"So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent- if not inappropriate- response. To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may- in ways we might prefer not to imagine- be linked to their suffering, as the wealth as some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only an initial spark.

Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing ‘we’ can do — but who is that ‘we’? — and nothing ‘they’ can do either — and who are ‘they’ — then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic.” - Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

"Regarding the Pain of Others" was Susan Sontag’s last published book. It was a frustrating read on photography and war, because every page contains so much truth and helplessness. Today I was reminded of the book after a friend introduced me a song by Alt-J, Taro.

The song is about the first female war photojournalist, Gerda Taro. Taro was the partner of Robert Capa, who later co-founded Magnum. Taro died in 1937 when in battle. She was only 26.

We are a few days from 2013, and there are still people dying in Libya, Syria, Gaza etc etc. I am so afraid of spotting Nicole Tung's name in the news. She chose to be out there in the firefights covering and exposing the brutality of war, over a comfortable desk job in Hong Kong or New York.

This Christmas as you pick out a new phone, a new camera for yourself, or gifts for people you love; please consider paying attention to what is happening elsewhere, too. Not very merry. But Merry Christmas.

"Do not spray into eyes. I have sprayed you into my eyes."

"I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost." — Nan Goldin

Silenzio, by François Fontaine / Su Li-Zhen, is that you?

Silenzio, by François Fontaine

The photographer reconstructs iconic movie scenes and characters in this homage to cinema, Silenzio. The intentional haziness and blur gives the images an atmospheric texture that relates directly to memory. As in films, Silenzio tells us that what might be visually inaccurate can still be emotionally intact.


“This is amount of work that goes into a hand printed photograph - Keep in mind all those figures (times) and tone setting’s are all made by hand.” via New Touch Lab

I don’t think it matters whether one prefers film or digital, but there should be no argument that photographers back then were way more intense.

Just trying to understand Ansel Adam’s Zone system in theory is already daunting enough. To know your way around the darkroom, such that these kinds of ‘methods’ give you a good print, is literally dancing in the dark.

Even if you know what you want an image to look like, to create it necessitates more than just trial and error: you need tonnes of persistence. However, like cycling and swimming, once you get it, dancing in the dark becomes instinct.

If you happen to be in Hong Kong, you have to see this. 

Ho Fan's work is stunning.


Approaching Shadow, Hong Kong, 1956/2012Fan Ho. From Hong Kong Yesterday.

I find that popular old photographs depicting Hong Kong, and probably Asia, tend to be drenched in orientalism (see orientalism in art history and Edward Said's writings). They are valuable historical accounts, but angled through Western eyes: this is a sampan, this is a fish market. No doubt fascinating glimpses into the past, but rarely is there any room for contemplation.

And then there is Fan Ho. His approach is subtlety and abstraction, new perspectives and technical perfection. Much like László Moholy-Nagy and Albert Renger-Patzsch, prominent figures in the school of Bauhaus, Fan Ho’s subject matter is never about the big picture. In his work are the mundane, every day objects, and life.

He prefers the minute and often unnoticed moment of intimacy (see Little Women and Back to Mother here), over what outsiders may perceive as very Hong Kong. He prefers playing with shadows and architecture, over matter-of-fact captures of the street. Photographs of old Hong Kong are typically shot in a documentarian manner (see geewhizgolly’s old Hong Kong tag), but Fan Ho shoots like a painter.

The war brought about social and political fragmentation everywhere. A pictorialist takes a sentimental approach bordering on propaganda: this is a poor starving child, this is a bloodied soldier. The photographer presses the shutter to express his political ideologies. But those sick of political strife, created new objectivity where every message is stripped off, and where art and photographs show nothing but its intrinsic aesthetic value.

But here comes the plot twist, the results are rarely just emotionless objects, they do trigger our own memory and give us room to contemplate the people in the picture. They say nothing, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing to say. You don’t look at Fan Ho’s photos and gasp at how political, how oriental they are. You just say, “Shit, this is beautiful.”

Actually, what I really wanted to say, is that this was a homage to Mr. Ho (although it turned out to look nothing like it). And then I couldn’t stop gushing because shit, Mr. Ho’s work is beautiful.