Canadian photographer Liam Morgan invites us to contemplate the consequences of being forsaken. Rust, dirt, moss, dust, flakes of forgotten concrete, muck-caked walls, floors and ceilings, the extraterrestrial landscape of abandonment; in all, the cadavers of construction, without life and yet only half undead. In his first solo exhibition, "Abandon And Decay", currently on display at Kathmandu Gallery, the Bangkok-based Morgan attempts an exploration into the nature of decay and finds abstract fascination in the discarded and the leftover. You look _ and something compels you to move closer for a better view.
This centrepiece is made up of pictures from 35mm film found in an abandoned building.
Arriving in Chiang Mai in 2003 as a student, Morgan has lived in Thailand ever since. He's a photographer, film-maker and music-video director who's collaborated with several Thai indie bands. He has also taken pictures for an upcoming book on T-Bone, the leading reggae outfit in the Kingdom.
High-speed projects like the latter seem to occupy a position far removed from the ruminative photos chosen for this exhibition. Taken in abandoned buildings in Bangkok (plus a few in Chiang Mai), these exude a namelessness, a non-figurative enigmaticness which can induce a kind of trance, or maybe it's to do with the Buddhist implications of impermanence.
Morgan agreed to talk to us about his show.
So, why abandoned buildings?
There was a period when I wanted to get away from people. In Canada, I came from a very rural area where you can go walk in the forest and you won't see anybody in there. I found the experience of walking around abandoned buildings quite similar. You're not going to find anybody. Abandoned buildings are the only places in the city that have that kind of feeling. Before I started taking pictures, I just went there, spent time in there. Then I started bringing my camera and shooting this and that. I shot more and more and conceptually the project started growing.
Was it hard to find abandoned buildings in Bangkok?
In the beginning, it was just one building near Taksin Bridge that [I kept going to], the one from the financial crisis. When the place was blocked [off] and I couldn't get in, I started looking for other ones. I can think of about five big ones and quite a few more small ones.
What's the fascination in this _ in these things that are in a state of decay, not alive and yet not dead?
Part of this project is to talk about that _ there's an element of decay in every single photograph. A photograph that is old looks better. A photograph that was taken in 1970s is somehow more interesting now than it was in 1970s _ because of the decay. Maybe because the print is falling apart or because things shown in the photographs have since disappeared. When anyone photographs something, we know that this thing is going to decay; we know that and that's why we want to photograph it. People take photos of a baby all the time because they know it's not going to be a baby for very long. He'll grow up and actually [it's a form of] decay. Photographers like to take pictures of old people because they're old, they're going to die.
You talk about how old photographs are more interesting. What do you think about Instagram and how people nowadays can instantaneously make new photos look old?
Yes, we add the decay to the photos [via Instagram]. The visual approach in this exhibition is, in a way, a reaction to that. In my photos there's no decay of the photos in themselves. I shot them using normal tricks that make photographs look nice _ shooting them as if I were shooting advertising or landscapes _ and trying to make every detail as perfect as possible. Technically, it's perfect, but the things in the photographs are decay.
Even before Instagram, I always consider that in my work, the more I can make things look less like reality, the better people like the picture. You shoot black-and-white _ and people like it because it's a separation from reality. You make a blurry background _ and people prefer it. People like pictures that are less real.
Do you think this technique will guide the viewer to achieve a certain feeling?
This project isn't trying to achieve something; it's more of an exploration. The conceptual part of it got more important as the project went on. This work is mainly considering abandonment in an abstract sense; it's concerned with decay _ or a lack thereof _ of emotions. I'm not a religious person but the philosophical processes I came up with are quite similar to what Buddhists might call non-attachment.
You're also working on a photographic book with T-Bone, the Thai reggae band...
Last year I spent five months with T-Bone when they were making a new album. I spent a long time in the recording studio with them. My approach to it is that when you look at the band, you don't see much about what goes into it before you see those people on stage.
So this book, called Back To Da Bone, shows how much work it takes and most of the photos are not of live performances. If it's a live shot, it's from the back looking out to the audience. The book will be coming out soon.
Abandon And Decay can be seen at Kathmandu Gallery until February 24. Call 02-234-6700 or visit www.kathmandu-bkk.com
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor