Photo Critiques

Buttons for Eyes – Priya Kambli

Recently, I’ve been looking a lot into theories of photography for sure, and also photomontage works. I used to have this narrow vision of photography of Bresson’s decisive moment, praising Magnumphotos as God, and that was it for me for photography. Blindly ignoring what a big world is out there for making work with images. Maybe it was a good thing, so to just focus on one type of photography or maybe it was a bad thing, because there are so so so much more other possibilities with photography.

What changed me was, I got tired and bored of decisive moments. They are yes, decisive moments, of what claims to be moment of “truths”. Yet theories of photography opened up the question of photography as a medium. I mean, really opened up how I view and understand this medium. And photomontage, is one way of working with images that I feel I’d like to have a taste on. Similarly to decisive moments, there are already materials to work with (former, with what’s happening around the world; latter, with archival images and other materials).

Most immigrants exist in two worlds, the world of memories and visual connections of their growing up and the new realities of living in a culture where all is not familiar. This search for what is home, for the roots of that connect them to the most primal self is the main theme of Priya Kambli’s work.

“Buttons for Eyes” talks about loss, memory and identity (I guess I have a subconscious love for identity and loss, because of the work I’m drawn to). Kambli physically manipulates old family photographs and then rephotographs the altered artefacts. She uses light and flour as manipulative elements to add layers for starting a dialogue about cultural differences and global similarities.

© Priya Kambli, from the series ‘Buttons for Eyes, 2017- ; Source @ Lenscratch

She works with archival images which allows her to connect the past with the present, to bring forward memories, and to reimagine them adorned with tokens of the everyday – in a sense, making these memories physical. The way in which she maintains the photographs is akin to how Indian housewives tend to their kitchen deities – hence the use of flour. The meticulous patterns crafted on it symbolises the “Indianity” of her past identity (literally these patterns of flour can be blown away in seconds) – imprinted onto a physical form that she is re-creating for the present.

Much of the work talks about the separation and the exchange of cultural differences and similarities between herself and her sister, whom chose to stay in India whereas she immigrated to the US after their parents passed away.

There’s a final layer of narrative to this work which comes from the title “Button for Eyes.” It comes from a question her mother used to ask, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?” Her mother’s concern was about Kambli’s inability to see trivial objects right in front of her, but also about our collective inability to see well enough to navigate the world. “It is a question laced with parental fear,” she says. Which goes back to, are we ignorant to these cultural differences and global similarities in the world? The laced patterns on the images may also symbolises not only the ignorant we ourselves may have, but those that derives from the parental fear in order to protect their children.

References: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/female-in-focus-buttons-for-eyes/

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Photo Critiques

Solastalgia – Shi Yangkun

“Solastalgia” by definition it means the distress caused by environmental change. In the case of Shi Yangkun’s series, it is about a form of melancholy evoked by changes that have happened in the used-to-be familiar home context, referring to a special homesickness sensed by people when they are still within the home environment.

What drawn me to this work is probably because of my own history of leaving my home Hong Kong, and studying and living in UK, and now being back, everything has changed. And that sense of loss is permanent, unlike nostalgia which may just be temporary.

Quoting from Shi Yangkun,

“People are eager to go back home because they feel safe and comfortable with familiar attachments. From the view of nostalgia, the loss of attachment is temporary, because a person believe that they can go home sooner or later. The memory of these attachments could provide comfort. However, in the case of solastalgia, I would argue, the loss of attachment is permanent, which means even though they are standing in the original place they cannot find these attachments any more.”

The photographs speak to me because I totally understand that feeling and I can really resonate with the visual images. In his work, he questions not only the impact of the industrialisation but also reflects his uncertainties under a particular environment.

