Wavepool – You often use the term ‘surreal’ when writing about your work. In addition to that, what are some other unifying words or themes that span your practice?
Sheung Yiu – I must confess I am guilty of overusing the word ‘surreal’ in my statement. I guess that is because surrealist art was my inspiration when I first started ‘becoming’ a photographer, making conscious photographic choices. My meaning of ‘surreal’ though is nothing similar to that of surrealism, it simply means a photographic reality that is different from the one I am living. I love to subvert default truths and question their legitimacy, using weirdness as my ‘device’. Most often when we are confronted by weirdness, we get a sense of what is normal. That is interesting to me. I will use ‘eerie’, ‘unhomely’, ‘weird’ or maybe ‘alternative reality’ to describe my work.
Wavepool – What are some influences in addition to surrealism?
Sheung Yiu – A lot of what I have been doing is inspired by Wolfgang Tillmans’ ‘paper drop’ series. They are photos of bent photo papers, which were exposed to colored light in the darkroom, placed against plain backgrounds. What is mesmerizing to me though is how Tillmans presents the photo paper, showing the audience the blank backside of the photo paper while giving us a small glimpse of the exposed image. It is a big idea visually shown in the most minimalistic way. I also like looking at still life paintings and photography, just visual metaphors in general. I enjoy learning about the semantics of objects and how auteurs signify meaning through this established connection between the apparent and the obscured.
Wavepool – In your project (PHOTO)graphy, you talk about being part of the last generation to witness the shift away from the physical viewing experience of a photographic print. How has that changed the way you look at the medium and the way you make work?
Sheung Yiu – Witnessing the whole transition makes me realize that the generation after me – the digital native – will mostly experience photography solely through its image, but to me, image on the photograph per se is not the ‘complete picture’. It is not about nostalgia toward traditional photographic practice either. It’s just that I always feel there is something beyond the image about a photograph, and experiencing the drastic changes in photography intensifies that feeling. I try to experiment with the ‘thing’, reveal the ‘thing’ by emphasizing the physicality of a photograph. I separate the image from the photo, treat it as the paper it is and let the result surprise me.
Wavepool – I’m curious about the content in your images and the objects that make up your subjects. How do you choose what to work with? Do any of the objects hold significance?
Sheung Yiu – Yes and no. Some I specifically choose to complete a visual metaphor or a joke, like the photograph of the universe I used as a paper to dip tomato sauce. Some are objects I found randomly in a street market that caught my eyes, for its shapes or color or whatever reasons. I have a collection on my shelf. I have an ice cream cone paper, magnetic beads, a petri dish, a shocking green slinky, a transparent pastel pink lighter and lots of other small stuff that I am still figuring out what to do with them. But I mostly will juxtapose them with photographs, playing with the idea that photography negates the physical properties of the object photographed, that the representation now adopt the physicality of a plastic paper.
Wavepool – Is the final result of the work an image? How does the work exist when shown physically?
Sheung Yiu – For now, I would say the final result are images, some in groups, some as individual images. But this question always comes up in my mind whenever I am creating work for this project. I spent most time setting up and making props. At times, I feel like my photographs are a documentation of temporary sculptures I made. Maybe image is not the best medium to tell my story. I am still coming into terms with myself.
I can go to extremes with installation and cross mediums with the concept I am working with, but I guess the photograph is where I feel the most comfortable working with and the most visually impactful. I am an image lover, on top of everything else. I do not have a solid answer at this moment. We will see how it turns out as the project evolves.
Wavepool – What do you think are the key differences between an image and a photograph? Is there more to it than the physical presence?
Sheung Yiu – I immediately thought of McLuhan’s ‘The medium is the message’. Image is the content and photograph, or photo paper, is the medium. There are far more carriers of images now with all the smartphones, tablets and laptops, but images printed on photographs still connote a kind of nostalgia and artistic value that demands viewers’ introspection and attention. This ‘message’ is moulded by a whole stream of traditions. The viewing experience was different. The venue and settings was more authentic. Every photograph was a unique art object that required much more time and effort to make. Countless times I have come across great photographs that I saw in museums on my smartphone and was perplexed by how unmoving and incomplete the images were. Images, without an appropriate medium, is just information in another form, not dissimilar to words on instruction manual.
But then even photographs, the medium, loses its message over time. As I look at the pile of photographs I printed out for my project, some of which I shot and others downloaded from NASA, I realize these photographs bear no value to me at all, except for being props for another photo.
To see more, please visit Sheung’s website.