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

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

Apple – Zhang Xiao

Zhang Xiao the star photographer from China who’s best known for his work “coastline” has been making works rigorously ever since (as he shared on the projection night). The installation work “Apple” was one of the main exhibitions showcased at the Lianzhou Museum of Photography during the festival.

Using apple as the anchor point, the work talks about how the cultivation of apple from the west brings in apple industrialisation in his hometown, Yantai and how that impacts on local people as well as the environment.

© Michelle Chan, series ‘Apple’ by Zhang Xiao at 15th Edition Lianzhou Foto Festival 2019

The work presented was a multi-media work with photographs, polaroid emulsion prints, videos and a apple tree sculpture installation that narrates the story from how apples are collected and industrialised to markets and other trading centres, to the effect it has on the environment and the society. The progression of the exhibition goes from photographs and a video of how apples are processed in the factories to a wall of meticulous yet beautiful photographs of death birds. Zhang uses birds as the channel for the storytelling because many birds are trapped in-between electrical fences that were built to protect the apples in the factories. The way they were photographed felt very much like corpse photographs but also photographs of specimen where the choice of printing on acrylic or glass reinforces the feeling of preciousness of these corpses. The very last piece of artwork was created from a collaboration with the local people putting fake apples printed “Gong Hei Fat Choi” onto winter trees, symbolising their wishes for prosperity for the coming year. This work shows how the value of apple as just a simple type of food changes according to human impacts.

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Photography Reviews

Tales of the Invisible – Yanxin Guo

A hidden gem from the Lianzhou Foto festival was the series by Yanxin Guo “Tales of the Invisible”. Stamping from her personal experience when she returned to China last summer where she witnessed the biggest typhoon yet and 13 people died, it strikes her that the invisible can become something powerful and one should never overlook.

© Yanxin Guo, from the series ‘Tales of the Invisible’ ; Source @ Yanxin Guo

Her series of photographs are images which hints the invisibles through the visible. Clean, poetic and sentimental images transcend this strong feeling that there is some magical power in the nature which is stirring behind e.g. an image of a gush of water in the ocean pairing with the boy curling up, or the lite up trees at night pairing with a portrait of a Chinese girl with her hair blowing.

© Yanxin Guo, from the series ‘Tales of the Invisible’ ; Source @ Yanxin Guo

The images are subtle, which combined with the fragmented story written by Guo reinforced further the concept of “Tales of the Invisible”. The series is highly metaphorical yet could be easily felt and filled the room with mystery.

© Yanxin Guo, from the series ‘Tales of the Invisible’ ; Source @ Yanxin Guo

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© Michelle Chan, series ‘Tales of the Invisible’ by Yanxin Guo at 15th Edition Lianzhou Foto Festival 2019

 

The book will be printed soon so watch out for this one.

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Photography Reviews

A Long Day of a Certain Year – Li Lang

“A Long Day of a Certain Year” (某年某月某日) by Chinese photographer / artist Li Lang won the Puntum Awards at the Lianzhou Foto Festival 2019. This photographic installation encompasses pictures he systematically took out of the window while on a round trip on a high-speed train across China. The work was installed as a 5 multi-channelled video with an image displayed for a second at a time, starting from the first channel and rotating to the next channel throughout the whole video. The idea was to recreate the space of the train carriage, in which windows display the projected slideshows and voice interviews, mirroring the feelings of one looking out of the window on a train and thoughts running by.

© Li Lang, from the series ‘A Long Day of a Certain Year’ ; Source @ Jimei x Arles

His works uses the images from the train window to juxtapose with recorded voices of about 50 online volunteers about their lives and social realities. He wanted to show through the work that the things that are going on in society are like the view we have from the train: constantly changing, random, contingent, and uncertain. The scenery is familiar yet unfamiliar to everyone. However, the train will come to a halt eventually and sending its passengers back to their reality. This is a metaphor for the relationship between people and society: whether watching or being in it, you cannot leave.

Here’s the artist statement of the work (which I think reads well into the work):

其實一代又一代的人都是這樣的。

————《某年某月某日》畫外音

某年某月某日是一個確定的時間,不僅是日常生活中的昨天,今天和明天終究將會屬於某年某月某日。周而復始的某年某月某日構成生活的全部。

我乘坐在一趟往返有四千六百公里的高速火車上,以統計學採樣的方式拍攝窗外景觀,跟隨火車縱貫這個熟悉而又陌生的國度,穿過城市、鄉鎮、農村、丘陵、平原和荒野。當我木訥地望着窗外,火車前進方向的景觀迎面撲來,然後轉瞬即逝地消失在身後,我突然產生幻覺,未來就在前方,未來被運動所挾持,在我毫無知覺間,未來已成為過去。對我而言,此時此地的現在仿佛是缺失的。只有等到火車抵達終點,我走出車廂,才感受到現在的存在和回歸喧囂的現實。​

現實是什麼?

