Interview: About Dream – Suki Lui

In this interview, Hon Hoang talks to photographer Suki Lui.

Photography isn’t always about what we see in front of us, but a medium of expression for what we have inside. The conceptualization of thoughts and feelings fabricated into light forms can be cathartic in the best of times. In these days of uncertainty, we have to explore what is hidden within, in all sense of the word. In this interview, I speak with photographer Suki Lui about her experiences and work. How she approaches her art from conceptualization and exploration of life experiences to production of photographs.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

My parents do not have any art or photography background. They were refugees from rural China who came to Hong Kong in the 1970s. They did not own a camera or have a family photo album either. They only possessed one photo of themselves from their life before coming to Hong Kong.

Having the chance to have a photo taken was thus a very precious experience for me. I remember all early family photographs were taken by relatives or our neighbours. They then sent them back to us when the films were developed. It was in fact a very intimate act and it was how people connected with each other back then. The other early experience that I can recall is my father enjoying taking my mother, me and my four brothers to have a proper family portrait taken at photography studio once every couple of years – those traditional family portraits where everyone sits or stands formally just like those you normally do for school year book. I remember the family portrait was taken in a studio with an English rural landscape backdrop which I believe had not been changed for more than a decade. This association of photography with intimacy and relationships has stayed with me.

I started taking photos at sixteen. My early experience of taking pictures was not very structured; it was only a way for me to record daily moments I spent with friends and family. The early photographs I took were all with the analogue cameras I had been given: disposable cameras, some toy cameras from Lomography like LC-A 35mm film camera.

 

What does time mean to you and how does this definition affect your photography?

I believe the concept of time is always at the back of my mind when taking photographs. Henri Cartier Bresson and Saul Leiter were definitely some of the early influences on my photography. Capturing ephemeral moments was one of the main objectives of my early photography practice.

I am also sensitive to time in that I am sensitive to changes in light. Capturing particular light is one of the most important elements in my photography.

Also, using film instead of digital data forces me to reflect carefully on the particular moment I am capturing when pressing the shutter. I also enjoy spending time developing films in the darkroom alone. I enjoy the focussed concentration and having full control over my work process; it is in fact very therapeutic. Awareness of the amount of work required to develop analogue photographs helps you to cultivate an attitude of carefulness and meticulousness when taking photographs.

As a creative, what is the importance of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone? Do you notice a difference in the quality of your photographs when you’re comfortable versus when pushing yourself?

I think it is important to not let yourself stay in your comfort zone. I find it tedious to constantly work on the same style unless the process is intended to help me advance my technique. I think a lot about my work and the possibility of developing new techniques by working differently. My experiences teach me that I can always discover new things which surprise me when I step away from my comfort zone.

My ongoing photo series About Dream was a new challenge to me. My photography is usually portrait-oriented. Working on About Dream let me have chance to pay more attention to my surroundings and mundane objects instead of people, and allowed me to explore new ways of playing with light.

 Do you plan most of your projects or do they grow into one as you take more images? If planned, what is your process like?

I do plan some of my photo projects. It depends on the nature of the project. For commercial works, it is necessary to make a plan beforehand. I do research, which includes finding visual or literary materials, as well as having conversation with friends (this is particularly important). Apart from that, I find it very useful to discuss with my creative team (if I am working in a team). However, in my experience no project works exactly as planned.

By contrast, most of my personal projects mostly start from one image or idea before developing into a coherent project. I think the process grows quite naturally. In fact, I believe it is sometime essential to let the process lead the way.

 

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore or are currently working on?

Yes. During my masters studies in London, I started working on a project which explores modern consumerism by focussing on how signs are manipulated and meanings are created and played with in the process of consumption. With my background as the only daughter in a relatively conservative family, I realized how different expectations for every aspect of life have been placed on me. Female experience is thus a central subject matter for me. In this project, by recontextualising mundane objects juxtaposed with female models, I intend to reflect on the stereotypical way of representing women in modern consumerist culture.

How much of yourself do you put into your photographs?

I frequently take self-portraits, but for me this is less about myself and more about capturing a particular moment in time and reflecting on broader themes of change, intimacy and gender.

 

If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself to have the confidence to go to places and situations where I might not feel entirely comfortable, but which would help to push my practice further.

 

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

I would say it is important to stay with people who help and support you to create, whilst opening up yourself to work with different creative people. Most importantly, I think, you have to be honest to yourself and pursue what you care about and find interesting.

Interview: Hours of Gold – Kris Vervaeke

In this interview, Hon Hoang talks to Kris Vervaeke, a portrait, commercial, and street Photographer.

Physical exploration abroad can bring about much left unexplored within one’s own mind. Many questions that people are not confronted with are presented to the foreground as we move across the globe, finding ourselves in different yet familiar places. Observing those that breathe the same air and bleed the same blood yet noticing the subtleties and idiosyncrasies that make us unique. The ability to observe and even admire these quirks are necessary as a North Star for most photographers. Guiding them towards their subjects and creating stories through images. Photographer Kris Vervaeke presents his work with realism yet accompanies it with a tinge of wonder as he’s guided by this sense of direction.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

Just taking a few snap shots here and there during my travels when working for a steel company. Nothing special.

China Factory
China Factory

Whether through formal education or self-taught, how did you develop your style as a photographer? Are there any photographers that influence you in particular?

