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by Erica Battello
When did you start having an interest in Photography? How did it all start?
It was all ever since I was 14 or 15 when I picked up my father’s minolta camera doing a geography project. Since then, I’d been a school photographer (secondary school) for event such as swimming gala or sport days. I didn’t attend university. I still can recalled the moment one night when I was wandering around the buildings which I was employed as a security guard before my advanced level examination, I asked myself what is the appeal of being a university student? My answer was other than playing for its basketball team, those academic or educational things were of no interest to me. I wanted to be a photographer. I even skip one of the paper on the forthcoming examination just because I decided to went to a photography school but not a university. I finally went to a photography course by the Kwung Tong Vocational Training Centre in HK.
I know you started off professionally, when did you start producing photographs for your own interest, in an artistic way?
It was all happened after 2002 after I became freelance. Thanks to the life experience I gained from working for the HK government and Mingpao newspaper, I discovered my interest was about place and people in Hong Kong, but not the technical side or the glamorous nature of commercial photography that I thought I was keen on previously. I realized life might not be about career alone,it might be the quest of roots. I would not photograph anything outside Hong Kong and call it my project. Photographing Hong Kong means discovering myself too, for my root is in Hong Kong.
In my graduation thesis I mentioned two exhibitions Imagining Hong Kong and City Flaneur: Social Documentary Photography which you were in both. Can you tell me your own experience in participating in both of these exhibitions?
Before these exhibition, I take photos of my own interest without the intention it would be exhibited in the future. On 2008, I borrowed money from my friend to buy a HP 44 inch printer. I started to have a plan about my future career as not being a commercial photographer. I thought buying a digital back of 200K HK$ to have my career sustained would be ridiculous, why not use less money to invest in something which I can sell my own print and it sustained my interest as well. Fortunately and coincidentally, the exhibition provided me the platform to test... both technically and financially. I’m grateful to encounter this opportunity in my life.
Whenever i go back to Hong Kong to visit my parents, i have this urge to go around with my camera and take pictures not the cool new buildings in Hong Kong, but more like old unknown places. Because every time i go back something changes, a restaurant i used to go isn't there anymore and ect. Which is kind of sad. I noticed that lately a lot of Hong Kong based photographs and artists's theme is about the city itself. Why do you think so?
This is a question that beyond my scope to answer. Frankly, I'm bit away from the art scene, I seldom join and attend other HK artist exhibitions. I'm a bit autistic somehow. I care little about what the scene is going on.
I really love your art work from the The Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate, it not just taking a photograph of a place and then leaving. It an actually experience that not everyone is capable of doing so, the actually contact with the people and finding out how the actually situation is. How did the residence reacted when you were there takingphotographs? And were they willing to go away from that place?
As you may know, this project was originated from a job offered by the Housing Authority Hong Kong. And if it was not a job, I would not went there and have this project/ the book came out. Working on a project with people was not easy, especially in a close community environment. I had to pay careful attention to my relationship with them like I were a social worker. And ever since I grew familiar with them, they realized my existence within the estate and everything photography related things I did would not be strange to them. And for those who lived there that I encountered, they were willing to move out, for the estate condition was too old and deteriorated that a newly built one would be very much desirable.
In your art work Just another excersie i know you didn’t have an exact project in mind. To me, it seemed more like a technical project. Why were you interested in actually developing and scanning and printing your own photographs? I find it a great and rare thing, because we then to want to get things done as soon as pos- sible and as fast as we can. But actually, going into a dark room and actually printing your own photo- graphs is a totally another thing, for example.
Although this project seemed technical, I thought its artist statement was enough. Other people may have elaboration on the project as “preserving the trees in a growing concrete environment in HK“ or anything about preservation and made it sound artistic. However, this is not my real self. And as I said earlier, my interested subject is anything about Hong Kong. So in order not to have any lying ingredients in the statement, it is appropriate to say it was just an exercise. To have all the works done by myself involve my belief about the artist integrity. I think the practice of limited edition in art selling especially photography is just a marketing gimmick which cannot be monitored and thus not truly honest. For instance, not all photographer like me who is doing all the work by myself, they may contract out some of their work/ workflow to other parties and this is always happening in this field. They may let someone doing the film scanning or printing job or both. And especially when most exhibited print are digital print in this days, how can we say and guarantee the prints are of limited edition when the files had passed thru different parties. Hence, I prefer the scheme of open edition and sequential numbering. And to further and strengthen it, “to have all the works done by myself “ would be the best and safest way. And since my life is limit, the print that I print is limit too. Besides, I always relate music to photography. An image, whether it is by digital or film, were like script to music. In order to listen to the music, we need someone to perform it. Like a concert, an exhibition is the platform for the image composer to let the audience read his image. The difference is you see an image on web, but can read an image through print in a exhibition. I thought myself a singer-song-writer.
Where do you get inspiration, for example from other artists?
I got my inspirtion from music and reading but not from other photographer' work. I listen to classical music and my preference composer include Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. I listen to jazz too and I like guitarist Part Metheny. For books, I mostly read Chinese book. But for book that influence me a lot, It is “The art of loving“ by Erich Fromm. I think if I have the time to view other people work (visual work), why not use the time to have my own work done. Besides, I may have the chance to copy their work in a subconscious way. The web is my inspiration too, especially topics about the technical side of photography.
9 May 2012
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Jhon Choy was born in 1966 in Hong Kong