When I frame the image: I only display paintings at home or friends’ photographs, not my own.
A camera is: A tool.
I was born in Taiwan but left when I was around six during the martial law period. Leaving the country then was very difficult and we had to pretend we were going on summer holidays when in fact we were leaving everything and everyone. The first stop was the Philippines, followed by USA briefly before settling in Chile and Argentina, where I formed an identity.
However, we left after three years for Bolivia to obtain residency on the way back to the USA. In case my parents did not find a way to stay in America, we had the option of becoming Bolivians and find a way back to Argentina. My parents were not in the military nor were they diplomats or corporate executives. There was no plan. We simply moved where they knew someone.
My brother and I went to all the local schools, about 15 of them in 12 years. Needless to say, the constant change was very difficult, particularly for a shy child, but I always found a way to cope.
I returned to Taiwan when I was 20 and didn’t want to move or travel for fourteen years. Then in 2005 I moved to Copenhagen, where I met a group of very talented photographers and photojournalists, some world-renowned, helping each other until the early morning hours, whilst competing for the same award. It was a true inspiration for not only photography but seeing how they’re helping each other made them all stronger.
I was inspired by these passionate people with talent, generosity and kindness. I started my journalistic career as an arts columnist for SCMP after years of writing English learning textbooks in Taipei.
In 2005 I moved to Copenhagen, where I met a group of very talented photographers, some world-renowned, helping each other until the early morning hours, competing for the same award.
My first camera was the Keystone spy camera bought at a garage sale at 14 in the suburbs of Atlanta. There were one button and one dial. All pictures came out grainy and soft. I loved it. I’ve been a visual person ever since an early age, either drawing, painting, or making things with my hands. It’s just something I’ve always liked doing. Photography was not my first choice of medium. I started out painting and enjoyed that very much.
But with photography, I liked the idea of freezing real life and people to study later. It’s a preservation of sorts, and that’s important for someone who’s moved as many times as I have. Before I’d stumbled upon the site where I made the pictures for Discarded, I had never seen such a large area of destruction and wondered what was left in the rubble, what sort of things people left behind. Curiosity made me explore. The photographs are simply a way to weave a story based on the evidence of daily life. I didn’t face any obstacles while working on this project. The area was open when I started the project in 2010 in Ho Chi Minh City, District 2.
I am currently working on several personal projects and plan to continue doing more, plus exhibitions and meeting new friends along the way. My book on the Chungking Mansions—The Last Ghetto of Hong Kong will be launched this October in Hong Kong, then the UK in November and the USA and Canada in March 2019.
I will be doing a book tour and giving talks about my work along the way. My advice to aspiring photographers is to keep working if it feels right, despite what others say.
Sometimes, a project takes a long time before you’re clear about its message. It is a visual thinking process. The key is to keep going and look after your health. The hardest assignment was covering a student political protest for The Observer Magazine. It was hard to watch young, passionate protesters being taken away by police.
When I frame the image: I sometimes frame my photos, but very rarely, I always try to frame the image in my lens.
A camera is: A Nikon D300 17/55 mm lens, and a Nikon D610, lens: 50 mm, and 14/24 mm
Passionate about graphics, I went to Corvisart, an art college in Paris. After 4 years of art studies, I worked for several advertising agencies. There I met many advertising photographers who no doubt gave me a taste of photography.
Whilst doing my job as an Artistic Director, I practised photography more and more with my first Canon. At that time it was a film camera with Ilford film. Then, in the 1980s, I went to Asia, where my passion for travelling and photography developed. I travelled from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and of course Vietnam, my favourite.
The essential part for me was being at the heart of the Vietnamese population.
It’s almost 20 years now that I have travelled through Vietnam and photographed it from north to south, in it’s most remote corners. I am married to a Vietnamese woman from Hue. My wife and I worked for Franco-Vietnamese NGOs. That allowed us to be in direct contact with daily life and the authenticity of the country.
The essential part for me was being at the heart of the Vietnamese population. Living in the Khanh Hoa area, which I know very well, I decided to become a photography guide for major hotels in Nha Trang. 5 years of happiness where I guided many amateur photographers as well as professionals, of all nationalities.
From 1995 to 2018, I participated in many photo exhibitions in Paris and Vietnam. In 1997, one of my photos titled “In Bombay Station” was awarded at the “International Nikon Photo Contest” and exhibited at The European House of Photography in Paris. I now share my time between France and Vietnam.