After many years working in an industrial environment, I switched careers completely. Did some evening school and I’m still self-teaching me with every experience. Photography is what I do now. I think I developed my style by just wandering around, looking and trying out different things.

Some old and classics: e.g. Cartier-Bresson and August Sander,  Lee Friendlander.  Martin Parr, Alec Soth,  also  Larry Sultan. Kadir Van Lohuizen, Misrach… but I also can get inspired by some starting photographers.

China Factory
China Factory

 

Being born in Belgium, what is it like to photograph people native to your country compared to the projects you take on abroad?

To be honest I have not really photographed many Belgians yet… and if so it would not be that different I assume. I probably will adjust in some details here and there but in general, the way I approach and connect with the street and with people would be the same.

 

You spent 13 years living throughout Asia. What can you tell me about your first year there and how did it compare to your last?

As I was just new in the photography business with no experience, I started with variety of small jobs from shooting 1500 wine bottles to silly portraits for a little local magazine. With each job I learned more and added on experience. Over the years you get to know the region better and I started doing more personal projects towards the end.

6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities

Can you tell me a bit about your House Full of Gold series? How did the project start?

The title refers to the name of a fortune tellers booth. When living in Hong Kong, I visited this temple taking pictures of the Chinese New Year rush. This is when I first saw those fortune tellers in the back building and became interested with them. I didn’t pursue any images with the fortune tellers at the time, but it always was in the back of my mind.

House Full of Gold

A unique place of worship and wishes, 160 fortune tellers concentrated in one building, neatly lined up in tiny offices; waiting for customers to come by for good fortune. They invite you in their little sanctuaries, stacked to the roof with knowledge and paper and history. They read from ancient shading books, from the cracks of your smile and from the shape of your jaws. They juggle with jostle sticks and birth day numbers and find the future in your hands and forehead while you sit on hard wooden chairs. I found myself going back many times. I started talking to them and eventually had my hand and face read by some. This gave me a better understanding of these fortune tellers and the traditional art of fortune telling. It made me want to document this unique place.

House Full of Gold

So I started to take portraits of the fortune tellers and their empty booths when they did not want to be photographed. It is only later on that I decided to do something with it. That year I participated at a photography workshop organized by Magnum. I wanted to re-create these rows of fortune tellers and the bizarre atmosphere that is at the same time religious, superstitious, carnival, shopping mall, historic site, temple and theme park, all packed in one. Allowing you to see the shops and its interior from the outside makes you a visitor choose your fortune teller. I also included detail images of the interior , plus quotes of the fortune tellers about my own fortune.

House Full of Gold

Are there any particular moments or stories from this project that has stayed with you?

When doing the interviews, one fortune teller said ‘Once I told a customer she would become a prostitute and she did. I’m not sure if my prediction led her into it.’ I smiled, sometimes people put too much trust in others. As mentioned for this project I had my hand and face read several time . One fortune teller (an ex fireman) advised me ‘OK, Mr. Kris , you pay first’ ‘You have long ears. You can be famous, but you are stubborn. Keep good Feng Shui. This year, put some fresh flowers every day at the north side wall in your house. This will help you become famous’. Well, I tried this but it did not help. Another one said ‘Your career is like a river, like it cannot stop. At 65 you’ll still have a career.’ So now I guess I’ll keep my faith in that one…

House Full of Gold
House Full of Gold

 

Do you have an image in mind before you take a photograph? How much do you allow the moment and your emotions to dictate the direction compared to what you have planned?

I work very intuitively. I often find my inspiration in daily life or on the street. I like to take pictures of what I think is somehow intriguing, bizarre, senseless, curious or surreal. Sometimes it is so bluntly ordinary that I find it becomes queer, daft or surprisingly entertaining. For my new project where I take images of objects in a studio I do have the image in mind and work with more structure.

 

How much of yourself do you put into your photographs? What is it about your subject that makes you want to create a photograph?

Unconsciously I put a lot of myself in my photographs. I see subjects, I see stories. With an eye toward storytelling, I use my camera to take you to some strange and wonderful places that you may not experience in your own day-to-day life. I love to make photo stories that capture some of the humanity and goofiness I discover.

6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore or are currently working on?

My personal work tends toward in-depth projects that become books and exhibitions Currently I’m working on a project called ’98 objects found in my mother-in-law’s-basement’ I photograph objects found in people’s basements. A surprising collection of prosthetic devices, dysfunctional tools, tooth brushes, 20-year-old cans of food, old toaster, decapitated toys, to a single shoe. Through these kept items a portrait of an era emerges, everyday objects as a capsule of time of society

 

If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I should have started with photography much earlier…

6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities
6 Chinese Cities

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Follow your instinct, don’t be afraid to throw yourself into it and own your project. It’s advice I still need to give myself.