面對這個問題,我和眾多的志願者一起,聊起身處的現實和現實對我們的影響。話語間滲透着講述者對生活最直觀的感受。我再次成為坐在火車上眺望窗外景觀的旁觀者。在生活中,普通人都是現實的旁觀者。

在毫無知覺中度過無數個周而復始無趣的日子之後,我們慶幸自己生活中的平安,暗自慶幸那些不幸的事沒有發生在自己的身上,就像始終坐在火車上觀望着窗外和我們沒有任何關係的景觀一樣。因為我們習慣做為一名安全的旁觀者。但是別忘記,火車終究將會到達終點,我們這幫旅客終究將走出車廂,回到現實。千萬不要覺得現實就像窗外的風景一樣,寧靜無聲。其實,我們只是聽不到外面的聲音而已。

The work is so simply put yet it speaks to such a wide range of audience. They can so easily resonate with the feeling of future uncertainty and the social reality that we face everyday. I extremely adore how he brings the everydayness into his artwork which can also be interpreted more deeply with the current social and political affairs.

Here are the 2 interviews he did (both in Chinese):

https://news.artron.net/20191002/n1062004.html

http://www.artdesign.org.cn/article/view/id/31919

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Photography Reviews

Our Songs from the Forest – Uma Bista

Another big highlight from the 15th Edition of Angkor photo festival was the solo exhibition “Our Songs from the Forest” by Nepali photographer Uma Bista. The work talks about the religious myths of women menstruation and how that still have an impact on the 21st century even though criminalisation was made.

Our Songs from the Forest

17-year-old Nita Mijar from Mangalsen Municipality-10, Jupu has just finished her Grade 10 exams. She is responsible for a lot of work at home, in the kitchen and the fields. Her parents work and live in India while Nita, her grandmother and her younger brother live at home. Her older brother lives in Birgunj and is studying to be an engineer. Nita does not want to go the cattle shed. But if she does not go to the cattle shed for a month or two, her family and the villagers start asking questions like “Why aren’t you menstruating? What has happened? Did you have physical relations with some man? Are you pregnant?” These questions keep her going to the cattle shed. She enjoys going to the forest for walks and goes with her friends whenever she’s free. In the forest, she pours her sorrows out in songs.

© Uma Bista, from the series ‘Our Songs from the Forest’ ; Source @ Lensculture

Into the hills of Achham, women are considered impure during menstruation and are banished to cattle shed for 7 whole days every month. They are required to remain isolated from their family, and are forbidden from entering homes, kitchens, schools, and temples. They are deemed to be untouchable as it is believed that the gods would be in rage if they are to break the rules of Chhaupadi. In this belief system, it is thought that if a menstruating woman touches a tree, it will never again bear fruit; if she consumes milk, the cow will not give any more milk. They are responsible for the possible ills that might befall the family – especially with male family members e.g. accidents, deaths, illnesses, poor harvest, failures in exams etc.

Even though Chhaupadi has been criminalised and in 2017, Nepal passed a law punishing people who force women into exile during menstruating with up to three months in jail or a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees. However, in the five months since the new law went into effect (in August 2018), no cases have been filed against those enforcing the practice. The fear of change still runs deep and every year women and girls die from performing Chhaupadi.

Uma’s photographs take us to the young girls from Achham, into the forests around Oligaun, where they are free to sing, dance and laugh. These soft tendered portraits of the girls show their release and relief of oppression from Chhaupadi, and also a sense of power within them that they own. At the same time, there are doubts with how the future beholds for them, sharing their struggles in how to push the boundaries.

The exhibition in Angkor was held by the Riverside, which is the perfect outdoor location for this particular series. Sari, an everyday clothing for girls in Nepal and is sometimes used as a pad for mensuration, are hung onto trees symbolising a sense of freedom for these girls. They are free to flow with the wind as it blows. The work is either hung onto trees or on canvas nailed to bamboo sticks, reiterating the concepts behind the series – rural village, forest, freedom. Catch the exhibition before it ends on 18th December 2019!

© Michelle Chan, series ‘Our Songs from the Forest’ by Uma Bista at 15th Edition Angkor Photo Festival 2019

 

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Photography Reviews

Casting out the self – Dominic Hawgood

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© Dominic Hawgood, CGI still from the series ‘Casting out the Self, 2017 ; Source @ Photoworks

With the increased digitalisation use of photography, a whole system of photography techniques, methods and production equipment was replaced by another superstructure of methods and devices (electronic, or digital), which dramatically changed and expanded the possibilities of capturing, editing and circulating images.

