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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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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Photography Reviews

Two People – Sean Lee

Photography can of course be about documenting what’s in front of us, the pslit moment that happened right in front of our eyes, but it can also serve as a medium to create spaces for conversations, for connections for intimacy.

Two people is an ongoing body of photographic work by Singapore photographer Sean Lee as part of his artistic oeuvre exploring the theme of family and kinship in an Asian context. Lee used photography as a device for breaking the silence in understanding his family better. The number ‘two’ is of particular significance to him as it represents a symbiotic partnership bound by love but also fraught with tension.

© Sean Lee, from the series ‘Two People’; Source @ Landscape Stories

In an interview with Landscape Stories magazine, he described “I have been routinely choreographing performances and situations between my father, my mother, and me, since 2010. I used to think I knew what I was doing with the making of these images, but as time passed I became less certain. At times they seem to speak to me about the dreams and nightmares of childhood. Most of the time, however, they make me wonder about the strangeness of being a human organism and the mystery of being a family, of being a part of a lineage. I continue to photograph my parents because they are the only people who occur to me without my own choosing.”

The work focuses on the relationship between his parents to explore larger themes of love, tension, interdependency and sacrifice. Tentative and moving, these gentle frames of domestic life beckon at us to slow down and contemplate upon the concept of family and ephemeral nature of existence.

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Photography Reviews

Mundane – Salma Abedin Prithi

Bangladesh artist, Salma Abedin Prithi, looks into the gruesome and dehumanising social violence that occurs on the everyday newspaper such as a man is beaten by his neighbours after complaining their music is too loud. A mother is murdered by a local mob suspecting her of kidnapping while she visits a school to inquire about admissions. A child is lynched by thirteen men after being accused of stealing a bicycle.

She stages these stories with her friends and family to reconstruct the psychological experience there was with beautiful harsh black and white staged images. The performative space created between the artist and the actor/ress allows improvisation to push further the participatory act of the actor’s interpretation of the story which are captured and emotionally felt by audience when looking through the images.

In an interview with Lensculture, she described, “The performances in my photographs were quite organic as I did not arrange any rehearsal, script, storyboard, or any other illustration. I need an intimate environment, and preferably accidental moments, to explore the unexpected, which often works better than a planned approach.”

© Salma Abedin Prithi, from the series ‘Mundane’; Source @ Salma Abedin Prithi

Prithi has created a body of work made up of nearly fifty images, split into two distinct streams that work in conversation with one another. Black and white photographs, harshly lit and capriciously surreal are paired with waxed photographs extracted from newspapers, collaged with textual erasures, sourced from the same. She explained that, “many of my photos are taken inside the same room, as these real events were connected to a common place and its morphology. Secondly, I tried to transform real newspaper photos and texts to an ambiguous poetry on such violence, to protest against the mundanity of everyday news.” 

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Photography Reviews

Drawing the Event – Hirofumi Isoya

Another Japanese Artist, Hirofumi Isoya, who was one of the finalist at The Reference Asia shared his series Drawing the Event where he re-examines the consistency in recognition and the linear temporal axis through creating works. Most of the subject matters are familiar in our daily lives and how he manages to capture and record these fragments of life moments is what intrigue me the most with this series.

© Hirofumi Isoya, from the series ‘Drawing the Event’; Source @ The Reference Asia
Coins from the great powers are pressed against a palm as intensely as it becomes congested. The five rings are naturally reminiscent of the Olympic Games. This work, however, clearly presents the more essential subject that money is more stiff and tougher.

These works mostly capture details of subjects, and reflect scenes and sensations that his body catches before he comprehend the whole circumstances. 

The colour of the images are decreased to sepia tone while one side of the frame remains a colour of the original photo. In the interview with The Reference Asia, he mentioned, “While a frame is generally considered as an additional matter to a photographic work, I rather consider my work has an image stuck on a frame which is a sculptural object. I aim to present multiple relationships including the presentness of the colored frame, the spared space between the photograph and the frame created by the process of manipulation, and the viewers’ thinking and disturbances about the outside of the frame which you pointed out.”