 

House Full of Gold

Photos Courtesy of Krisver Vaeke

www.krisvervaeke.com

Instagram: @krisverv

Editor’s Showcase: Dubki- Performances in Contact with the Ganges – Santasil Mallik

Name:
Santasil Mallik
Submission Title:
Dubki- Performances in Contact with the Ganges
Country:
India
Photographer Bio:
Santasil Mallik, 22, is from Kolkata, India. Currently I am pursuing a Masters Degree in English Literature, but I am more interested in exploring the theoretical approaches that investigate the notions of fictionality and representation in art and literature. I firmly believe all works of representation are fictional, the coexistence of representation and non-fiction is a myth. My relationship with photography, therefore, tries to work beyond the idea of documenting and representing reality. Photographs act as futile traces of the memories, reflections, and actions associated with my interactions with different circumstances. They serve as testimonies to things that cannot be accommodated in the photographs themselves. This love and hate relationship with photography, precisely because of the limits of representation of the medium, induces me to keep on exploring this marginality. I am certain that I can never fixate myself to a signature photographic style of my own because my relationship with photography is always in the state of becoming and flux.
My photographs and writings have appeared on several platforms like National Geographic, Private Photo Review, Bright Lights Film Journal, F-Stop Magazine, Entropy Magazine etc. I was selected for a storytelling workshop by National Geographic Society and was also a part of an International Exchange Programme in photography with Counter Foto, Dhaka. But most of my time is spent on my conversations with myself.
Submission Information:
Wrapped in a heavy windcheater, as I dipped my bare feet into the crystal blue waters of the Ganges they went numb in seconds. The biting December winds blowing around me at Haridwar mocked the afternoon sun that shone over the sacred town, but the scene at Har Ki Pauri, the largest ghat in Haridwar, looked no less like a beach on a fine English summer day. Every day thousands of devotees from various parts of the country gather at this ghat, where Lord Shiva stepped upon during the Vedic age, to take their much-anticipated dip (Hindi: dubki) in the river. According to mythological accounts in Hinduism, the waters of the Ganges can refurbish one’s lost energy (Atma-shakti) caused by negative actions; this, if not similar, is close to the idea of purging one’s sins. On another front, people are also aware of the scientific studies and historical records that have demonstrated the self-cleaning and anti-bacterial properties of the Ganges near its source.

The river rushed briskly at turns and became relatively calm near the wider banks, indifferent to the swelling crowd taking dips in the ghat. A range of unexpected activities, emotions, and body movements emerged when individuals confronted the river in all its turbulence and spiritual density. I started photographing various people at that precise moment when they made their decisive dubkis into the water. An infant baby immediately burst out crying as she was dipped into the bone-chilling water for a purification ceremony by her father, muscle-flexing tourists failingly grappled with the flow and coldness of the water as they dipped themselves, some of them hung on to fixated chains and railings to instantly thrust their heads into the water and come out, while others descended slowly with lips mumbling with prayers. Many Dalit children, on the other hand, curiously dived deep into the river to fish for coins and brass utensils thrown by devotees.

The photographs reflect the conviction, determination, and bodily dispositions that accompanied the people as they took their first dubkis in the river. After a week of photographing the same phenomenon, I began to notice a common bodily habitus that guides the dubkis, as well as remarkable exceptions in an individual’s approach towards the Ganges. It is impossible to locate the thoughts and intentions working at the precise moment of taking the dive; several factors traversing across personal, social, religious, and even physical circumstances dictate the way they dive into the river, are they taking dubkis for the atonement of some guilty past? Are they looking for something underwater that might make their lives better? Or are they just enjoying a refreshing bath with their friends? As an onlooker, one can at most revere those specific performances that arose due to their contact and interactions with the river. These photographs are a testimony to those short-lived moments of communication.

Editor’s Showcase: The Refugee Fishing Boats – Tanvir Ony

Name:
Tanvir Ony
Submission Title:
The Refugee Fishing boats
Country:
Bangladesh
Photographer Bio:
I am a hobbyist photographer focusing on documentary and life style photography. My photography is related to people’s lives and the information that can be portrayed to help teach about a society.
Submission Information:
This project focuses on the Rohingya community, who are now refugees in Bangladesh, and their daily activities of fishing. The hard and tough work they do in order to survive.

Resources: Prix Elysée by Musée de l’Elysée

We’ve been considering for a long time on how to better present photographers with resources to help them improve their craft and move forward in their careers. In this contemplation we decided to create a Resources section for the web page. On it, we will post opportunities like calls for submissions and resources such as helpful websites.

To kick off our first entry, please see the call for submissions for Prix Elysée by Musée de l’Elysée.

The Prix Elysée is open to promising photographers or artists using photography, regardless of nationality, who have already enjoyed their first exhibitions and publications. Photographers must be recommended by a reputed professional in the fields of photography, contemporary art, cinema, fashion, journalism or publishing. There is no imposed theme or preference for any particular photographic genre or technique.

Applications for the Prix Elysée 4th edition are open from January 1 until March 9, 2020 and are free to apply.

To learn more, we will be working to produce some exclusive interviews from photographers nominated in previous years.

For links to their applications and for more details, please see the links below.

