In his latest solo exhibition entitled ‘Echoed Visions”, famed photographer Kurt Tong looks to question the value and role of photography in the Digital age. JJ Acuna reports.
5 March, 2014
Top image: 55 Nights of Light, kaleidoscope series
In an age where the average smartphone or Google Glass enables virtually anyone to capture the present moment via a click of a button or a wink of an eye, some photographers have begun to question the usefulness or validity of their craft in capturing reality through the lens.
In “Echoed Visions”, a solo exhibition currently on show at Identity Art Gallery, famed photographer Kurt Tong attempts to re-think his role as a practitioner and an artist who works with the photographic medium. If anyone is in a position to capture moments digitally, Kurt Tong proposes exploring the moment even further by examining the meaning of light in a picture, as seen in his “55 Nights of Light (2013-2014)” kaleidoscope series, or with merging of subject with photo, as in the case of his ”Blossom Tree (2013)”. In “Axis Mundi (2013-2014)”, Tong utilises NASA images available for public use and research, to integrate a composition which involve a negative of the image, super imposed on personal objects in resin, to promote the idea of space exploration and inward self-reflection.
JJ Acuna finds out more from the man himself.
JJ Acuna: Your works in “Echoed Visions” break down the photographic image into a kind of jigsaw puzzle, a composition which we all would generally recognise as kaleidoscopic. Why this deconstruction?
Kurt Tong: I think jigsaw puzzle is probably not the best to describe what I am trying to do in this project, as it implies that the elements depend on each other to create the whole picture. I think I have always felt quite frustrated with the medium, how it only shows the surface, tiny frozen moment. At the same time, I felt that so many photographers and curators are so set in their preferences and narrow-mindedness about the medium, and I wanted to create works that incorporate different mediums and really push and question the boundaries of photography.
Take the kaleidoscope work as an example. Historically, it is the capture of light that defines photography. In this work, I have turned that notion on its head and asked the question, ‘What does light capture?’ Over 55 nights, I collected insects that have been attracted by the nighttime security lights and placed them inside a kaleidoscope to create infinite patterns.
I hope the show at Identity Art Gallery would prompt people to look at photography differently. It’s an on-going project and there are many more areas to explore.
JJ: Is there evidence of past works in this newest show, or did you have to photograph or extract new images to formulate these compositions?
KT: It’s a mixture of old, new and found images. There are also photographs from the past that have been re-contextualised, In “Ceteris Paribus, Guangzhou Zoo II (2007)”, probably the photograph that I am best known for, the photograph was reproduced by three different artists in oil, watercolour and Chinese painting, and displayed alongside the photographic print. The work questions whether all works are replicable just as photography is. By placing the prints on the floor and allowing people to walk on the works, it further suggests that if all work is reproducible, what is the worth of any given piece of art.
I have also used images from my phone and images from NASA, each commenting on how we consume images in our culture.
Several pieces go beyond photography though, including a pig’s head and neon lights.
JJ: Now that you’ve moved to Hong Kong from London to practice photography, how is the change in environment or market helping or impeding your creative process?
KT: The best thing about living in Hong Kong is that I make the most of myself and my family. Living in London, I felt like I was constantly swimming upstream, I spent far too much time attending openings, socialising with other artists, and comparing myself to others. I think that competitiveness can be incredibly destructive to one’s creativity. I was trying to judge myself by others’ success, and not by how hard I’m working or whether I was growing and getting better.
JJ: Are you for or against digital photography?
KT: I have nothing against digital photography; it has many advantages over analogue. On a personal level though, I prefer using analogue mainly because of how it slows me down. I am quite a careless person and given a digital tool, I will just shoot away. But knowing that each sheet of film (I only use a large format camera) is costing me a few hundred dollars, I try to make every shot count. Using a large format camera also allows me to look around with my eyes and not through the camera.
JJ: What is the most exciting thing or the worst thing about being a photographer today?
KT: It’s a very exciting time for photography, the possibilities are endless and there have never been a bigger audience. On the other hand, it’s the worst time for professional photographers, lots of skills are now replaced by technology and the market is saturated with very average photographers. I find that people aren’t willing to pay a fair rate anymore.
Echoed Visions will be exhibited at Hong Kong’s Identity Art Gallery from 25 February – 29 March 2014.
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