It’s hard not to want to escape to an alternate reality these days, considering the dismal current world news that bombards us daily. The more steps forward we seem to make, the bigger the steps backward we end up taking and I long for days when there is nothing in the news that highlights stark global economic or other inequalities, or complaints about first-world problems like the price of avocados, or world leaders butting heads in an escalating duel of egos.
My utopia, you see, is not that different from most other people’s. I used to imagine it as lush trees, cool breezes and fruitful crops until I saw Eiffel Chong’s Kep from his 2014 Seascape series at his solo exhibition, A Trace of Mortality, at the Kathmandu Photo Gallery in Bangkok recently.
“I aim to bring us at one with Nature through this series of photographs, reminding us that we are not apart from Nature, but rather that we are a part of it.”
Malaysian-born and UK educated, Chong started out with an interest in documentary photography until his London art school influenced him to adopt a more Fine Art approach to photography. This is clearly visible in the Seascape series, where Chong captures a series of Asian seascapes in a manner evocative of the work of 16th and 17th-century Dutch seascape and landscape painters.
Known for filling the frame with what would normally be the background, he avoids featuring human subjects in his works but, instead, features man-made objects and other creatures, inviting questions about who, or what is important and what really impacts our everyday life. His use of long exposure photographic techniques in his work not only allows for gorgeous light to fill the frame but also captures something quite spiritual, almost like a movement within the solitude, making for a still, yet emotionally charged image.
Chong has said in an interview that he avoids making political statements – he photographs things slowly and methodically, creating art as ideas come to him spontaneously. He has also said that people will make their own assumptions and project their own ideas onto his work, no matter what he says anyway. I think he is right! This big blue crab in the middle of the sea, perched on top of a welcome sign, makes me imagine Kep as a far-away abandoned colony that I could live in, alone and peacefully, with my water-enthusiast cats.
The image is so evocative of a painting that you can almost fool yourself into seeing the brush strokes expressed by the artist and, by artist, I mean the pagan god that I would need to make sacrifices to, every full moon, if I were to set up my country of one in this water world. With such a still image, Chong has managed to express so much with so little that he has sparked my utopia-wanderlust cravings.
As a self-confessed claustrophobe, all the space in the image is so inviting – I can almost imagine myself stepping into the image and, as I walk past Mr. Krabs, he slowly gets off his usual spot, packs his sign up and swims away.
This welcome sign was made for me and me alone.