Apply here

About

Contact

Editor’s Showcase: Faces of Khlongtoey – Tim Russell

Name:
Tim Russell
Submission Title:
Faces of Khlongtoey
Country:
Thailand
Photographer Bio:
Originally from Coventry in the UK, I’ve been in Bangkok since 2012, prior to which I lived in Vietnam for just short of a decade. I’ve been a keen amateur photographer since about 2009, and am particularly keen on street and travel photography.
Submission Information:
Home to over 100,000, and a no-go area for many more others, Khlongtoey (aka Khlong Toey, Khlong Toei) is one of the last remaining parts of ‘Old Bangkok’ within the central business district. There has been a port here since the late 1930s, and people from all over Thailand – and beyond – have flocked here ever since to live and work, many of them living in tiny shacks within easy reach of the port and market. This is the Khlong Toey ‘slum’, as it’s locally known, and which I put in inverted commas as it’s not really a fair description – it’s certainly not as squalid as the slums you’d find in, say, Mumbai or Manila, and most of its residents are as houseproud as their circumstances allow. But nevertheless it is a marked contrast to the nearby skyscrapers and shopping malls of Sukhumvit and Silom, an area of poverty, drugs, crime and ill-health that Bangkokians tend to avoid, seeing it only from the flyover that passes above the shacks. This project began with my first visit to the slums in 2015, following several visits to the market. I’d begun following the local football team – Port FC – in 2014, most of whose fans come from Khlong Toey, and their friendliness convinced me that a visit to the slums might not be as bad an idea as one might think. And I was right – yes, I found an area that was poor, run down, even squalid in places, but I also found the friendliest people I’ve met anywhere in the city; people always happy to have a chat, pose for photographs, and share their drinks with me (usually beer or Thai whisky). Since that first visit I’ve been back at least 40-50 times, either on my own or escorting visiting photographers, and that first impression has never changed – I’m always made welcome. Sadly, the news for Khlong Toey’s residents is not good, with the area due to be levelled to be replaced by yet more condos and shopping malls within the next couple of years, and the locals moved out to who knows where. To better conditions perhaps, but at the expense of what strikes me as a strong community spirit and an area that, for all its negative points, has bags of character. I’ve set up this website to put my favourite Khlong Toey images in one place and to show another side to the area, one that will hopefully persuade others to visit and experience this unique part of Bangkok before it disappears for good.

Editor’s Showcase: Living Landscapes – Shafqat Nabi

Name:
Shafqat Nabi
Submission Title:
Living Landscapes
Country:
India
Photographer Bio:
I am a freelance documentary and commercial photographer based in Delhi and Kashmir.‌ I belong to a middle-class Muslim family where choosing photography was a stigma at some point in time, but I chose it against the will of my parents. Now that times have changed, my parents think about photography as a respectable profession. I have worked with local newspapers and online magazines as a photojournalist in Kashmir. Right now, I am working as a commercial freelance photographer in Delhi. I cover e-commerce, events, weddings, advertisements, and interior shoots, besides my personal projects.
Submission Information:
The Living Landscapes is a project dedicated to my people and my Motherland which has suffered so much due to the ever growing power struggle inside and outside its borders. I want to bring to the world the untold stories of the unseen lands, where people are moulded and enriched by the beauty and love around them, not by violence and despair.

Interview: Families of the Dump (Forgotten Laughter) – Gerry Yaum

The internet is saturated with one article after another that requires our undivided attention, attention that is few and far between in the digital age. This article and interview will contribute to such saturation, but it is well worth the time to read for the stories photographer Gerry Yaum provides and the work he does for the Families of the Dump.
The interview is about Yaum and his decade long project in Mae Sot, Thailand, documenting the Burmese refugees that call the dump home. The project consists of his charity work and photography.

Photographer Bio:

Self Taught social documentary photographer and security guard.

Submission Information:

A BRIEF HISTORY “Families of the Dump”

My social documentary photography project “Families of the Dump” dates back to 2013. In 2013 after viewing a CNN story on YouTube I learnt of Burmese refugee families who were living in a garbage dump in Mae Sot Thailand. I had been searching for an important very human story to tell. The families in the dump became for me that very important, life-changing story.

In the vicinity of the Mae Sot dump approximately 100 families who have escaped Burma (Myanmar) live and work. The people are mostly from the Mon and Karen ethic groups but there are also other groups in the population. They have escaped Burma for economic and or political reasons. Many families working the garbage in Mae Sot have experienced war and extensive human rights abuses. Life in the garbage is a better choice for them, a better option than where they came from. They can work everyday, make money and build better lives in Thailand at the dump than they could back home in Burma.

At the Mae Sot dump all types recyclable goods are of value, plastics, bottles, cardboard, metals etc. Everything is dug out of the waste and then resold to local buyers based on weight and quality. Everyday the people, sometimes-entire families including children and the elderly come out into the garbage to scavenge. Food is often taken out of the waste, raw meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, foods of all types, everything of value is used.

The families either live in shacks directly on the garbage, or next to it. Many of the photographs in this presentation were made in the homes the people live in, sometimes up to 9 human beings in a single dump shack.

My first trip to Mae Sot and the dump of the families was in April/May 2013. I took a second trip in 2013, another in 2015, 2016 and a 6-month trip in 2017-2018. Over that time period I have visited the dump over 100 times. The work has been both photographic and donation in nature (please see end section for the donation work).

Website or Social Media Links:

https://www.facebook.com/gerry.yaum (to follow his documentation of donations spent)

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

I started in photography when I was 14, after taking a darkroom class in my shop education course. After high school, I tried to get into a college photography program, but was rejected two years in a row. I got angry and frustrated so I decided to do it alone. Making the kind of pictures I wanted to make. If a school would not accept me then I would teach myself. 

When I was 21, I took all my cameras and darkroom gear, borrowed my parent’s motorhome, and drove from Edmonton to Vancouver, Canada before heading South into the United Stated for 6 months of picture making. I ended up photographing in an African American ghetto in Oakland, California. Met many friends there, people who lived in a completely different culture, and with very different life experiences than my own. 

For me, it was a life changing event. I learned so much. I photographed the jazz scene there as well as heroin users and ex San Quentin convicts. It was a real eye opening experience for a naive 21 year old white boy from Canada. That 6 month trip cemented the way I would do things in the future, gave me a working method to make photographs. 

