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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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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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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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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