My first “real” camera was a Canon FTB QL silver with Ilford 400 films, black and white. At the time the Canon brand was very popular in France. I followed the advice of my photographer friends who all worked with a Canon. But I must admit that one day I tried a Nikon. Ever since, for the last 30 years, I only work with Nikon, and of course for 10 years now, in digital.
Since returning to Paris, I have been working for a year on my new photographic concept called “Mes garçons de café parisiens” (My Parisian Coffee Boys) For 1 year I went through Parisian cafes in search of our “authentic coffee boys”. Still dressed in their traditional aprons, white shirts and bottle openers, proudly carried in the pocket of their black vests. Staying discrete is the concept and the main idea of my photographic work. Taking the snapshot, capturing the gestures, the dexterity, the skill with which they work, always in a dizziness of speed, whereas the customers, sitting quietly sip their black coffee. Putting aside the misconception of “unpleasant boys”, these men and women are for the most part the affable ambassadors of their cafés, caring about the hospitality of the establishment, playing with verbal expressions that belong only to them and tirelessly repeated, Parisian humour and even sometimes translated into bad English for our tourists who remain questionable or even doubtful.
Without them, Paris would not be Paris. The coffee boys of Paris (Mes garçons de café) have often been photographed, my concept is to photograph them, while staying very discrete, surprising them in their natural gestures, “not posed”, the difficulty is also to not show their faces, France has very strict image rights, unlike Vietnam.
Once my work is done, I will look for a publisher and publish a book on “Mes garçons de café” series and of course, organize photo exhibitions in Paris on this subject, in Asia too, because I know that the images of “Paris” and its Parisian cafes are very popular in Asian countries. The great photographers inspire me, SALGADO, MC CURRY, MAPLETHORPE, WILLY RONIS, ROBERT DOISNEAU. To look at their photos, to try to understand how their “photographic eye” works, that is my inspiration, they are my masters.
The biggest obstacle for a photographer is probably when a photographer must meet the commercial constraints of a customer. The work corresponding to one’s “eye” is not always that of the client. I have sometimes faced inconvenience, even a customer’s refusal of my photos that I found very good.
It is for this reason that I prefer to work on personal projects that will only have my personal censorship. All my photos are done in Paris when it comes to “Mes garçons de café”, as for my “BACK PHOTOGRAPHY” series, in Vietnam and Paris. To be in love with photography is to be in love with the image. Even without my camera in hand, my eye can not help framing the images. I am looking for the unusual image, photography is an obsession for me.
As I said above, great, real photographers, those who do not cheat with effects like photoshop and other software. The great masters of photography do not cheat. My wish is to continue to photograph Vietnam, France and why not other Asian countries. I also want to take part in many more photographic exhibitions with my work. It’s difficult to give advice. I would just tell young photographers, to “look” at the life around you, that’s how you will forge your photographic eye. The most difficult part for a photographer is patience. It takes years to understand and master “the” photographic eye. I think one cannot be a photographer without having taken thousands of photos.
Photography to you means: A process which allows one to extract elements from consensus reality and transform those elements in a variety of ways.
When I frame the image: When I frame an image I concentrate on what to remove from the frame and then how to arrange what remains.
A camera is: An image extracting device.
I was studying painting when, in 1967, I was drafted into Uncle Sam’s army and sent to Vietnam. Cameras were cheap at the PX in Nha Trang so I picked up a 35mm Petri 7 rangefinder camera. It wasn’t long before I was taking it everywhere and pointing it at everything.
When I returned to the US, I decided to switch my major from painting to photography. Initially, I studied photojournalism influenced by the work of W. Eugene Smith but moved to medium and large format black and white landscape work influenced first by Edward Weston and later by Paul Caponigro.
Eventually, I was exhibiting, had a dealer and was teaching advanced black and white printing and technical photography at the art school of the State University of New York, Purchase campus.
The title Echo Beach comes from the 1979 song of the same name by Martha and the Muffins with the chorus “far away in time” which seemed appropriate for this series.
In 1994 I decided to take a short sabbatical in Vietnam which turned out to be not so short as I am still here. The 2017 Echo Beach series was created in Vung Tau, Vietnam. It is the result of many experiments with the light, space, colours and object placement at Back Beach and how the photographic process could transform these picture elements. The prints are 70cmx46cm on bamboo fibre fine art paper, which works well to complete the watercolour feeling I wanted. (Many thanks to Danny Bach, master printer at VG labs in Saigon).
The title Echo Beach comes from the 1979 song of the same name by Martha and the Muffins with the chorus “far away in time” which seemed appropriate for this series. This quote from Ralph Gibson nicely connects with my view of photography: “I believe photographs are better than the photographer and the art is better than the artist. I’m not the music; I’m the radio through which the music plays. So I follow the work, I don’t lead the work. I go where the work sends me.”
