To tell a story is to convey a narrative, making the audience see your story.
In this assignment, i was intrigued with the idea of the different roles i could pick up as an artist: the photographer, the narrator and also the character. I am the photographer when i designate my vantage point and envision how want my shots to be, effectively telling my story. I am the narrator when i formulate the ideas of the photographs, as well as curating the series into a effective plot. I am the character when i play out a persona to convey the story, the craftsman of the constructed reality.
In task 1, we were assigned to introduce ourselves using only three photographs, at which when placed together, leads audience into a constructed reality. I was doubtful of the task initially, not because of the objective, but the ideation. As a coming-to-age adult, expression of self identity is a common issue for most people, where most of the population never finding out who they truly are as real, introspecting human beings.
I believe that there is never a true unchangeable form of myself as an interactive human being. I can be bubbly with the company of people that I enjoy, but also apathetic when i need time to consolidate the introvert within myself. I can be hot-headed and grouchy when I have had a bad day, but also patient enough on certain days that you can hit me with a bus and I wouldn’t even flinch emotionally. This was an emotionally confusing task to me, as I struggled to introduce such a complicated subject using only three photographs.
In the end, I decided to sum up three basic versions of myself to introduce, using the three specified photographs- who I am as an entity of the universe, who I am as an individual of society and who I believe I am as a person.
I chose the same vantage point for all three photographs- a close up shot of my body squeezed into a tight space, as if the audience voyeurs into my personal space. However, instead of running away, I decide to confront the camera and “perform” for it as different personas. I also made use of only one light source shining directly on me, giving it a heavy vignette and play of chiaroscuro, creating a theatrically intense backdrop. The common white uniform and vantage point creates a unity to the photographs, as if it is viewed by an audience sitting at one fixed position.
This is who I am as seen by the Universe. As a child growing up, I have always pondered the necessity of a single human in the broad works of the Universe. It is the aged old question philosophers ask regarding the existential reason of human beings, how a single rock has a stronger impact on the Universe since it has been in existence since the Big Bang. In the long lifespan of the Universe itself, human lives’ are a measly nano second in its ratio. Hence, I decided to portray myself as a meat robot, wearing an aluminium foil over my head as a symbolism of machinery and the idea of homogeneous introspection.
I am seen trying to balance while sitting down, a literal portrayal of me trying to hold my place in the world. The fast movement of me rocking my crouched body creates a blurred photograph, producing a visually dynamic photograph with a tensed narrative of why.
This is who I am in the eyes of the society. In a fast paced country like Singapore, I am nothing but a bar code unless I make a name for myself. As most of the population, as we turn 16 or get our citizenship, we will receive our NRIC number, and on that card is a stretch of black and white lines we are categorized to. As difficult as it sounds, that is what we are in the works of society, a convenient stretch of numbers and codes we will use throughout our lives- getting the groceries with our debit cards, visiting the doctors with our medical cards, etc.
In this photo, I backed up into the corner as I stare straight into the camera, inviting the audience to a conversation. If the audience move their visual perspective down to the white focus, they will see that I have drawn a series of bar codes on my arms, signifying that the bar code is tattooed into my live. I chose to cut off my legs in the photograph as the proximity towards me gives off the idea of a private conversation, as though the audience is just a whisper away.
This is who I am as seen by myself, an amorphous identity. I chose to portray myself with a cloth covering my head, as mentioned above, I do not believe anyone has a true self to their identity. I covered my head with a cloth to provide a narrative, with only an opening for my mouth to be seen breathing. The opening creates a tension that tells the audience that I am indeed communicating with them, instead of covering my head completely that instigates an idea of suffocation, which I am not. Compared to the other two photographs, I am in a slightly more comfortable position. The direct light source visually parallels to a police confession, as if I am being confronted by the audience to tell them about myself.
In task 2, we were tasked to explore on a significant object, and how we interact with the object. In choosing a significant object, reading the Sherry Turkes “The Things That Matter” helped to understood the idea of object fetishism, how people place symbolic value in different object, to an extent of religious/ supernatural power. I have always loved coffee, and it has been a part of my life since I was around 7. Coffee is also an object of symbolic spiritualism, often a controversial subject in many religions. We were tasked to try out various vantage points, at which I chose the above three for a stronger narrative.
In this task, I chose to reference my work to Andy Warhol with his “performance” of eating a whopper for Burger King. It was a work that was beyond his time. The link provided (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejr9KBQzQPM) is a low resolution video of Andy Warhol eating a burger. Warhol explored on the idea of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos way before the Internet was even a thing, exploring on the idea of sound and touch in the process of eating as a performance art. In his explorative nature, I decided to expand the ways I can enjoy a cup of coffee.