There was another 6 month US trip 5 years later. Later in life there would be a  3 month, 10 month, 1 year and 6 month long trips to Thailand. I just worked whatever job I could, saved money, when I had enough, I dropped everything and went to make my pictures!

 

What do you do for work? How does this work affect your photography?

For the last 25 years I have been working as a night time security guard. Gerry Yaum is a pseudonym, the made up name Yaum means security guard in Thai. 

The good part of being a guard is that you have plenty of free time during the night to study. I can read art biographies, browse photography books, clean my camera gear, roll bulk film etc. One of the most important things I do during my security nightshifts is to study languages. I have learned to speak a fair amount of Thai and to read and write a bit. Language is key when it comes to doing social documentary photography. You can build friendships and build trust when you can speak directly with your subjects. I am now trying to learn Burmese so I can speak to the people at the dump. 

Most importantly, working night security allows me to plan my photo projects. I can think things out, work on ideas, get everything settled in my mind. 

Tell me a bit about your project, how did it get started? How did you learn about this community?

Well now you got me going, I can talk all night and on about ‘Families of the Dump”.  I started to photograph inside Thailand way back in 1996. Initially, I was photographing the night scene in Thailand. Mostly concentrating on sex workers who worked with Western sex tourists. I did a series of portraits with female, male and transgender (ladyboy) workers. After doing that work on and off for around 15 years I was burned out and needed to go in a new direction. I then left the bar world to photograph in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum. This was a series of portraits done of people in Klong Toey, their lives, their stories. 

In 2012, I was working as a night security guard looking for another subject to photograph. I wanted to tell an important story, a story of good people who had been forgotten. Not only that, I wanted to do photographs that could help the people in the pictures. So I looked online, and searched for ideas through out my security nights.

In an Asian newspaper story, I found an article about people in Siem Riep, Cambodia, working in a garbage dump. I thought that might be what I was searching for. I have been to Cambodia several times, but do not speak much Khmer. I thought, “maybe I can do this type of photographs somewhere in Thailand.” The idea being that I could then speak Thai to my subjects, learn about their lives, explain why I was making photos, build trust, make friends, etc. So I did a search on ‘Thailand garbage dumps’ and up popped Mae Sot and the families who work there. The strange thing about this story is of course that very few people in the dump speak Thai, the family members all speak Burmese and their own particular dialect depending on what ethnic group they are from, Karen, Mon, etc. Probably less than 10% of the people in the dump speak any Thai. So when I got to the dump, my Thai was sort of useless. I have been trying (‘trying’ being the key word) to learn Burmese ever since.

The project is basically my interpretation of the lives the families live in the garbage. We work together making the pictures and later on I show the work and tell the stories, on my blog, on my social media and in exhibitions at galleries and other sites like libraries. The photos, people seeing the pictures lead to all the donation work that is now being done. 

My first trips to the dump in April and November of 2013, I would just hand out bags of food to different dump shacks, 2 or 3 bags each trip. Over time that evolved into much more. At the company where I work security, I showed the pictures to my coworkers and they started to donate hats, toys, clothing and money. So I started to take and distribute those things in the food bags. Later people started to give me money. With the donated money I would buy rubber boots, more rice, and other food goods to hand out to the families. With more money donations we (myself and the donators) started to buy headlamps, some basic medicines and a better quality boots for the families. In 2017-18 we did over $4000 CAD in donations, this coming trip I have $1630 CAD that I will use to buy goods to donate. For me, this is all a dream come true. The photos have led to direct help for the people in the pictures, as it should be.

From your years working on this project, what are some stories that have stayed with you? What do you take away from these moments?

On my 3rd  day in the dump, near a group of dump shacks, an older Burmese mother said something to me in Burmese, then placed her fingers together side by side. I had no idea what she was talking about about, she then repeated the strange hand gesture a second time with more Burmese talk, which I still did not understand. I smiled, nodded and walked away to do  some dumpscapes down the road with my 4×5 camera. As I was making those photographs I looked back and saw a table had been setup up on the roadway. Curious, I headed back. There were people gathered round and a young couple dressed in their best clothes. The woman was wearing a pink jacket shirt, with a long golden skirt, she had beautiful fresh flowers in her hair. Next to her a man was wearing a clean white long sleeved shirt and a traditional Burmese blue Longyi (a cloth tied at the waste and worn as a long skirt). I realized that this was a wedding and the pressed fingers gesture represented marriage, a joining of a man and woman becoming husband and wife. The husband was 17, the wife 15. I made pictures, donated some money to the new couple and shared the small amount of food and drink (shared hot chocolate) provided. It turned into a great time. I lent the family my point and shoot digital camera and they made a series of pictures of each other. Family photos while standing in front of the walls of dump garbage. When I returned to Canada I had the images printed up and then later in November 2013 during a return dump visit, I handed out the wedding photographs. As you can well imagine the pics were a big hit! Loved by all, smiles everywhere. 