My advice to artists is not to listen to any advice and just “follow the work.”
Photography means to me: Documenting time and space
When I frame the image: I’m looking for that brief instance where everything comes together.
A camera is:A memory box.
My name is Kelly Padgett, I currently live in Apex, North Carolina which is a suburb of Raleigh. I lived in Vietnam for approximately four years, and I still have close ties to the country. I believe my first camera would have been a disposable camera, the type that requires you to send the entire camera in for development. Later I started using my parents Canon Photura, which is an automatic point and shoot style camera.
Growing up I had to use or play with whatever I could get my hands on. Other cameras I experimented with were things like the Canon AE-1 and the Nikon N65. The first digital camera I ever owned was a Fuji Finepix compact camera. I don’t think photography was ever a conscious choice, it’s always been something I’ve been drawn to. It has to be the magic of capturing a moment in time and being able to hold that moment in my hands.
It has to be the magic of capturing a moment in time and being able to hold that moment in my hands.
Story of Life, Câu Chuyện Cuộc Sống, is the title of my ongoing project. Most everything we see of Vietnam feels like a well-polished travel brochure, I want people to see a personal side of both the country and its people, that there’s a much deeper and complex side to both. I wanted to create something a bit different than others, by showing the intimate side of life in Vietnam.
Photography to you means: A great deal. Sebastian Salgado explained it best: “Photography is my life. It’s my way of life, and my language.”
When I frame the image: I’m telling a story.
A camera is: A tool for stopping time and starting a dialogue.
Do personal work. Make art that is meaningful to you. Don’t compare yourself to others – no one can be you and express you better than you can.
Please tell us about yourself:
I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe but I have been lucky enough to travel all over since I was very young. My father has travelled to almost every corner of the globe for most of his life, as a pilot, and growing up he inspired me to travel, to try new things and to leap. To risk failure in the pursuit of happiness. Vietnam is the sixth country I have called home, and I have lived in Saigon for seven years so far.
I’m a creative person at heart. My mother and grandmother were both talented artists. My mother is a skilled painter, and sketch artist and my grandmother was a skilled sculptor. As a child, I was always drawing, building, dismantling things to understand how they worked, painting, and writing short stories. I first picked up a camera at the age of 18 but at the time it was a tool to document family occasions and us kids were not encouraged to use Dad’s camera: it was almost always hidden away. Today I am a portrait photographer, a retoucher. and occasionally, an artist.
Your first camera?
I borrowed the family camera when I left home to study film production and media writing in Cape Town. It was a horrible plastic shit box that devoured 3-volt batteries but it was small and it was: there! A 35mm film camera, not of the charming, well-made mechanical variety but rather the loud, whining, plastic 80’s VCR variety.
It had a ridiculous 10 times zoom feature, and a phallic, plastic Darth Vader-esque member protruded awkwardly outward if you were foolish enough to zoom as this would invariably exhaust the battery. I occasionally used the camera to create storyboards for film courses that I majored in, but mostly I walked around the city capturing scenes that interested me. I was always short of money so the film was a real luxury and developing it was even more so. Later, I began to shoot positive film and slides because I didn’t have to pay to get them printed; I could just hold them up to the light. For my 21’st birthday I was given a Minolta SLR, which I never left home without. It became an extension of my personality.
What made you choose this medium?
I spent most of my childhood and teens in boarding schools, which taught me to be self-reliant but also kept me in school a lot
So, when I left for University, it was to a completely new and alien city. I knew no one there but it was going to be a huge adventure. So, I felt I had no choice, but to liberate the family camera.
Later that year I befriended an assistant working for a commercial photography studio. I recall visiting the studio, which had been set up in what was once a stone church. The greeting area for the studio had huge light panels installed on the walls.
The commercial work was carefully housed behind panes of glass. The images were all medium and large format slides, and monochrome positive slides, some 8 inches by 10 inches in size.
Back-lit by the panels the effect was mesmerizing. Similar to studying a stained-glass window up close. Each frame depicted an expertly composed scene with flawless lighting and the colour was like nothing I had ever seen. I was amazed to see in person what could be achieved with film. Especially since I was at that moment in possession of a film camera.
I was instantly hooked, I started using positive monochromatic film and slide film and I devoted much of the next 10 years of my life to creating moods and colours, attempting to create something close to what I had experienced that day. I found my way back to film fairly recently in Saigon.