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Photography Reviews

2:16.22 – Kensaku Seki

Japanese artist Kensaku Seki (with a background in physical education and himself also as an athlete) recently made a work 2:16.22 which looks at five athletes who stake their lives on the act of running and the on-going fight to set records. The work looks at the other side of glory in setting the record numbers – the sweat, the pain, the endurance etc came together for an artist book as well as an exhibition that is currently showing at Reminder Strongholds.

I really enjoyed the work perhaps because I was also a former swimmer and I resonate with the hardship behind the glorification.

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Photography Reviews

Constanza Valderrama

Recent graduate, Constanza Valderrama is a Chilean artist based in London. Her artistic practice involves exploring photography medium as an object, experimenting and using a multiplicity of materials and techniques to create and print her images.

Her graduation pieces include a series called Horizon Tautology, which is a collection of eight photographic pieces of the same image done with a multiplicity of materials and techniques. The image is a landscape that represents the place where her parents grew up and where they still live. This landscape has also been the background for lots of her memories.

Whereas the repetition of the same image speaks of the recurring act of remembering this place, the different plastic solutions translate autobiographic situations, emotions and sensations that have shaped this memory over time.

This collection is visually linked by the horizon line, articulating a final organic composition containing a multiplicity of shapes, textures, colours and thickness. Altogether, these ten pieces suggest that particular ways of remembering form the general puzzle of memory.

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© Constanza Valderrama, from the series ‘Horizon Tautology’; Source @ RCA

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Photography Reviews

Finger Play – Jinhee Kim

Awarded excellent for The Reference Asia photo prize, Korean artist Jinhee Kim‘s Finger Play series explores her own relationships with others and society using her distinctive technique of finely embroidering photographs.

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© Jinhee Kim, from the series ‘Finger Play’; Source @ The Reference Asia

In the interview by The Reference Asia, the project birthed as a result of her body reaction to embroidering. She discovered she developed pompholyx, which caused blisters on her hands and feet. The blisters that she repeatedly got made her quite embarrassed and began thinking about contexts of the hand, which is one of the body parts most exposed to others, in a personal level and a social level.

“I started wondering why my rough hands embarrassed me. That made me start collecting images of hands generally considered ideal, which I saw on media…

…media instill stereotypes in people. Advertisements and magazines put emphasis on creating an image that resonates with a large audience. Especially, advertising images are both what a common recognition within a group creates, and what the recognition is created based on…

…while these images are unnaturally exaggerated, no one would think they are further from everyday life. They imprint the impression that these are the feminine, clean, beautiful hands in the audience’s mind.”

Other than adopting the traditional form of embroidery photographs by using found images of “ideal” female hands from media and advertisement, she developed the work further by photographing female hands sticking out of holes on printed materials and playing with the threads.

One of the jurors Gwen Lee commented, “Jinhee’s works Finger Play conjured up images of Dutch painter Juan Sanchez Cotan’s still life paintings. Instead of cabbage and apples, we see anonymous hands entering into panel of images (realities), connected by threads into subliminal realities. The illusion created through the layer of printed images (cut out images of hands from the magazine), embroidery, and hands hold an aura that is both eternal or disturbing.”

 

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Photography Reviews

Covid-19

Artworks and photography work about the pandemic has been flooding the social media or amongst the art fields, none of which gives me a new sense of inspiration like the one I find with Antoine d’Agata. He used a thermal imaging camera and is drawn to it as it reduces the human subjects in his images to a heat source, an essence of humanity, stripped of cultural specificity.

The artwork themselves are very captivating. And the use of this technology makes perfect sense for capturing humanity in this cold war.

Reference: https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/im-starting-to-feel-the-pain-antoine-agata-covid-19-coronavirus/?utm_source=Audience&utm_campaign=147805841a-FIELD_NOTES_2306_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_237144cbf5-147805841a-7253576&mc_cid=147805841a&mc_eid=ee72b89131

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© Antoine d’Agata, from the article ‘I’m Starting to Feel the Pain’; Source @ Magnum Photos

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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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