One early morning that first year in the dump I was photographing with a 4×5 camera on a tripod. An hour or so in I heard lots of yelling, there was just this sudden unexplained panic then everyone in the dump was gone. They all ran for cover and had disappeared into dump shacks or the nearby sugar cane field. It was surreal, the whole event only took seconds.  In a flash all the people in the open were gone, all the people that had been working disappeared. I had no idea what was going on, I just stood there with my camera looking stupid, trying to figure out what to do next. I asked myself, “What was happening?” Figuring I better get my ass out of there, I grabbed all my gear, put the 4×5 on my shoulder and stumbled over to the nearby sugarcane field hiding area with the others. I stood there with an old man I knew a bit and he just shook his head he said in English “Burma!” then shook his head again. Then I heard it, the sound of a helicopter in the far distance (the Myanmar-Burmese border is very near to the garbage dump).  I had not realized it before but it was quite loud now. Everyone had run away from that sound, the sound of helicopters frightened everyone. I was never quite sure what happened but I think this is the story. The people in the dump thought the Burmese military were coming across the border in a chopper to get them! What you have to understand is many of these people are escaping mass murder, rape, war and loss. Many of the people in the dump have experienced genocide. That noise triggered something from their jointly held past, and they just ran in fear without thinking. After a few minutes the helicopter noise went away and everyone returned to work. It was as if nothing had happened. I started to take pictures again with a new insight into what these peoples past lives were like.

During my last trips to to make photographs at the dump in 2017-2018, I spent about 4 months photographing the dump at night. The photos in your selection are from that time period. I would walk the garbage all night while the families worked, making pictures, always looking for photos, trying to tell the story as best I could. This one time I was making photos, standing in complete darkness as usual, the only light coming from the headlamps of the people working. Suddenly, I felt something grab my left hand. I looked down and there was a bald young girl (children have their heads shaved because of the lice problem), maybe 5 or 6 looking back up at me and smiling. She just held my hand tightly and just looked up at me. It was a very simple and very beautiful thing, I will never forget it. We walked around the dump for 10 minutes before she let go. I then continued to make pictures. I do not know who she was, but it is one of those moments that sticks with me. It is one of the the reasons I go back to the dump again and again. I feel an obligation to return, a duty to try and help that anonymous young child who held my hand. 

 

 

Do you still see the same families when you go back?

That is the best part of the whole social documentary photography process. Because you become so involved in the lives of your subjects you see them over and over again, this happens for years on end. When I did my series of portraits on sex workers in Pattaya Thailand, I photographed many different workers over many different years, it is the same with “Families of the Dump”. Most of the family members know me by name because we have established long term relationships. One example, is from that  earlier wedding story. I photograph that same couple every trip, first in 2013 at their wedding and every trip since. I now have photographed 2 of their children, this coming trip when I return to the dump in a few days I expect to be photographing their 3rd child. Of course some people leave and new families come in, but for over the 6 years I have been photographing at the dump I have established long term relationships with dozens and dozens of people, so many people I have lost count. 

Being able to photograph family members over many years, to be able to photograph the children as they grow up is a wonderful experience, it connects you to everyone on a much deeper and personal level. You remember that little girl as a baby, you remember that older person when they were still healthy and strong, you see the different family members interact and work together for years. Longevity, continuance in photographic works adds depth and nuance to everything. It is the only way to do things in my opinion, it adds so much richness to everything.

 

When people donate, how do these funds help? 

Yes, yes and YES! There is no waste, no administration costs, 100% of the money goes for goods that are then donated to the families. It is a simple process. I go to an ATM machine in Mae Sot, I then go buy what is needed at local stores and markets. I buy headlamps, rubber boots, rice, food goods, over the counter medicines, working tools, treats for the kids (lollipops, cookies) and I haul it all on my rented  motorbike (I pay for the bike out of my security guard money) out to the dump and hand it out directly to the families. Your hand, to my hand to their hands. No BS, no waste. 

I can speak Thai well enough to negotiate good deals with the Thai folks selling goods at the markets. In fact sometimes when the Thai market sellers see what I am doing they actually donate some free things of their own, usually for the dump kids, hats, balloons etc. What I have found is that if you give freely, if you help others yourself, if your heart is in the right place, others will join in, they jump on the bandwagon and help. People are usually good, you just need to give them a chance to be good. 

I should also mention I document everything, I make photos of the bought goods, of the handouts to the people.  I also do videos if I have time. Everything is on the up and up, I try to make things as transparent as I can, 100% of the money raised through donations is handed out in goods.

The donation money raised is a combination of money donated by friends and by money I raise through my work as a security guard or through my artist talks at galleries. I also try to donate my artist fees from any exhibitions I get as well. So it becomes the perfect circle of art life. I make the photos in the dump, the photos are exhibited, the money from the photos being exhibited and the money donated by people who see the pictures goes directly back to the people in the photographs. So making photos creates funds to buy boots and headlamps for the “Families of the Dump”. IT IS PERFECT!

Link for donations

 

As a photographer, how do you engage with these families? Do you get to know them before you take the first photograph? 

I take things slow and easy, return again and again to establish trust, friendships and long term relationships. The people in the dump are escaping all kinds of personal suffering. The last thing they need is some smart ass rich western white guy who is dragging around 4 Leica cameras making pictures. So I try to build things up slowly over an extended period of time.

Now 6 years in, it is quite easy to photograph at the dump for me. Most everyone knows the deal, knows why I am taking photos. Many folks see it as a collaborative effort to tell their story, most people at the dump trust me now. We work together as a team. The only time there might be an issue is with new families who do not know me. Then it is a matter of them getting used to me and the cameras. I get positive comments and support from the established folks, they all talk amongst themselves. It is a karma thing, if you’re good, positives comes back at you, if you’re a selfish SOB, that comes back at you too. Because of past actions lots of good karma comes my way, I am very lucky.