The images here are a small selection from a project I began late last year. The project began as a personal challenge to shoot and develop one roll of black and white film every day for 2 weeks, giving me just over 500 frames. This was the plan anyway. I chose to use Kodak Tri-X 400, as it is generally readily available in HCMC if you know where to look, and it is a sharp, contrasty film with a pleasing grain. At least to me.
I quickly found, however, that despite my best efforts, I was wasting a lot of film rolls. I had chosen to capture candid street scenes, an area of photography that I am new to and one that demands a great deal in terms of skill, style, luck and persistence.
So, after developing, scanning and discussing my failures with friends, darkroom pro’s, and scan shop aficionados, I resolved to archive the first 10 rolls in a distant and obscure folder and to start afresh. I continued to shoot Tri-X 400 but I resolved to get closer to my subjects and to only press the shutter if I knew exactly what I wanted the image to say. Only if I knew the frame contained a story and had a purpose. The selection here is a small collection from rolls 11 to 25. Or 1-15 depending on how you look at things. The project is ongoing.
What made you choose this project?
It was difficult. It was different from the digital work and extensive retouching that I had done a lot of. It would challenge me and encourage me to explore the city. It would force me to learn how to develop, work within the limitations of the format. It would be a chance to create something more honest, since I have not altered the image in any way – not even contrast adjustments nor sharpening in Lightroom. But more than all of this the project would force me to create more collaboratively.
It is rare that a film photographer does everything alone unless s/he owns a darkroom. Thus, every frame is seen by at least, it’s creator, the darkroom owner (to ensure that the chemicals are fresh etc) other photographers using the darkroom, then the scanner(s) and finally back to the owner. A single process is often a communal effort, and this body of work improved when I sought feedback and applied what I had learned. In short, I started the project to learn a different approach to my craft and so far I have learned a great deal.
When and where did you capture these images?
These images were captured in Saigon. I explored several districts, but the ones included here are from District 4 and 5.
Who inspires you?
People. Faces, expressions, movements, gestures, and interactions, because the smallest look or gesture can tell a story and make or break an image. Also, good art and well-conceived, well-crafted work.
Where do you see yourself going within the next few years?
I would like to be creating more work, to have evolved and improved as a creative. I see myself continuing to work with like-minded creatives, photographers, artists, designers, models and stylists on projects that challenge and inspire me.
What is your advice to other artists?
Do personal work. Make art that is meaningful to you. Don’t compare yourself to others – no one can be you and express you better than you can. Set expectations and goals and push yourself. Work hard and strive to master your craft. Be kind. Be helpful. Smile.
Learn from mistakes and failures. Try not to take yourself or your work too seriously. Some may seem generic, but they have worked for me.
Photography to me means telling visual stories of humanity and love.
When I frame the image, I try to create an imperfect – romantic photograph.
A camera is a moment keeper.
Vuong Nguyen is my name and Saigon is my hometown. I am a photographer, an artist and a self-taught filmmaker; recently I’m studying Visual Arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia.
Regarding photography, I’ve taken photographs for more than 5 years, the very first chance for me to use a camera is when I went out on a road trip to Long Hai in Ba Ria provide with my friend, she lent me her camera, and it was a Canon 60D, we took many photos of the sunrise and the ocean.
I still remember precisely the beauty of that moment, when I was gazing at the large yellow light that is slowly coming out from the horizon of the ocean, the sun of that time was like a massive fireball in my taken photos.
I still remember precisely the beauty of that moment, when I was gazing at the large yellow light that is slowly coming out from the horizon of the ocean, the sun of that time was like a massive fireball in my taken photos. Therefore, I was fell in love with photography from that day.
So, taking photo became my biggest hobby, I got for myself a Nikon D90 which is also my first camera; I spent much time just hanging out Saigon and some places to take pictures. Taking photographs means you can freeze special moments that happening around you. I would say photography is a ticket for you to become a time traveller whenever you have a look through all your pictures you have taken.
Since then I’m having for myself more than five cameras including digital and analogue ones. Now I’m using mostly is Nikon F5 and Nikon FM II which are amazing cameras. Lover of no one is the newest photographic series of mine; I used an analogue camera which was Nikon FM II with Rollei 35mm film to capture pictures of street life in Sydney. Also with photos in black and white, there is more contrast of deep feeling that I want to give the viewers.
Moreover, Lover of no one also is a recognition of a disconnected society. Even though Sydney is a most crowded city in the world, but somehow, I found the emptiness, loneliness of people in modern society. Each person is invisible to another, and there is no contact, not much engagement between people.
