Two years ago, Tang Ho Lun published his third photobook Listening to the Silence. We were not friends yet back then. On a recent day, he came visit me and handed to me a small package wrapped in kraft paper bag and said, “This time, it is hundred percent of what I wanted.” It turned out all this time he was actually working hard on the hardcover version of his book.
The same set of photography was only presented in two distinctive faces, yet somehow the contents have become also so distinctively different.
“The paperback version last time was rather mild and subtle. I was doubting the usual practice of showing black and white photography in a stark manner, therefore I opted to avoid that direction. However, I felt the end product appeared to be under a shroud and I wanted to take away this shroud.”
He simply picked up the nails from random encounters without an intention to photograph them at first. Those encounters could happen anywhere in his daily life, without a particular plan needed. The locations were impeccable for they were abandoned without being refurbished, which provided a kind of deserted space where one can enjoy moments of solitude. “Sooner or later, I began to see a connection between these places and the nails. An example would be a shabby window. One day, I placed a nail in front of the window to take a shot. From that shot, I rolled out the whole project.” Things of similar nature would come together and reach a realm that was formerly unattainable if they did not get together.
“Those are all very particular locations. For instance, there was a chair that was left by someone unknown. Usually that is a place nobody would visit, perhaps some cleaners would sit on the chair to rest from time to time. The place was found and was turned into their exclusive spot.” Afterwards, it became something that he worked on it alone.
He said the time he actually spent on taking the photos was short. What matters more was the time that he was not taking pictures. That is the time when he was waiting for the perfect moment to press the shutter button to capture the definite moment with his instinct. “I made use of what I was doing at the moment to depict the image I wanted to show. It was somehow improvisational. I would dedicate my mind to feeling the connection between two things without presuming a precise image, that was how I took the pictures. The images I captured were something that cannot be done even through careful calculation.”
Do photographers have a precise image in their mind before shooting? “I believe [I] don’t. But I have a rather clear concept, sort of a premonition, or some blurry images from a dream. I know what I need to do, where I do it.”
The other night, I was in a calm state and read the entire book from cover to cover. Staying in my room all alone in complete silence, it strangely felt like one of the nights when I was a little tipsy and got very relaxed. In moments like this, I can finally see things that I have overlooked, things that have always been there. It is a weak beam of light seeping through a gap, only those who were lured to stop can see what is behind the gap. There are many other things to be experienced.
“In a place where no explanation is given, try to learn the meaning of the word the other person has yet spoken.” East West Matters by Leung Ping-kwan (Yesi).