a theory I came up with. But what’s intriguing is the work by Dawn Parsonage which maybe is one of the outliers of this theory. Her “boring” series brilliantly highlights the private struggles we all face when bored – the struggle to find meaning, to find ways to occupy our restless minds. Do we want to be bored? Especially living in the 21st century when mass information can be loaded for you every second? I certainly don’t think that this is a concept that modern people would want to belong with, but it is no doubt a piece of us that we have and most often deny.

© Dawn Parsonage, from the work ‘Boring’; Source @ Dawn Parsonage

While some works remind us about what we care about, what we want to belong to; some remind us about what really belongs with us that we are constantly fighting to avoid or deny.

References: http://theheavycollective.com/2019/05/05/qa-sheron-rupp-taken-from-memory/

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Photography Reviews

A different kind of photobooks – texts & images

In 2019, there are several interesting photobooks that incorporate the clever use of text, turning them into the best photobooks of 2019 named by various renowned critics and artists.

One which I own myself – Slant by Aaron Schuman published by MACK and I wrote a review about, brilliantly combines the use of local newspaper reportage of succinct and “extraordinarily anticlimactic” accounts of crimes, suspicious activities, events and non-events with black and white photographs. They are hilariously ridiculous.

Two more which came to my attention lately while reading the rest of the best photobooks of 2019 list by Photo-Eye.

Were it not for by Michael Ashkin published by Fw:Books

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© Michael Ashkin, from the book ‘Were it not for’; Source @ Fw:Books

Were it not for combines a line phrase which begins with “were it not for…” with 218 photographs of the Mojave Desert. This combination creates a powerful sense of unease throughout the document, with the black and white images that show areas of bleak and grim, it seems as though don’t we always have an excuse for making this mess in the world? As Jorg Colberg mentioned in CPhMag, “Wherever you look, whatever you hear, it’s all the same hopeless mess: a lived environment that more often than not looks like a garbage dump, with soulless anonymous architecture everywhere, and a cultural/societal environment filled with endless violence, dread, and despair.”

Here the photographs don’t play the starring role like in most photobooks. They are not necessarily memorable yet it is its combination with the text and the whole book itself which creates this looming feeling of helplessness for the world. And that is what sticks to our mind.

I walk toward the sun which is always going down by Alan Huck published by MACK

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© Alan Huck, from the book ‘Were it not for’; Source @ MACK

By way of an interior monologue, I walk toward the sun which is always going down is a reminder amongst the daily stream of distractions to slow down, give full attention to our daily endeavours and, according to Annie Dillard, “to discover, at least, where it is that we’ve been so startlingly set down if we can’t learn why” as Raymond Meeks describes in Photo-Eye. It is a book that takes a visual form of what a long meditation of the inner self while exploring a place with a very long walk. Highly recommended by many.

Refences: https://cphmag.com/images-and-text/

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Photography Reviews

To be called mama – Miki Hasegawa

I am a total sucker when it comes to photobooks or series about family and home. Japanese photographer, Miki Hasegawa, focuses her works on maternal love, and social issues revolving around that. The more well-known work, Internal Notebook, is about the emotional cries of children raised in abusive homes (which she started as she was worried she would be doing the same thing to her daughter). She took portraits of those children along with the diaries and notebooks they have kept. The book was made with Yumi Goto at Reminders Photography Stronghold workshops.

This work was interesting, no doubt, but her other works Jewels, Teck-mac-mah-ya-con and To be called mama caught my eye more. The trilogy talks about her relationship with her daughter, in their everyday life, from seeing the world through her daughter’s eyes, to worrying about her flying away somedays and seeing a glimpse of her feminity. They are all stages of life which are universal between a mother and a child.

When you read the images, there are subtle differences in the feelings you get from the images or the series. Jewels give a more naive and playful point of view, that mirrors the action of a 3 years old child.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘Jewels’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

Teck-mac-mah-ya-con has a sense of about to disappear.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘Teck-mac-mah-ya-con’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

To be called mama really portrays the feminity of 5 years old as if she is a grown-up lady.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘To be called mama’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

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