It was challenging when I decided to make the series, and there was two big obstacle that I faced. Firstly, my biggest question was how can I put strong human emotions into photographs? It was difficult to describe my feeling by photographing, so when I took a photo for the Lover of no one, I applied different compositions and techniques.
You can see some of the pictures are made by using long exposure photographic technique. Secondly, always be carefully adjust a camera because I was using Nikon FM II, not like a digital camera I could not see photos after taking it, so understanding of photography technique is essential.
When I have been studying deeper both practical and theoretical lessons in photography, I love photography more. The deeper understanding about photography, the fewer photos I take, I think due to my philosophy of photography has been changed. Therefore, I’m using analogue cameras instead of using digital ones.
Using film cameras help you to calm yourself and you must understand your camera before taking photos. Otherwise, the images from an analogue camera, for me, is more valuable, not only about the process of developing the negative but also about the narrative of each photo cause sometimes you have a roll of film that’s mean 23 or 36 times to take a photo.
So, you must have thought about the moment you should or should not photographing. Honestly, I was inspired a lot by the works of Fan Ho, Saul Leiter, Stephen Dupont and Sebastiao Salgado. They are all great photographer. Every time that I feel lost, need the motivation to create a new project, always look at their works as a simple way for me to recharge energy.
The next few years I think I could challenge myself in cinemaphotography. I could apply photography knowledge into making a film because I think a connection between photography and filmmaking is a very close gap.
If I have a chance to advise another one who wants to become a photographer, I would have two sentences to send out: – “Understand your camera and believe in your eyes”. – “Your first camera is for practising, but your last one is to tell stories.”
When I frame the image I try to look at the foreground, middle ground and background. I also think about what it is I want to see in the image beforehand.
A camera is a tool.
My name is Loes Heerink, 29 years old. I was born and raised in the Netherlands. I bought a Sony when I was 19.
There was a dragonfly in my parents garden and I thought it was so beautiful. I wanted to enjoy it in the winter too so I decided to buy a camera. I spent days in my parents’ pond to take a photo of it, like literally in the pond. I realised dragonflies fly in some kind of pattern. I picked a nice spot and waited patiently. When it finally sat down and I knew I got the settings right I was so happy! I never really put the camera down after that. I learned how to shoot in manually years after. Probably somewhere in 2014.
What made you choose this project? When I first arrived in Vietnam in 2011 I immediately liked the street vendors. All the colours. But more importantly all the stuff they carry on their cycles! I am from the Netherlands. My family owes more bicycles then it counts people. I also have two cycles. I was impressed. I wanted to take a picture of the vendors without any of the distraction of the city on the background. Just the vendors.
While waiting on the bridges I got a glimpse into the lives of the vendors. They all seem to know each other, make a chat and walk on again. The vendors really inspired me.
As much as I like Hanoi, the hustle and bustle just seemed a distraction to the vendors. So I decided to go up, take a higher vantage point. While waiting on the bridges I got a glimpse into the lives of the vendors. They all seem to know each other, make a chat and walk on again.
The vendors really inspired me. They are so kind and every single one of them I spoke to let me into their lives and told me their story. I think street vendors make Hanoi the city that it is. It is so convenient, plus all the colours! I hope in ten years, or twenty years there will still be street vendors in Hanoi.
What was the main obstacle you faced? Not a lot, rainy days maybe. And sometimes no vendors walked past the bridge for hours.
When and where did you capture these images? In 2015 from August to December and in March 2017.
What made you fall in love with photography? The thrill of chasing good pictures. I really like that moment when you know you got the shot you have been thinking of. With the vendors series, it took me some months to get a flower vendor on a picture, when I finally saw a flower vendor approach I was ready for the shot, I took the shot and I knew it was a good shot! I was so happy!
Who inspire you? French photographer Rehanh, Hans Kemp of course. But also Chris Burkhard and Pie Aerts.
Where do you see yourself going within the next few years? I don’t know. I will just continue walking on my photography projects like I am doing now. We will see where it leads. Or not leads 🙂
What is your advice to other artists? You can only get better. Each time I go out photographing I grow as a photographer. Looking back at my pictures I try to think about what makes it good or what could I have done to make it better.
I am a Hanoi born photographer. I worked for Deloitte, studied e-commerce in Sweden and wandered about Paris. Now, I am running a professional wet darkroom in Saigon which I opened since April 2017.
Over times, I have had too many cameras to remember them all. My main camera these days is the Pentax 67 with Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus film. I always loved Black & White (B/W) film. With my new and only darkroom in town, I specialise in B/W photography only, completely analogue. “Why?”, because of its look and feel. It is very different and to me, photography is all about emotion. B/W film does that best.