Instead of conventional image capturing, Hawgood focuses on practices associated with image manipulation and the production of computer generated images – which raises the questions of the ontological and epistemological nature of photography, while simultaneously forcing us to question the limits, tensions, and articulations between real and virtual, between fact and fiction, between representation and imagination.

While photography is being questioned in this direction, “Casting out the Self” took this direction and turned it around to explore the spiritual side of digitals. The work explores the aesthetic properties of DMT – a psychedelic drug that is seen as a means to access the spiritual world. The aesthetic side of the effect as Hawgood described, “offered this digital experience — I felt like I was inside a computer simulation of some kind… you experience strange perspectives, distortions that might feel symmetrical or something like that. There’s unusual depth, noiselessness, clarity—all kinds of things that you associate with building imagery in CG (computer graphics) and digitally.”

He collaborated with another artist and created video animation which displays various images, visuals, and objects. This work focuses on digital technology and the visual world this technology makes possible, but also serves as a means to raise questions regarding the transition from the real world to the digital world.

The work tests a lot of boundaries that touch upon topics of my interest: spirituality and the line between real and fake. No doubt his work stretches and bends over my mind on how nowadays what photography is. Is CGI rendered images also a type of photography? With the increased digital technology usage in photography nowadays, what is photography?

References: https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/dominic-hawgood/

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Photography Today

What makes a good photograph?

Interesting read from BJP’s article on “what makes a good photograph.”

Everything created is relative to taste and time. The work that seems like a mistake in this context, in this era, at this place may be viewed different elsewhere. It is this that we as photographers or artists need to keep in mind and still work diligently towards producing work and making art.

What resonates with me the most from this article is that, mistakes, often we disregard them, we want to redo things the way we want, we think that they are bad. But for these featured artists as well as me, is that we have a mindset of honestly accepting the mistakes we made, and see how we can turn that to something else creatively.

“Mistakes is a point of entrance to something new. The mistake reveals something that you may not have thought about before: a new way of making photographs.”

The point is, to keep making mistakes. And to keep practising.

https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/08/what-makes-a-good-photograph/

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Photography Reviews

Siu Wai Hang

Few weeks ago I went to a gallery opening “Ritual of Synthesis” at Gallery Exit Hong Kong and one of the artists’ work brought attention to my eyes. Quoting from the original statement:

“Siu Wai Hang employs an analogue approach to photography and explores its materiality in his series. “Strokes of Light” focuses on light as a medium, which is fundamental to photography and essential for visual perception. SIU developed a series of prints using the leading end of photographic roll film that is exposed to light before being loaded into the camera. The array of colours captured is literally a transformation of intangible light into physical form. In “Faces of People”, SIU discovers photography in an alternative way with obsolete technology. By taking individual still images with a super 8 film camera, a device made for capturing moving images, he explores the nature of photography through the context of moving images.”

The work by “Faces of people” is intriguing, showing the never-ending faces of people whom are unidentifiable and that the loop of these people appearing on the movie screen mirrors the effort of HK citizens at the current Protest stage. It seems never-ending.

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SIU also has other interesting work which he often explores the space between photography and moving images. His WMA award-winning series of InsidOutland is also intriguing. The work was made and photographed at the boarder where stowaways used to land from their great escape from China. The border symbolises identity, history, core values of Hong Kong. Without this border, Hong Kong doesn’t exist. His other work can be found here:

http://www.siuwaihang.net/pro.html

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Photography Reviews

Studying family relationship through FujiQuicksnap – Fion Hung’s Solo Exhibition

There was something mesmerising from this work when I visited the exhibition two weeks ago.

An angle from a female point of view on her takes in looking at family relationships woven with Chinese traditions, is something that touches upon me and I can certainly relate to easily. The work itself was divided into 3 parts.

The first part was using the family salt business tradition as an anchor, where the passing down of such family traditions was created through the medium of photography by the artists. Chinese traditional culture is about passing along the possessions of one generation to the next, and down the chain of the family as a way of family identity. And instead of taking up the salt business, Artist Hung transfer this pass along and bring it to the area of her expertise – photography.

The second part was about the exchange of dialogue between the artist and her mother in a visual sense. They photograph each other creating a visual narratives of how one see each other – with added texts and sounds to represent her feelings towards her family.

And then the third part, from my memory is that it extended the narratives to the whole family – photographing mum and dad. But this part I don’t remember much.

Shame that the exhibition is already over – would love to visit again if there’s a chance.

 

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