The Experience In Abstraction - The Photography of South Ho
Tam Wai Ping
In the process of seeing, some people search for answers. Some only look at what they like and admire it; others care less about understanding than imagining the unseen. When I look at South Ho's early work Into Light, I am drawn by the light that leads me towards an unknown destination. In the process of seeing I am detached from the familiar surroundings - the pedestrian tunnels - and enter the imagination of light. It is a challenging immersion, as it is not easy to create such abstract experience through the photographic medium.
South Ho's photographic experience reminds me of other photographers and artists who take an interest in light and shadow. The early Hong Kong photographer Fan Ho employs light and shadow to create photography that resonates with Modernist characteristics, forging a realm of light and shadow in compositions of physical cityscapes. To a certain extent, South Ho is also in search of alternate realms in the city. Unlike Fan Ho who captures the cityscapes, South Ho expresses his personal feelings and thoughts through imagery of the city. Their different uses of light and shadow reflect the varying concerns of two eras, as well as the differences between salon photography and conceptual photography. As South Ho has not received any training at an arts academy, his creation is not bounded by the "rules" or "standards" of photography and it contains an intrinsic changeability. It is the stand-out feature of his work. If Fan Ho’s photography conveys a Modernist inclination towards results, South Ho's is a dialectic on the foray into Postmodernism.
This makes me think of Hiroshi Sugimoto's Theaters series. The interpretation of a scene, which is shaped by one's life experience, precedes the photographer's selection of shooting location or sets and style. As Hiroshi Sugimoto puts it, "I visited the cinema for the first time during elementary school. I was holding my mother's hand...We saw the film Wildrose at this cinema near the bridge. I no longer remember why we went to see the film, but the incredible atmosphere of the space left a deep mark on my tender mind." (Note 1)
From my conversations with South Ho, I heard that he has been living in Tin Shui Wai since his father's passing. Most of his shooting locations are places he passes by in his daily life. Ho's father was a graphic designer in life. If he was still alive, he might have joined South Ho in painting the watercolour blocks in Every Daily. The meaning of the photographic act lies in reminiscences, and it stems from the deeper, personal memories of the artist.
Hiroshi Sugimoto's Lightning Fields is a philosophical quest and a marked contrast to South Ho's societal experience (Note 2). The differences are not important, since both artists' works reflect their individual attitudes towards their eras and the underlying reasons. South Ho's new work,Every Daily, inevitably recalls the labeling of Tin Shui Wai as the "city of sadness" and the hub of social problems. He captures the city from a wider photographic point of view, leaving appropriate distance between the short focal length and the subject. The black and white photographs present a kind of neutral documentation while Ho, a native of the city, instills his sense of familiarity with the place into the images. As aforementioned, Ho's "handling" of photography is often irregular. Every Daily features hand-painted colour blocks resembling the digital format. The slow and repetitive act of painting is a response to the accelerating digital age, a critical yet playful reflection on the label of the "city of sadness". It proposes a form of liberation from the disarray and gloom that permeates Hong Kong at present.
The entire Every Daily series embodies emotions on both the personal and societal levels, in which hidden feelings come to the surface. Timid memories underline the contours of everyday life, which are rendered in tangible images. Yet the intrigue of the work lies in the unspeakable experience for the viewers.
Tam Wai Ping is an artist working in various media including photography, installation and environmental art. He is also an independent curator and serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Note 1: Until the Moss Grows by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Chinese translation by Huang Yaji. Common Master Press. First edition 2010. P. 122. English translation of excerpt by Nicolette Wong.
Note 2: South Ho graduated from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University with a Higher Diploma in Social Work. He worked briefly at lifestyle and trends magazines.