Film photography is magic; you turn time and light to prints that you can hold in your hand. I want to become the best printer in Vietnam. To offer international printing quality. Also, to improve as a photographer and put on more exhibitions. Practice makes perfect as they say.
I always loved Black & White (B/W) film. With my new and only darkroom
in town, I specialise in B/W photography only, completely analogue.
“Paris, a dream wanderer”, a project born in Paris, France. I made silver gelatin prints of the B/W negatives captured on the streets of Paris. Now that I have a fully functioning darkroom, I can print the best quality pictures. My youthful dream of Paris comes to light again. Paris is a city of love, young people in love, lovers’ dream.
Inspiration came from many sources. Such as the book “Paris mon amour”, works of Robert Doisneau, Jeanloup Sieff, Brassai to mention a few. I captured these images between 2006 and 2010. Finding the time to print my own personal work was my biggest challenge.
Photography to you means: A reflective process of observing, documenting, and creating the world around you.
When I frame the image: I position visual artefacts and anomalies crawling across TV screens in a rectangular box.
A camera is: A sometimes unnecessarily complicated device for drawing with light.
I watched the ghostly faces morph on the TV screen as I got electrocuted through the rabbit ears in my hand. The faces trespassed through me in one jolt. I had been moving the antenna back and forth and side to side like a kind of superstitious ritual. I took a picture of a distorted face on the screen just before I was shocked, an image my friend later described as a ‘horror-struck female pharaoh atomised in a digital matrix’. That was the last photo I took in the electrocution room. I was dazed for a while, counting my luck and pacing back and forth in a small Airbnb on Nguyễn Cư Trinh Street in Saigon.
I moved here in January from Perth, Western Australia. When I arrived I couldn’t help but gawk at the way that the streets’ electrical cables were wrapped around utility poles like seething masses of venomous vines. At night, a flickering red glow from a sea of motorbikes complimented the vines’ danger and allure. There was a similarly messy jumble of cords growing around the analogue TV where I was working. I thought maybe I’d created a bad omen. My girlfriend had warned me about it; the electricity in our room wasn’t grounded properly and we’d both been zapped a few times through our laptops. I only got electrocuted once before I moved out of the Airbnb.
I took about 50 pictures before it happened and then I narrowed them down to a smaller series named Ghost. As a photographer, I explore serendipity as a generative device and embrace the technical instability of broadcast technologies. I use TVs from various eras, different antennas, a digital camera, and a good dose of superstition and a chance to make my pictures.
I see this process as a kind of ‘photographic archaeology’ whereby I’m trying to unearth something psychological within a fractured and distorted video landscape. I don’t always know what I’m trying to achieve, so for me, the process informs the result and it comes down to experimentation and inquiry.
I took a picture of a distorted face on the screen just before I was shocked, an image my friend later described as a ‘horror-struck female pharaoh atomised in a digital matrix’.
To create Ghost, I transformed video footage from free-to-air Vietnamese television channels into a photographic sequence. I tuned into public TV stations and manipulated and distorted the video broadcast by moving around an antenna in one hand as I took pictures with the other. I deliberately introduced a lot of video transmission errors and took pictures up close to different parts of the footage as it was morphing and undergoing a process of disintegration in real time.
In a way, I am ‘scrambling’ video and then working from that to create new pictures. When I’m up close to the screen, faces will appear ghostly and distorted through the camera and are completely unrecognisable from the originally intended broadcast.
Each TV has its own idiosyncrasies: modern, high-definition technology combined with digital stations will produce a strong ‘macroblocking’ effect, which is a kind of transmission error where there’s a discontinuity between the blocks of pixels in decoded video frames. The video breaks apart into bars and squares and everything becomes rearranged and distorted. Severe broadcast transmission errors on modern TVs will also feature strong pixilation, and the transitions between each error will be very unpredictable and sudden.
When a video signal is interfered with or interrupted on older analogue TVs, the visual anomalies will be different, more soft and ghostly. The video breaks up and disintegrates in a different way as well. For example, everything appears ‘grainy’ or film-like due to the inherent lack of definition.
When I shot Ghost, etched lines and scratches would appear in the photographs and comet-like artefacts trailed across the footage, unlike experiments I did with newer TVs.