© Shi Yangkun, from the series ‘Solastalgia, 2016- ; Source @ Shi Yangkun

References: https://phmuseum.com/Henri/story/solastalgia-106f85fec8

Interview with SCMP: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2091520/photographer-misses-his-home-especially-when-hes-there

 

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Photography

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

Searching for Mu – Paul Cupido

I came across his work while browsing and spying on what other people were following on social media. And here, I stumbled onto beautiful works by Cupido. “Searching for Mu” or actually Cupido’s artistic concept “revolves around the principle of mu: a philosophical concept that could be translated as ‘does not have’, but is equally open to countless interpretations. Mu can be considered a void, albeit one that holds potential. Searching for Mu — taking shape in photographs, film clips, sound and folded paper — is tantamount to a quest. I have journeyed nearly as far away from home as possible, nevertheless, a journey outward equally means an exploration of our inner selves. A journey inward searching for acceptance that life comes to an end, yet at the same time knowing that life is circular, starting over time and again.

The artistic philosophy behind his work is beautiful – combining some form of zen or buddhism philosophy of life is impermanent and that everything comes in full circle. What’s more beautiful is his artist statement:

“I aim to engage with the world with wide-open senses. My work is about the magic moments of life as well as its inconveniences. I want to take pictures, while forgetting about the process of photography, until I’m saturated with an existential sense of life. Every step I take begins with the notion of ‘mono no aware’: the transience of everything, the gentle melancholy of things, being sensitive to ephemera.

His work reflects so much about his philosophy of life. And I guess why I love it so much is because not only his visual works are strikingly beautiful and give me such a great feeling of calm and peace, but also we have such similar and common philosophy.

Some of his work:

 

 

 

 

 

 

His work and philosophy reminded me so much of Masao Yamamoto’s work, who is famous for his zen type of photography (will do the next blogpost on his work).

 

References (where he talks more about the process of his work, and the concept behind his books) – highly recommended:

Interview with GUP: http://www.gupmagazine.com/articles/ephemere-an-interview-with-paul-cupido

http://www.bildhalle.ch/fotografen/paul-cupido/?L=1

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Photography

Masahisa Fukase

The renowned Japanese photography work “Ravens” by Fukase has recently has his “Family” book reprinted by UK publisher MACK. Family has always been a topic that’s close to my heart. Knowingly that the “Ravens” work was really an antidote of the aftermath of his wife and muse Yoko leaving him, bringing him to use “ravens” as a symbolism to characterised his solitude of loneliness, pain and sorrow, the work “Family” is somewhat a different visually narrated work.

The cover and the design made my very first impression of the book. The design of the cover was very much similar to the Chinese 族譜, a documented scroll of written names of the ancestors and family branches in the entire history of e.g. the Chans. The 33 plates images (all done by dry plate technique) are studio portraitures of his immediate and relative families beginning and closing with the house that he lived in.

 

They are, in fact, no ordinary portraitures. In all the plates, his wife Yoko stands out the most, even when in group photographs where all face backwards. From the review by Jorg Colberg, he mentioned that “she is allowed to only wear what I learned is a traditional undergarment for women (koshimaki). In effect, she is naked, and it is only said garment and her long flowing hair that allows for some form of modesty.” For me the work speaks a lot about the masculinity power and how women and females are positioned in Japanese families. According to Colberg, the work also talks about cruelty and the relationship between Fukase and his father. Without knowing the history of him being terrified of his father since young, I guess personally I wouldn’t be able to nitpick this from reading the image (plate 29) alone. I do wish I can read Japanese to understand the synopsis written in his website to have a better view of his family history and the work.

What I really agree with Colberg is that “…what attracts me to this body of work, to this book, is that it resists the kind of resolution of so many other family projects where differences are acknowledged, and people might go their own ways, but it’s all good. Often enough, life just will not conform. Here, that narrative is missing, and there is just an assembly of fragmented ideas and aspects, some which are fighting each other… Sometimes, it’s good when things are not too spelled out.”

I think sometimes you don’t need to be extremely knowledgeable in the art history or skilled in visual literacy to be able to feel the the work. I guess this is the reason why this work is another masterpiece of his. The emotions, the conflicts and the tensions happenings within and portrayed in these family photographs can be felt and understood even though I’m some stranger and no family connection of his. For me, that is a timeless piece of work.