Many photographer types just show up at the dump, take stuff for themselves and never give back. Always felt that type of photography was so selfish and predatory. I wanted to take my photos of course, it is what drives me but I also wanted to give back. So when I first arrived back in April of 2013, the first thing I did before making my first picture was hand out 3 bags of food to some of the dump shacks. Only then did I start to very slowly photograph.

I never take photos unless I have permission. If someone does not want to be photographed, then fine, I will move on with a smile. It is so important to treat everyone with the proper respect. To follow their wishes. To not exploit their situation for your personal benefit. That relates back to the Yaum name thing I mentioned earlier. The reason I came up with the name YAUM is that I never wanted my real name on a wall, getting my real name on a wall in a gallery is of no importance, who cares. It always seemed to me to be a bit exploitive to use your real name up there beside the pictures. All I want to do is tell the stories, tell the people’s stories, that is VERY important to me, the rest does not matter. My simple photography philosophy is, treat everyone you photograph with complete respect, give back as much as you can, and tell their stories not yours.

 

 

What is your process like when you take photographs? Do you have a goal in mind or do you wander until something catches your eye?

I have ideas all the time. One of the good things about being a security guard on nights is that you have a lot of time to think and plan. It is amazing how much planning you can do during 7 straight 12 hour night shifts in snowy, freezing Canada. So during work shifts I create all kinds of goals, have all kinds of gear thoughts, make all kinds of photo series plans.  

While on site, I try my best to do my Cartier-Bresson ‘decisive moment’ thing but I also work very hard at achieving my goals. Hard work makes up for lots of screwups. What I try to do is capture the ‘heart’ of things. The visual moment that tells the story in the deepest and most personal way. Of course that is easier said than done, but I do my best. Like I said earlier most of what I do accomplish is simply a matter of hard work, not giving up and pushing through my countless mistakes.

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore?

I have many ideas on the go, the one that comes immediately to mind is “KANATA”.

“KANATA” is a long term 10 year project I plan to do in Canada. It will be a series of landscapes and portraits using the traditional wet plate collodium process.

“KANATA” (the indigenous people world from the Cree language for Canada) will be a series of landscapes and portraits done across all of Canada. Canada is the second largest country in the world, most places I have not visited. I want to tell the story of what Canada is through photography. I plan on using 8×10, 11×14, 16×20 and even a super large 35×35 inch view cameras for this series.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell young photographers to make the kind of pictures they want to make regardless of any other factors. Simply put, follow your dreams. If you need to work other jobs to make only the type of non paying photographs you want to make, then do that! Only by following your heart and throwing yourself into your own personal photography can you be truly happy. For me, I became content in life when I made the decision to follow that path. Chase your own type of photographs down, have the courage, have the  strength to follow your dreams and to create your own personal beauty. You will never regret it.

Interview: The Echo of Your Departure – Azadeh Fatehrad

About:
Dr. Azadeh Fatehrad is an artist and curator based in London, working in the context of historical representation. Fatehrad’s research, artistic and curatorial practice are intertwined around a process of gathering information and generating new imagery in response to archival material she discovers. Her practice ranges from still and moving images to fictional stories, short films and artist books which have been exhibited internationally at the Royal Academy of Art (London), Somerset House (London), Weltkulturen Museum (Frankfurt am Main), Index: The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation (Stockholm), Lychee One Gallery (London) and The Barn Gallery (Oxford), among others. Fatehrad has received her practice-based PhD from the Royal College of Art (2016) and has conducted diverse projects across Europe and the Middle East, including at the Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main, the International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam, AFDI Archiv für Forschung und Dokumentation Iran Berlin eV,Berlin, and the Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran. Underpinning Fatehrad’s research is a cross-cultural approach that looks at the artistic, social, aesthetic and political implications of ‘existing images’, and their relation to life today. Fatehrad has curated diverse public programmes such as ‘Sohrab Shahid-Saless: Exiles’ at the Close-Up Film Centre, Goethe-Institut and Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London (2017-18); ‘The Feminist Historiography’ at IASPIS, Stockholm (2016); and ‘Witness 1979’ at the Showroom, London (2015). Her projects have been positively covered by the likes of the New York Times and Financial Times, CNN, Euronews, the Guardian, and the British Journal of Photography, among others. Fatehrad is co-founder of ‘Herstoriographies: The Feminist Media Archive Research Network’ in London and she is on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed Journal for Artistic Research (JAR). Fatehrad is also the recipient of St. John’s College Artist in Residence 2018 at the University of Oxford.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

The early experiences with photography were the one in my childhood playing with Polaroid cameras. It was fascinating for me to witness the appearance of the image on paper very fast after taking the photos. I enjoyed the experiment.

How does your work as a curator affect your work as an artist? Do you often find inspiration in the work you curate?

I think they are both interconnected and they feed one another very well. In curating for instance, I usually treat gallery space as a ‘canvas’- juxtaposing selection of works that reflect a form of dialogue or constellation of my ideas.

How much of your education has prepared you for what you’re currently doing? Has it helped cultivate your artistry and allowed you to pursue endeavors unavailable to those without a PhD?

Surely it has been a great help in shaping my work today. I am a huge fan of research and that helped me a lot as I wanted to know in depth of my topic. Research provided the university affiliation and essential institutional support while I was focusing on specific project that I was individually keen to explore. However that might be different for different people and that phd might not be needed in some cases for perusing their project. I think, two elements affected my progress positively and those were education and the community of colleagues/friends around me.

