Guest interview by Christopher Schreck
I’ve been aware of your photography for about a year now, and in that time, it seems like your work has undergone some significant developments – particularly in your approach to composition and color interaction. Do you have any sense of your work having changed? If so, have those changes been deliberate or organic?
I definitely feel change in my work. I’d say it is deliberate, but because I see my work as a natural response to what I’ve been creating, I would also argue that the changes are organic too. There’s certainly a wish to express my aesthetic views, I feel it building up momentum in me, but it’s still in a trial by error stage, too soon to be definable. I suspect this question will always be answered vaguely, not because I fear labels but rather because I wonder about change constantly.
You’re currently studying Fashion Design. How have your studies affected your photographic practice? Is there a connection between the two?
At the moment they don’t have any connection and I don’t intend to cross them over. I’ve photographed my schoolwork, but it didn’t felt like bridging both areas. I’ve seldom used my photography work as research for designing. Though I have to say the way I work at school has definitely shaped my judgment, affecting the way I photograph. My perception became sharper, more assertive and my behavior towards photography certainly more analytical. I’m not saying no to a possible connection between both interests in the future, but right now I feel too inexperienced, with a lot left to learn from either areas to pull off that combo successfully.
In looking at your work, I can imagine many of your subjects being things you randomly noticed and chose to shoot impulsively, but the compositions and angles you use show a lot of thoughtfulness and ingenuity. It makes me curious about your process: where does the balance fall between spontaneity and deliberation in your working method?
Photographing is a reaction to what I see, so spontaneity and deliberation are entwined. A camera is a device, hence me believing there’s no way I could be spontaneous in the full sense of the word. It ends up being about selection. It happens quite often me walking out of a potential photograph just because pressing the shutter has its weight. We could call it a constant struggle, opportunity vs. control, and that the image is the remnant of that quarrel. Poetry aside, photographing really became a mind game, because pressing a shutter is easy, seeing patterns is also easy. Restraining myself actually became one of my main concerns, when to do it and why. I don’t spend time planning a shot, conceptually speaking. When something catches my attention, I take my camera out and look through it. All I do the seconds before I shoot is basically placing the frame into its most neutral position in relation to the subject. It might sound a bit grand, but I see it as a needed honesty towards what’s facing you, in order to get, you got to give.
You recently released a book with Mengxi Zhang - a collection of photographs taken during the summer in China entitledThe palace explodes the shrimp bail, when the flower want to oxygen and nutrition, I will help too much. Can you talk about how the book came together, your thoughts on the work included in it, and the meaning behind that title?
We both wanted to produce something physical for a while and we realized we were in China at the same time last summer without knowing it. We casually took that as a starting point until I saw that Mengxi only shot black and white while she was there. Since I only had color photographs, it became a very healthy challenge to edit the book in a way that the monochrome would balance out my work and vice versa. The images represent the Chinese everydayness. We were aware that it could be a much more in depth study, spawning over five volumes if not more, accompanied by a lengthy anthropological essay, but that wasn’t our aim. It’s a lighthearted first outing into the book making business, a cheerful and warm documentation of our journey. The title is a combination of several Chinese dishes translated to English. It’s actually a phenomenon called Chinglish. We thought it’d be a great way to address the spirit of the book.
This is a great image. Can you speak a bit about the circumstances surrounding your taking it?
The photo was taken during class. The deadline was soon and we were all very anxious. My friend Liz was quite behind on her garment making and looking very upset so we all stopped for a break. Minutes after she fell asleep and that intense floral print leaned over the table.
What do you find exciting about photography?
The simple fact that photography’s premise of instantaneous making is both its welcome card and also its biggest threat. Lately I’ve been coming across with lots of articles mentioning photography’s lack of identity due to cyber platforms and mass access to cameras. They are a good reminder of how considerate and thorough things should be looked in this age, without falling victims of obvious meanings, especially to photography’s own stigmas. We were talking about changes earlier. I wonder how one doesn’t change with all this external pressure and how photography could have killed us all if cameras shot bullets too.
Have you recently discovered any photographers whose work caught your eye? What about their work appeals to you?
I think this question would make me go nuts a year ago, in a good way. I would mention a few flickr names and established photographers. I still follow their work today with the same respect. It’s not that I’ve become more skeptical since then, but rather because I’ve seen a lot more. Being in London actually played a huge part in this because I had the chance to walk around graduate shows from supposedly high profile art universities. Presuming that a grad show is the first proper exhibition in the curriculum of aspiring artists, I was disheartened and shocked by the amount of naïveté and superficiality seen in their work. I know I’m nobody to judge, let’s make that clear, but the majority of them seem to wear this cloak of uncertainty and self unawareness that isn’t charming at all. Photography students seem to want to be seen as something else. Now they bring lightboxes combined with wood installations, labyrinths, soundtrack playing, setting shrines, water falling, etc… Maybe I’m being very ignorant and quite rude, but I can’t stop myself from saying that some essence was lost. What I actually end up noticing is the absence of an intention, a desire to be fleeting for the sake of being enigmatic. I wonder why if it’s common knowledge that an image is worth a thousand words.
Upcoming projects or plans?
Nothing special for now, self-publishing really emptied my wallet. It’s going to be a season of promoting the book and to research other ways to show my work. I’m also working on some ideas for upcoming collaborations. Either way I’m expecting change to happen.