 

Side note: Towards the end of his artistic life, he also made another work called Bukubuku (means bubbling), which is his self-portraits when bathing in water, showing his solitude and isolation of the world once again through this visual diary of himself.

An excerpt of the work and article published by FOAM.

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Photography

Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko, a Japanese photographer / visual artist, whose work often revolves around small things and little moments in our day to day lives. Her work dances between the subconscious of dreams and the subtlety of the reality – flying birds, close-up of the details of hands, illuminated skies etc – creating loose narratives of visual poetry which gives a tranquil and serendipity feeling from within.

From PHMuseum we learn that she adopts her work ethics from Japanese culture and Buddhism. “I’m not a strict Buddhist, but I like an idea of Buddhism”, Kawauchi explains. And with this comes an appreciation of simple things, and their imperfections.”

Honestly I didn’t know how to appreciate her work before, when I felt at that time her work was very ordinary and nothing special. Yet maybe through my own buddhism practice as well, there’s a growing love and appreciation towards her work. The pictures often display moments that feels so close as if they can be touched. It feels as though I can just walk into this life of what she created – the dance between dreams and reality.

SFMOMA interview:

https://www.sfmoma.org/watch/rinko-kawauchi-contemplates-small-mysteries-life/

 

 

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Photography

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

Stranger – Olivia Arthur

 

Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur‘s work “Stranger” is about Dubai, connecting its past and its present days. While she was researching for this project during her artist residency in Dubai, she found out about a shipwreck incident in Dubai in 1961 and lots of people died. One of the families believed that his son never died from the incident and that he is still alive in present days. Using this story as an inspiration, Stranger is about telling the city of Dubai through this imaginative character – what if he’s still alive now, how and what would he see?

Although she was trying to see it from the point of view of this character, the book encapsulated a feeling which is universal for outsiders coming to the place – a sense of isolation and loneliness as well as strangeness to the things that happen and exist in the city. From the book, she also collected quotes and extracts of conversations that she heard. For the final words of the book, she extracted from what she found out from the divers – that people were in their life-vest and pockets full of gold – to use as a metaphor for a city that draws people in with its promises of riches and full of workers on all levels of society, saving something for a life elsewhere.

The design of the book was also carefully thought out to represent “Stranger”. The book was printed entirely on transparent paper creating these new double or sometimes triple compilation images which gives a sense of confusion from the layering of the past with the present. This somehow matches what Olivia imaged the survivor would feel when walking around the city.

image courtesy to Olivia Arthur

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Photography

The Discrete Channel with Noise – Claire Strand

 

This series by Clare Strand is a simple and a brilliant analogy about communications in this era. How information nowadays can be miscommunicated and misinterpreted – be it positive or negative, whether deliberate or accidental – has an ever-increasing and overwhelming effect on our everyday life. These failures of communication can lead to minor confusion, fantastic revelation or global outrage, depending when and where they occur. Her inspiration came from the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the 1971 film adaptation, Mike Teavee says: “You photograph something then the photograph is split up into millions of tiny pieces and they go whizzing through the air, then down to your TV set when they are all put together in the right order.” However, what Mike fails to foresee are the complications and disruptions that can occur in the act of transmission. When Mike transports himself via Wonka Vision he is indeed broken into a million pieces, but when put back together again he is a 10th of his original size.

Strand asked her husband, Gordon MacDonald, to select images from her archive and create a grid. They became this human machine for transmitting information of an image from one person to another. From there, he would communicate the sequence of numbers depicting the tonal code (ranging from 1-10) of each photographic element on the grid and Strand would then paint the code on the corresponding large-scale grid she had drawn up in her studio. This method was actually forseed by George H. Eckhardt during the pre-internet age where he discussed the potential for transmitting a coded photograph via telegraph to produce an accurate representation of the original image.

This work reminds us the very physics of photography and what it used to be – chemicals, papers, chemistry and shapes. And how using such primitive methods can translate to visual representations about issues happening nowadays.

References:

https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/04/clare-strand-looks-at-misinterpretation-of-information-in-the-digital-age/

http://www.cpif.net/en/Programme/the-discrete-channel-with-noise

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