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

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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