All Posts Tagged ‘documentary photography

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Occupy Central with Love and Peace

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It’s not easy to always have a clear picture, partly because information is distorted by those who own it, partly because misapprehensions are made by those who don’t live it.  So as best as I understand it, this is what’s been happening. In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to China after 150 years of British rule with the promise that in 2017, it would be able to democratically elect a leader, a function of the “one country, two systems” principle that acknowledges Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous state that, unlike Beijing, is not communist.  But as of this year and breaking its promise, China decided that a committee from Beijing was still necessary to appoint its leader (presumably to carryout the interests of the mainland). This violation of basic recognition and political trust rippled through the region as people united in their outrage and took to the streets. Their position stands that Hong Kong citizens deserve the right to a democratic election and society—a right to which they were promised. Instead, they’ve been faced with mounting force tactfully used to villainize and silence the movement. On our fourth day in Hong Kong, we met two 20 year old students walking in Admiralty, a zone of peaceful protesting bustling with door to door single occupancy tents decorating a major highway. They were passing out yellow ribbons for individuals to wear in solidarity with the movement. A few minutes later and our interest piqued, they were wide-eyed spewing their passions and frustrations about the government conspired police perpetrations against the protestors, urging us to stay away from more dangerous areas of protest where the police employ third party triade members to ambush peaceful protesters, often times with harassment and violence. They explained that the peaceful movement was being falsely demonized for refusing reconciliation efforts when in fact it was government representatives that had purposefully missed scheduled negotiations. They confided their concerns for the future—the growing class divide, the increasing unaffordability, and the fissuring culture of Hong Kong. They lamented on the immigration policy that has allowed a fast growing population of mainland immigrants to overwhelm the Hong Kong population, resulting in fewer jobs for Hong kong citizens and exorbitant housing prices. The students worry about their present lives, their future selves, and how they’ll get a job and place to live after college. They seek to be heard, considered, and validated as a member of their own community, condemning the abuse of power and failure of mainland China to recognize Hong Kong’s right to democracy and autonomy. 

A few days earlier in Beijing, my brother and I met for the first time, and my mom for her third, an old friend of my grandmother’s. Uncle Feng Cheng was wistful and stoic, as evidenced from his entirely unexpected yet poignant Christmas letter that we received last Christmas to our Michigan address after decades of lost contact. Dressed each day in tan khaki slacks, a navy wind breaker, and Nike tennis shoes that predate the ’90s, he recounted stories of his impoverished youth, his love of Jane Austen books, and harangued somewhat sarcastically and somewhat seriously about the power and inevitability of cats to mystically possess their owners. We spent an evening in his home, which is sparse but well adorned– turn a corner and you’ll find a collection of classical music records even though there is nothing with which to play them because he has given both of his record players away to friends. The small details, and the big ones—his overt and unfaltering generosity, his openness and warmth, his calm and collectedness reveal a whole,  contemplative and earnest person. In the following days in Beijing and then on our travels back to Hong Kong, we shared brief but resonant discussions of his views about the protests (of which he was not in support but neither vocally opposed). He recounted fleeing with his father to Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation of China at a time when there were only roughly a million people living in Hong Kong. Desolate, removed, and extremely poor, they lived on the beach in a small hut. From an early age he began to memorize lines of English literature on his way to and from school, eventually memorizing whole books at a time. Finally at 16, he left for the states to attend Harvard, and came back two years later to Hong Kong where he’s lived and worked at Hong Kong University ever since. He reflects on this with a certain air of melancholy, emphasizing that he grew up in very dire circumstances but insisting that hard work, above everything else, created opportunity for him. It’s with this conviction that he believes that everyone deserves an opportunity, and, defined by his experience, believes that mainland China is in a very good position to provide everyone with that chance. To him, he sees the economic boom and prosper of his country, a country that not long ago was vastly poor and rural—the empowerment of his people and reform that has transformed living standards, social rights, infrastructure, education, and global involvement & prominence. He believes in the strength of China, in its values and politics that have given rise to a rebirth of a faltering country. He believes in its future for him, for Mainland, and for Hong Kong. His experience is as genuine as the students’ handing out ribbons of solidarity in Admiralty, both equally as valid and supported by experience and passion.

I personally don’t know enough of the history or current political climate to make a claim as to who’s more “right” or “wrong,” but see the purpose in at least trying to understand the emotional and intellectual reasons that affect both sides of this or any conflict, because undoubtedly if you don’t no progress will ever be made.

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It’s Fall in Ann Arbor

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Or at least it’s supposed to be. Actually a weird pseudo-fall where the streets are littered with leaves and everything smells like pumpkin pie yet we’re all bogged down and stenched with a heavy heat of 80+ forecasts to come (roughly 27 celsius, Jonatan;)). But I wanted to update since it’s been awhile, and felt in the mood for fall. These are some photos I took in random places of Ann Arbor featuring (but not in order): downtown streets and scenes, Jacob and his cat, my mom and electronic menus, bored server in elevator of a steak house (yes I AM obsessed with Robert Frank so sorry for the poorly done imitation), DD with the Beatles bob pounding on his drum pad, Keaton and smoke, my parent’s house, and a trying-to-be-epic-not-so-epic college party. Circa last year/late 2011. All taken with my 50mm Canon film camera courtesy of DD Gao, all unedited (for which maybe I should apologize but hope you enjoy nonetheless)

R1-05500-0029

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Self-Portraits, Self-Obsessed?

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Sup everyone, I’m taking a class and our first assignment was to take 30 self-portraits…Have a looksie, would ya? Tell me what you think. These were some of my thoughts that I wrote up for the accompanying journal entry for class:

The thing that is always so elusive to me is how to make photos that can accurately and succinctly tell someone about a time, a place, a person, a society, a culture, or a feeling. What is much harder for me than picking up on these things in someone else’s photograph is knowing when or if I’m successfully doing so. I find it difficult to abstract myself from the experience itself and thus I feel I lose the ability to see the image as a snapshot in isolation from the living moment. Therefore it’s often hard for me to assess how objectively strong or interesting my photographs are—whether I’m too quick to defend them or too desensitized to appreciate them.

As I was brainstorming about how to approach this assignment, I was thinking of photographs that portray everyday people in interesting ways. I came to realize that it’s important to make the subject relatable…or unrelatable i.e. something that is stimulating either because you can relate to it, or because you immediately know that you can’t relate to it. I’ve also been increasingly more interested in assigning greater weight to the context within a photograph (i.e. everything besides the subject such as furniture, walls, space, background in general), rather than having the overwhelming focus be the subject itself. This assignment was a productive exercise in negotiating what I think strikes the appropriate balance between the subject and context, and moreover how to even represent context in an intelligible way.
What I’m most excited about is to hear your comments on my photos so that I can grasp a greater sense of what you as strangers are able to pick up from my photos, and see how that compares to my intentions and own self-evaluation.