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

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

Time to tame the tigers – Saskia Wesseling

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Photo courtesy to the artist: Saskia Wesseling

Saskia Wesseling is a Dutch photographer based in Hong Kong, who is a finalist of 2019 WMA awards. This year’s theme is “opportunity”. Saskia used this opportunity to talk about the education system here in Asia, especially in Hong Kong.

Visually the work is simple and straightforward. Images are portraits of children in their uniform, with exercise book or text books covering their faces, symbolising a lot of different meanings. It can be interpreted as the system only cares about children’s achievements, they don’t even want to know their “faces” ie. the child as a whole. The age of the children ranged from kindergarten to teens – showing that, this corrupted system starts from such young age. Postures of the children are very stiff and meticulous, indicating the indirectness of what the education system is doing to children, whom are meant to be free and creative, boxing them into exactly the same “robots”. Amongst the series, one of the photos indicating a boy with lots of medals around his neck, plus other other in the background, showing that education system emphasises on successes by achievements and awards, and regardless of children’s emotions or individuality.

There were two more photographs with a group of children standing on each step of the stairs with same posture and uniform. Saskia wanted to portray that if following what the system is providing and do so accordingly (visually indicated by the stamps), the children can take one step at a time to higher status. In one of the two photographs, a westerner child rebelled and left the “line”, so then in the other photograph, she was placed in much lower status of the stairs, which indicates that the system is rigid and there is no flexibility for creativity and the potentials for individuality.

All in all, the work is easy to understand and visually straightforward, so that even for those who doesn’t have art background can easily grasp what the topic is about, and what it is questioning. I’m not entirely sure why some photos are in black and white and some are in colour, maybe to indicate that the problem isn’t just a contemporary problem, but it grew from a long history and it is still happening now, with no changes.

The work is inspiring in that we both care about the same topic, but personally I am not too fond of the visual language used. Maybe it’s the mix of colours or images with selective colours. For me I think the visual form can be stronger. Maybe the use of light can be better but maybe she wanted to present the work in the most ordinary way. But definitely, work from film could be totally different and to a higher standard. It is what digitals can’t do.

 

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