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Transcending the limits of photography
PHOTOGRAPHER John Clang gets his inspiration from long, solitary walks - without his camera. And keeps himself from distractions by having a basic phone that he only texts or calls with.
That "thinking space" he creates is "a way to engage all my senses in the moment," he describes. "If I had a camera to take a photo, I'd already be processing the moment for the purposes of the photo."
He takes notes on his phone to record what he sees and feels, like he's hoarding thoughts. "I have my own short forms or code of recording things so it's not tedious," he relates. "I'm trying to deal with life in a different perspective as much as I can." He adds that he's been consciously practising this observation mode since he was 31. He's now 43.
His notes came in useful for his current solo exhibition entitled The World Surrounding an Indoor Plant, at Fost Gallery. He last had a major show, Being Together, in Singapore in 2013, at the National Museum where he featured 40 families who had members living abroad.
This current show is an example of how he mines personal memories to depict key impressions. "The indoor plant is actually referring to me, because I'm quite low maintenance, resilient and I don't really socialise," he quips, while his wife and de facto manager, Elin Tew, does agree that he is quite low maintenance.
At least, where his wardrobe choice is concerned - since Clang sticks to only grey T-shirts and black pants. "It's a headache to think about what to wear. I also have one jacket for formal occasions!"
How he's chosen to present the work also shows that exploration of the intimate realms of memory and recollection. Using the camera lucida method, Clang projected images of acquaintances and family members from a "magic lantern", then he traced them and used charcoal to draw them. He photographed them again to create the final printworks in this exhibition.
The reversal from photo to sketch and back again alludes to the fundamentals of image-making. "The key is how images create impressions and how these experiences can be shared by people," he shares. "We're unique as persons but not that unique as humans. This whole exercise is to expand the thoughts of the viewers rather than tell them how this work should be seen."
It fits with his view that his photographs tell stories. "When I look at a photograph, I refuse to see it as a visual documentation. I'm informed, for sure, but I'm looking forward to something in or about the work which allows me to expand my own thoughts and where I can create my own narrative. Everyone has their own stories and secrets and it's nice when they see a work that helps them relive their own memories. It creates a resonant experience with them."
There's no lack of good, technical photographic images in these days of the Internet and smartphones, but for an artist, it's going beyond photography as technique and seeing it as a medium for self-expression.
The World Surrounding An Indoor Plant, a solo exhibition by John Clang, opens tonight and runs until Sept 4 at Fost Gallery, 1 Lock Road?#01-02, Gillman Barracks. Opening hours are Tue-Sat: 11am-7pm, Sun: 11am-6pm, Mon/Public Holidays: Open by appointment