For a while now I’ve found video codec errors visually interesting. So with Ghost, there are a lot of signal interference anomalies, aliasing and tracking errors, and other visual artefacts that manifest unpredictably during my creative process. There’s a lot of randomness, disintegration, and transmutation in these works. I can never go back and take the picture again as it’s an organic process where I’m actually photographing the video footage on the TV as it’s mutating.
I see value in running scripts and altering the code in post-production to create glitch art but I prefer this organic approach because of how physical, ephemeral and unrepeatable it is. Quite often technical errors in video and photography are dismissed as undesirable, whereas I try to embrace technical errors and visual anomalies as a way to create new things.
I can’t say I ‘fell in love’ with photography, I just fell into it. Growing up in rural Western Australia, my mum had an interest in photography and there were always cameras lying around the house. This was a time before everyone had a camera in their pocket, so to me it seemed cool and interesting. It’s a common situation I think – a lot of the time you become interested in what your parents are into and you make use of what you have access to.
Photography was a way for my mum to document our family holidays along the southern coast of WA, and to take pictures of my sisters and me as we were growing up. Cool bikes, toothy toddler grins, and beloved pet cats frozen in time on tacky checkered lino floors.
As a young boy, my first camera was probably one of those Kodak single-use film cameras that you could buy from supermarkets. Those cameras had charm in that they were an irresistibly bright yellow colour and they came in a similarly garish box; they almost leapt off the shelf and were strategically placed near checkouts to encourage impulse buying. They were kind of like the camera equivalent of a Kinder Surprise or a Chomp bar. I liked how faux-mechanical they were, with their shitty plastic cogs and whirring sounds.
Once I got hooked I started to care more about my pictures and considered saving my pocket money for a more reliable camera. I knew my pictures weren’t that great even though no one told me outright. But I kept taking them. More often than not, the pictures went to the ‘could be better’ shame pile. I still feel the same way now. I’m never really happy with my photos.
In high school, my English teacher gave me a book of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, and I remember thinking it was an astonishing cross-section of everything incredible and awful about humanity. These images left a deep impression on me so my interest in photography developed further. There is mystery, humour, triumph, love, suffering, irony, beauty, terror, chance, error, and banality in pictures.
A picture can make you cry or laugh or groan or sigh or gasp or say nothing. Or it can make you reflect upon your life or scare you or annoy you or confuse you or bore the shit out of you or make you wish you were exempt from humanity. You can take a picture of something from countless angles and dance around a street scene like a crazed firewalker or stroll down a train carriage with a selfie stick as you crane your neck out like a flamingo. Or you can take a picture of your feet at the end of your bed and hashtag the shit out of it before you eat breakfast.
Photography can be anything you want it to be. I find it interesting to try to make sense of the world through a viewfinder, deciding what’s important to show and what isn’t. And how that changes over time. And how you view the world differently as you get older and presumably wiser. I’ve had an on and off relationship with photography for the last five years. I went through clichéd bouts of frustration and inspiration, and put my camera down for a short while.
A photographer once told me that photography is supposed to be a miserable lonely endeavour, and will eventually kill you. In 2016, I studied photography at university and went on what I can only describe as a photojournalism ‘boot camp’ in China, which was really challenging and inspiring and gave me some new insights as well as some amazing stories and memories.
I can’t say it killed me but there were some hairy moments walking around late in Shanghai, such as getting chased by an angry and unwilling photographic subject. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the experimental and bizarre side of art photography. I’m inspired by the creativity of the Surrealists and Dadaists, and by contemporary photographers like Asger Carlsen and Roger Ballen, who are exploring the fringes of their psyches and pushing the medium to its limits by toying with photographic conventions, and by doing strange and wonderful things with photography, sculpture and drawing.
I enjoy the absurdity and transgression of their photographic worlds. It’s often tongue-in-cheek, like you’re looking at a picture and thinking, ‘what the fuck is going on’ and you can’t help but laugh.
But it’s never one-dimensional because you’re looking at all the layers in an image for a long time, and it bounces around in your mind for weeks. While it’s a far stretch from the documentary photography that initially inspired me, experimental contemporary photography has encouraged me to explore my own ideas and creative processes and to value the medium more greatly as a way of expressing abstract and artistic ideas.
At the moment I’m working towards a solo exhibition and I have a few photography projects in the works. I’m also open to collaborations with other artists, so feel free to get in touch via my website.
Photography to you means…
Another medium in which to explore and experiment.
When I frame the image…
I make the first in a countless series of decisions.
A camera is…
A tool for initiating, developing or documenting a piece of work.
This time I used my map and numbering system as a reference so I would be able to pinpoint the exact location of any source information gathered, in this case: colours.