In this task, I decided to use only one cup of coffee for the task to integrate the significance of the object. This provides a time based element to the work. In the above photograph, I chose to leave the cold coffee in the warm environment, creating an opportunity for the coffee to interact with the air as it condenses. The time element becomes significant as it progresses through the series.
In the brainstorming of the idea of consuming, I decided to spit out my coffee in the air. This process allows me to smell, taste, feel, see and hear the coffee, as compared to the conventional way of drinking the coffee. I smell the coffee as it flies out into the air, or as it falls onto my shirt and hair. I taste the coffee as I swirl it within my mouth. I feel the coffee as it drops onto my body and hair, or the cold coffee dripping down the white shirt. I see the coffee fly into the air and dripping down my head. I hear the coffee as it spits out into vapor. The unconventional way of consuming the coffee transcends the object’s identity into something more spiritually significant.
As mentioned before, the time element is important in Task 2 as it is a series of events that takes place within a designated timeline. I decided to zoom out of the vantage point from the photographs, further and further to provide a cinematic vibe, as if the audience is looking at a short film, much like Andy Warhol’s whopper. I also played with the shutter speed to enhance the dynamics of the spitting of the coffee. In the exploration of both Task 2 and 3, I referenced to Jeff Wall for cinematic shots that include a sufficient usage of props and movements.
In this particular work, Jeff Wall used the idea of movement to create a stronger narrative. He took a photograph of three individuals interacting in their own ways. The Asian man walking with his hands in his pockets, staring at the Caucasian man through the corner of his eyes, while the Caucasian man gestures at the Asian man with ill-intended finger gestures. During this interaction, the woman is seen at the back holding the hands of the Caucasian man, seemingly apathetic of the situation. The inclusion of the actions enhances the tension and dynamics of the narrative, instead of having a character that just sits around and not do anything.
In this task, we are suppose to capture a sense of an environment and how we interact with the place. In this task, I take on different personas to tell the narrative.
I chose West Coast Park because it was an environment where my consciousness of life and death as a child awoke, and it is a significant place of my childhood. In my first few times going to West Coast, it was a seemingly enjoyable place as it was joyful to explore such a vibrant place with so many amenities. However, as human beings we respond to the environment accordingly and perspectives change. I experienced the idea of death as I dug up a dead bird in the sand, as well as the time I nearly drowned since not knowing how to swim. Hence, I created the above narrative using the chosen photographs to showcase the significance of the environment.
As mentioned, the consciousness of death as a kid awoke in me because of two events, finding a dead bird and nearly drowning. I chose to reformat the identity of a bird as a rabbit as I found that it had a stronger persona and caricature-like character. Hence, I sewed a pair of ears to a grey hoodie to personify a rabbit. Rabbits are also classically fantastical creatures that transcend dimensions and fantasies, such as the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. They represent the idea of life forms turning to death, falling down a black hole. I chose a frontal vantage point to enhance the dark and emptiness of the slide, foreshortening my body to provide the idea of vulnerability. I found the design of the ropes and high element visually stunning, creating an idea of danger as well.
Throughout this narrative, I picked up different personas to tell the story, this one being Death. I used semiotics to enhance the underlying details. In the Beatles’s album Abbey Road, denim was representative of the undertaker, hence I am seen holding a denim piece, sitting in front of a white bouquet- both symbolic to the idea of death. I chose a wide shot as I tried to get a shot of me throwing my shoe into the air, symbolic of how one would take off their shoes before entering the ocean.
In my attempts of using props to deliver a message, I chose rubber ducks that are painted white to represent my childhood. In capturing this photograph, I waited for the rubber ducks to be overturned by the waves to capture a more dynamic shot. The sole focus of the duck against a receding wave provides a cinematic shot, with a question of an ongoing narrative.
Last but not least, I zoomed out of the overturned rubber duck to a wide full body shot of me donned in white. The wide shot allows the vast ocean to be seen, compared to the sandy environment in the “Death”. The white uniform represents the idea of Life. I wave to the camera as I hold a stack of rubber ducks painted white. This being the last photograph of the series, the intentional action of waving represents the uncertain perspective I have of the ocean. It is up to the audience to interpret it as a “Hello”, representative of my acceptance of the water, while “Bye” meaning the distance I would place myself against the ocean.
Test shots that played with different vantage points and movements: