Internationally acclaimed photographer Wing Chan knows how to make the ordinary extraordinary. The Hong Kong artist's abstract photomontages find unexpected beauty in urban landscapes, textures and the dynamism of city life. Chan sees the world as brimming with potential, an iceberg with enormous secrets submerged beneath.
An Ode to the Remains No.13.
That's what we find in "Prosaic vs. Profound", Chan's debut exhibition in Bangkok that will run at La Lanta Fine Art Gallery until March 7.
"The concept of my work is that in most of the major cities people live such a hustle bustle life that they neglect a lot of beautiful textures and objects around them. Even in the smallest and darkest little alleys you can find beauty. This is the message I want to give," says Chan.
Chan grew up in one of the roughest areas of Hong Kong and worked as a child labourer from the age of five. Working in a noodle factory he saved up enough pocket money to buy a plastic camera. Photography came naturally to him and he delighted in saving enough money to buy film, take pictures and develop them.
"I found beauty even in the slum area. I've always had a smile on my face; I'm like an old man," he chuckles.
Chan is courteous, hospitable and eager to share the meaning of his work. The first piece in the exhibition is glossy and dramatic, characterised by chiaroscuro and hundreds of shadowy, perforated dots.
"This was taken at Charles De Gaulle Airport at 9 o'clock in the morning," he describes Metamorphosis No.13. "I was waiting for my friend and had three hours to kill.
"The walls and chairs had these holes as decoration. Imagine, in the morning, a very bright and harsh winter sunlight streaming through the windows and then I see these beautiful round shapes with shadows overlapping."
A testament to his optimism, the pictures show how Chan finds something curious in the quotidian and transitory space.
Although two-dimensional, his photographs have depth, movement and are printed on glossy squares.
"The gallery owner and I introduced this new technique [acrylic face mount] to Bangkok, it's never been done before in Thailand and it goes very well with my work," he explains.
His An Ode to the Remains No.7 is shot in Hong Kong. However it is transcendent in the way it could have been taken in any of the world's urban centres. Chan draws his inspiration from daily excess, explaining, "every day there are free magazines and newspapers but at the end of the day there are bundles and bundles of this waste".
"I find beauty in that and so I give them a second life." This is what Chan means by the "mystification of reality" _ an image that goes beyond reality to draw attention to the real, in this case, the disregarded.
The eye is immediately drawn to the sombre blue hue of the photograph. Chan explains: "I'm a big fan of Picasso and so this is sort of like my blue period too _ how people waste the material in the urban city. We need to be more careful before we pick up a free newspaper because we are killing a lot of trees every day."
Other pieces such as An Ode to the Remains No.1 continues this idea of rejuvenation by reincarnating pieces of abandoned wood. The vibrant green tones conjure images of tropical jungles and fertile landscapes. Through the clever editing and layering of images it is impossible to see the true hopeless state of such objects. Bringing to life the adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure, Chan's photography illuminates the disregarded, bringing with it a sense of nostalgia and hope.
While Chan cites artists such as Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse as influences, his creativity can be sparked by anything such as an old lady making noodles in the street. Chan admits that he is attached to all of his work.
"I think it's like having a baby; I love them all. I have very good memories from all of them."
Although the exhibition took almost two years to create, Chan states in reality it took "50 years because things cannot be done overnight". It is clear he pours his life experience into every image, which is why his enthusiasm and optimism so strongly permeates each piece.
"Prosaic vs. Profound" is an exhibition perfectly suited for Bangkok as it inspires audiences to find treasure within the tainted.
"People get the illusion that Bangkok is everything associated with the sex business, but it's full of beauty and culture, whether it is the old Thai culture or emerging contemporary art," says Chan.
The vagrants of the material world, the neglected objects featured in Chan's photographs, are something we would ordinarily avert our eyes to avoid. The exhibition invites audiences to actively seek out the overlooked while challenging our perception of beauty, an ideal deeply embedded within today's visually saturated society. "Prosaic vs. Profound" is an opportunity to put on rose-tinted glasses and view life a little differently. Ultimately, optimism is Chan's joie de vivre, and the wind beneath this Wing.
"Prosaic vs. Profound" is at La Lanta Fine Art Gallery, Sukhumvit 31, until March 7.
About the author
Writer: Olivia Caisley