Originally I was born and grew up in the UK but since May this year, I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City, arriving from Hong Kong where I had lived for many years. Coincidently I relocated to Vietnam exactly 25 after arriving in Hong Kong, 25 years to the day.
I studied at Leeds Arts University and Northumbria University in the UK and also with RMIT University whilst living in Hong Kong. At college, I concentrated mainly on the making of sculpture with an additional interest in printmaking because of a desire to introduce a more physical aspect to my drawings. Over the years though, constraints such as lack of storage space, the high cost of studio space etc. pushed me to gradually embrace exploration in other, more portable media.
To earn a living I worked as a professional modelmaker for around 15 years, the final 10 years of which was as a partner of a modelmaking company based in Hong Kong.
The skills and awareness of materials gained during this time have proved invaluable and have allowed me more freedom in the decisions I make when making work.
I have also taught art for around 15 years, including 13 years full-time teaching, 7 years in Higher Education. For 3 years I worked on the development of a BA (Hons) Fine Arts degree programme, acting as course leader for the initial cohort of students, seeing them all through to successful graduation.
For a time I pursued threads of investigation in drawing, printmaking and small sculpture but these projects remained quite separate in nature and it took a long time before they began to converge.
These days my work has revealed potential for multiple connections between different media, for example, a drawing may suggest further investigation in relief sculpture, or work towards a digital print may lead to performative walking and psychogeography. I tend to follow the work rather than attempt to push it where I would like it to go.
For the previous few months, I had been working on digital prints that involved the creation of layers within the print’s image with blocks floating on the uppermost layer. The configuration of these blocks was derived from a previous sculpture, made several years earlier, entitled ‘Excavation’. As I had been using cross-hatching to differentiate between the blocks within the image I felt that the print had taken on some of the imagery I had noticed within geologist’s maps, notably the way they employ a range of graphic patterns to denote the various geological materials present in the area covered by the map.
These digital prints were abstract in appearance and also abstract in the sense that they did not refer to actual locations. As I had recently moved to Vietnam, the thought came to me that I should create the next print based upon an actual location here in Saigon.
From a downloaded map of a certain area within District 7 of the city, I made a simplified version and numbered the road junctions. These intersections would be the focal points of the image in the print. The numbering of the junctions allowed me to keep a record of particular details collected. In total, there were thirty-four intersections within the area I studied.
I had walked around the area to gain an overview and a general feeling for the area but now was the time to revisit the location with a specific aim in mind. This time I used my map and numbering system as a reference so I would be able to pinpoint the exact location of any source information gathered, in this case: colours.
As I had already become familiar with an app for the mobile phone that allowed for the collection of ambient colours in a chosen location, I had confidence that it could contribute to my working method. Using this app I collected a colour sample for each of the thirty-four road intersections and used them as place-markers in my digital print. Of course, the app was only a data gathering tool, whereas I would retain the final say in how that data would be used.
Back in my studio, I isolated each of the collected colours and created a square-format swatch for each of them. This made it easier for me to review and drop them into place in my print.
Although systems-based strategies intrigue me, I always prefer to retain the final say based on considerations of the composition.
My work is often described as being conceptual in nature; nevertheless, I work with a mindset in which I grant the final say to the work itself, which is necessarily interpreted by me. I keep an eye out for unexpected serendipity, chance encounters or unpredictable outcomes if they appear to resolve the logic of the work. My working method could be described as systems-based but tempered with an editing process that is driven by an instinctive judgment developed through experience.
The final appearance of the digital print included overall grid lines to tie all the blocks together, but these are rendered in grey to push them back in space a little, contributing to the layering effect. The grid could provide a frame of reference without being too dominant in the hierarchy of elements.
As the placing of the colours within the print relates to the location where they were collected, the final configuration of the print could be read as constituting a map of the area studied.
Whether or not anyone would be able to use the print as a map when negotiating their way through the area remains debatable.
The user would need to be sensitive to the ambient colours, and the colours themselves may change over time. Some colours were collected from flowers and others from local advertising. Both of these elements could be subject to change, thereby removing points of reference. There is nothing to say that the print should or should not be regarded as a map, or whether it should function successfully as a map. The mere suggestion that the print could be regarded as a map could work as a trigger to initiate a line of thought for the audience. This line of thought is quite personal to each viewer, allowing each individual to create their own meaning for the work.
The work was printed out in an edition of 30 and with an overall paper size of A3. I envisioned the work as a personal psychogeographic exploration of the area. For this project, the aim was twofold: to become more familiar with the area and to take particular notice of the colours found at certain locations within that area.