Tell me a bit about The Echo of Your Departures and why you chose to explore the history of feminist in Iran?

The Echo of Departures is based on personal story of diaspora. I left Iran about ten years ago to study my MA in the UK. It almost started immediately that the life of diaspora became a search of myself, a woman from Iran in a new adapted home of UK. I was curious to know why my view points are influenced by traditions and social values even though I was far away from Iran. The distance surely helped me gain new perspective, to be able to evaluate and to be able to find a new being that could be more independent from traditional thoughts. There wasn’t really any other way to find out about women of my country, in particular myself, without searching feminist history of Iran. That helped to contextualize my work and my thoughts in a more articulate manner.  

What have you learned from pursuing this project? Has any knowledge acquired made you adjust how you approach it?

Certainly, I learn new skills on auto-ethnography as a new section of my productions. Additionally, there were a few additional dimensions that had to be added to my production line through making this project. For instance, my works are usually multi-disciplinary but for this project specifically I had to learn about choir, sound and scoring for a bit. On the other hand, I mainly work collaboratively with one or two other colleagues but for this project I had to scale up to a larger team of 12 collaborators, comprising of different groups and specialized colleagues who could assist me in realizing my ideas. I am pleased with the result, and I learned a lot.

As an artist and historian, how do you balance facts and creative interpretations within your photographs?

They usually co-exists, one addresses the context and the other allows imagination to move beyond the printed photo/ projected video. I learned that it is good to not trust history and redefine history your own way. By doing research, by finding the facts and creating new constellations, these things may allow other view points to emerge. I am very interested when we start to look non-binary and avoid dichotomies- bad/ good, past /present. I think they all co-exist simultaneously and could be redefined.

When starting a multi-media installation, how do you decide which mediums would best complement the message being conveyed?

Most of the time that decision has been made when I am sketching an idea at the start of each project. I was fascinated with women’s voice, it is so powerful I thought. Hence the echo of your departure became a focus on voice and multi-layered echoes of diasporic life for me today.

What is your process like when you take photographs? How much research takes place before you reach for your camera?

There are different ways that I make photographic work. Some staged in studio which requires a lot of preparation usually, and some are made in a sort of flaneur style or random encounters which needs less of preparation. My camera is always with me.

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore?

Sure, there is a list of a few projects in my pipe line which are progressing through funding applications at the moment, once the funding comes through I could make those happen. There is also two video currently in the editing stage which will be exhibited in September in Berlin.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

Trust your intuition, Keep making and continue producing your work.

Editor’s Showcase: Hongkongers’ Daily – Thien-Ty Ly

Name:
Thien-Ty Ly
Submission Title:
Hongkongers’ Daily
Country:
Hong Kong
Photographer Bio:
French photographer, a Chinese descendant, Thien-Ty Ly was born in Hà Tiên, Kiên Giang which is a small town neighboring the banks of Mekong. His family immigrated to Thailand before settling in Paris, France were he was raised for a large part of his young life. A four years stint in China led him to move to Hong Kong, which has now become his home and also his main source of inspiration that keeps him continuously captivated.
His photos delve into the hidden stories found in landscapes, lifestyle, portraits and far-flung travel destinations. As a practicing Architect, Thien-Ty Ly’s photography recalls the many qualities of architecture that touches the heart. Portraits that tell important, personal stories. Lifestyle shots that speak of cultural and societal perspectives blended with individual style. Landscapes and cityscapes that give indication of history and tradition, while also providing hints of a future yet to come.
“I have been documenting Hong Kong city life through street photography for six years. I am passionate to capture spontaneously by placing the human figure at the heart of my concerns and wonders about the relationship that people has with his environment in everyday moments. Inexhaustible subjects, the population of Hong Kong is very generous, as long as it does not insist too much, shoot fast, keep smiling and move forward.
I enjoy to shoot with a 35mm film cameras. For this first exhibition, I used a 35mm B&W film Hasselblad Xpan 24mm x 65mm panoramic format to capture and narrate the moments of my street photography stories.”
Submission Information:
Ah Hong Kong, you are surely the Jackson Pollock of the cityscapes! With 7.4 million people crammed together, each of us contributing to express ourselves: gossiping, smiling, yelling, laughing, burping, staring blankly, discussing politics, trading, building, celebrating. All of these activities somehow blend into one unique city noise, accompanied by the rhythm of the Ding Ding.
However many times I walk over you, dodging the bamboo scaffolds at every construction site, avoiding a multitude of people coming from different countries and walks of life, I will never feel tired. The distraction, the curiosity is imprinted in my memories.
Walking through the streets of Hong Kong offers a sense of wonder. Has civilization evolved much since the 1900s? The chaotic arrangement of goods, the random mix of storefronts, the friendly newspaper stands, the bamboo scaffolds, the neon signs, all seem unchanged from many years ago. On the other hand, at each moment the same place can feel uniquely different. As time passes, people shuffle across. The change in weather and seasons each paint a scene of its own, depicting both the everyday chaos and the calmest moment after a rainstorm.
This fast-paced, efficient metropolis nonetheless retains its culture and festivities, allowing myself as a Chinese descendent to reminisce the celebration of the local Festivals. Civilization has embedded harmoniously within the natural landscape and it never ceases to amaze me the close proximity of the mountains to the front doors of tall skyscrapers.
The moment I step outside in the humidity of Hong Kong, I immerse myself among the masses of people, and yet, I feel somehow restful and at home.