by Sheung Yiu

© Eason Tsang from the series ‘Floral Fabric’

For the ‘Flower Fabric’ series, which Eason Tsang (曾家偉) exhibited in Blindspot Gallery earlier this year, he used a rather uncommon method to frame his work. “Why float mounting?” I asked upon seeing the physical print in his studio. To which he answered “I want the audience to look at my photograph as a surface, just like a piece of flower fabric.” Eason put thought into every aspect of his work, from framing to the photographic image per se. He is engrossed with details. The photographs’ ability to precisely replicate reality on paper fascinates him. He meticulously recreated the pattern of flower fabric with flowers and small junks in his newer photographic work, spending weeks gathering the right props and hand-painting the flower in the colour identical to that appears on the fabric. ‘I am not a photographer in the conventional sense.’ He approached photography like a scientist, deconstructing the medium and examining every aspect in detail. In the exhibition ’Imagine there’s no country, Above us only our cities’ in Para Site, he took some time off photography and went on experimenting with video and multimedia, documenting a staged performance of sweeping floors in Cha Chaag Tang (Hong Kong local restaurant) that examines city identity through interactions between him and restaurant goers.

Growing up, have you ever imagined being a photographic artist? When did you start to make conscious photographic choice and see photography as a artistic medium?

Eason Tsang (ET): Growing up I was not especially in love with the idea of being a photographer. I saw my friend toying with his camera when I was younger and thought that photography is interesting. I would take some snapshot on the street, but I never took photography seriously. I only began considering being a photographer when I was in college, studying creative media in City University of Hong Kong. I am not a traditionally trained photographer nor a photo maniac, my interest in photography as an artistic medium only began later in my life. There are good and bad. For instance, my approach to photography is very different from Japanese photographer, who considered photography a kind of self-transcending practice and treated it earnestly. I, on the other hand, enjoy deconstructing the medium. Since ‘Flower Fabric’, I have been putting more emphasis on the medium rather than photographic image as the ultimate means of expression. Among my three photo series, ‘Landmark’, ‘Rooftop’ and ‘Flower Fabric’, ‘Landmark’ leans towards traditional photography.

© Eason Tsang from the series ‘Landmark’

© Eason Tsang from the series ‘New Landmark’

How is your research process? How do you usually come up with the concept of each project?

ET: I usually began with a very rough idea. I will keep experiment on that idea, until i am satisfied with the result. I got the idea for ‘landmark’, for example, one day walking on the street and  looked up at a skyscraper. From that angle, the facade resembles a road. I found it really interesting, so I started going out at night, bringing my tripod and shooting various facades from the same angle. The project started off with an intention as simple as that.

You could say I am a bit of a fickle person. I think as I do. I keep questioning myself and looking for improvement. I also get bored easily, so I avoid doing the same thing over and over again. I like trying new things. Before every project, I normally spend a great period of time experimenting, trying out different approaches until I have a refined concept.

My photographic sensibility leans toward scientific investigations, much like German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, who looked at photography in an almost pure statistical and anthropological approach. The way I see it, image is not the end product of photography. I see camera as a tool to realise my thoughts and concepts. Maybe this have something to do with my education in science.

© Eason Tsang setup of the series ‘Floral Fabric’

© Eason Tsang from the series ‘Floral Fabric’

What is the idea behind ‘Floral Prints’? Can you tell us more about what you mean by ‘re-manifesting nature of photography’, a quote from your artist statement?

I enrolled in a theory course in the final year of my college and one of the required reading, of course, is Roland Barthes’s ‘Camera Lucida’. Out of all her theories, I was most fascinated by her comment on the mechanical properties of camera and thus the precise replication of reality, or as she puts it ‘the clock of seeing’.  I began contemplating the ontological difference between paintings and photography, particularly the realistic expression of reality as opposed to illustrations and drawings which are the result of subjective rendering of reality.
At the same time, i developed a liking for floral patterns, but felt uncomfortable wearing any of those. So instead, I turned my obsession to photographs.
I use the real objects to rebuild the floral pattern and document the result.

© Eason Tsang from the series ‘Floral Fabric’

© Eason Tsang details from the series ‘Floral Fabric’

And why the cigarette butts?

ET: A camera can capture the subject through every nuance, the amount of details retained in a photograph is incomparable to any other pictorial mediums like fabrics. I want to create a visual experience that accentuate the difference, to add one more layer to looking. I got this idea of making my photos more similar to what you will see in a real garden flowerbed. When watching from afar, you can see the floral pattern. but upon closer examination, you will notice there are debris and all kinds of junks, such as cigarette butts, randomly laying around.

How long did it take you to shoot? I can imagine the preparation and work that you put into the projects?

ET: Every photo takes about 1-2 weeks to prepare. I had a flower bed made and installed in my student studio. Before every shooting, I would arrange the flowers and other props overnight. I need to be quick because those flowers do not last. Taking the pictures is just pressing the shutter. It happened really quick, but recreating the flower pattern to the exact detail is quite a headache. Sometimes, the colours on the fabric do not exist in natural flowers, to replicate them in real life, I have to paint every single flowers by hand or use plastic flowers.

Tell me more about your work in the exhibition in Parasite.

ET: I went to sweep floor in Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong styled restaurant). I tied a camera to the mop and filmed the whole act. The POV video is exhibited in the exhibition ’Imagine there’s no country, Above us only our cities’in Para Site. 

Building on the theme of identity and nationality, I reveal the hidden relationships between citizens and urban planning through performance.
Cha Chaan Teng is a cheap restaurant for local people, yet its food and interior design are heavily influenced by western culture, many of them, such as British milk tea, are remade with a Hong Kong twist to meet local taste.
From my performance, I hope the audience can get a glimpse of the interactions within the restaurants: of me and the diners, of the mop and the diners and among diners themselves.

© Eason Tsang from the series ‘Rooftop’

What is your experience with video? How is it different from video?

ET: Videos and photographs have very distinctive narrative features. Videos are time sensitive. Photographs work as narrative surfaces, freezing a moment for further examination (In fact, we can probably see more from a photograph than we can ever do in real life, looking at the same object given that we can eternally look at a photograph, a moment in time.) Yes, I love the subtlety and detail in a photograph. It allows me to keep looking, keep discovering more and indulge in the strange pleasant process of viewing an image. For the same reason, I put more focus on details in my photographic practice, constantly looking for nuances and patterns.

Favourite exhibition(s)/ photo book(s)/ photography project(s)/ photographer? 
ET: Andures Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Ryan McGinley.

The interview was originally conducted in Chinese. This article is edited for clarity.


Hong Kong