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Asia Photographers|Eiffel Chong: Seascape

2017-03-21 12:38:48  source: PHOTOINTER [Original]  author: Su Yuezhuo  editor: 斫子 Su Yuezhuo

Eiffel Chong’s photographic series of local seascapes captures light in a manner evocative of Dutch Master oil paintings. The lucid photographs at first seem too still, too clear, too silent.

They reveal Chong’s talent for peacefully capturing the often-neglected spaces between private and public land, hinting towards man as a producer, rather than a consumer. Each picture gives something away as to man’s influence over the space; whether this is a buoy, boat, or seemingly abandoned pier. Even the image itself is a product of man; in so much that it has been the subject of the artist’s gaze.

Viewing all images, stretched alongside one another panoramically, is reminiscent of being by the sea, looking out onto the seemingly endless horizon that only coastal landscapes can evoke. This feeling is carefully crafted by Chong, who balances the same proportion of sea to sky in each of the images, which are mainly differentiated by the manifold colours of the sea.

He aims 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.


@Eiffel Chong “Seascape”Series


Photointer: We see that your work ‘Seascape’ talks about the relationship between nature and human, and the images present a very peaceful atmosphere. Could you please tell us more about this series? Is it your usual style? And in what way did you start this series?

Eiffel Chong: I started working on this series for a group exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in 2013. Prior to this exhibition, I created a piece of work for ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ in 2012, a similar one concerning the issue that the Malaysian government once tended to repatriate back to China those Malaysian-born Chinese who were not satisfied with the government policies here. On this issue, I created a piece of work entitled ‘On a Slow Boat to China’, showing the feeling that I was torn between these two countries. My own country did not recognize me as a citizen and required me to go back to where my grandparents came from. However, I did not think I came from China because I was not born and did not grow up there. Besides, China would not view me as one of its citizen either. This left me to be a person without ‘home’. This image, the slow boat, in my work carried my reluctance on a hopelessly leaving way since, for me then, the prospect of being a Chinese was ‘better’ than being a Malaysian. Yet, I am not Chinese; I am Malaysian. Such complex feeling was demonstrated in this photographical work depicting a small island in the middle of the sea.

Though the concept of this one was different from ‘Seascape’, the execution was very similar. The initial idea for ‘Seascape’ was to observe how human lives with nature, and to know how we had been using the sea in life and how our life had depended on it. We needed the sea, both as a form of transportation and as a source from where we got food.

Photointer: You mentioned in Artist Statement that ‘Seascape’ captures light use in a manner of Dutch oil paintings. Does this feature inspire you a lot?

Eiffel Chong: Back in 2013, the curator of the group exhibition in Malaysia gave me the idea of how the series used light in a matter of Dutch oil paintings. She felt that the muted and pale colours that I used to create the series were similar to those Dutch landscape paintings.

What attracted me were the soft lights in these paintings. Due to the time and equipment that I was using, the photos I created then were soft in colour and low in contrast. The colour was not accurate and the works looked more like paintings instead of photographs.

‘Seascape’ was also influenced by Haruki Murakami’s works. I was reading a lot of his books during that period and I enjoyed Murakami’s writing (in its English translation) on the life of his fictional characters. I somehow managed to present his writing on my photography.

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@Eiffel Chong “Seascape”Series

Photointer: In talking about your works, we have to mention your educational background. Did the experience of studying in Britain affect your creation? Do you think a formal education in photography is necessary?

There have been debates on whether formal education is necessary to be a photographer or an artist. To be honest, I think both sides have good arguments to make. Yet, as one graduating from a university, I tend to believe that formal education in photography is important. One thing that I have learnt from university is what my fellow classmates and tutors shared with me, their ideas and experience. Without them, I would have lacked a lot. Furthermore, we were exposed to various genres of photography and were ‘forced’ to understand them. This helped me to have a better understanding of different genres of photography, not only focusing on the genre that I like.

Universities sometimes host talks and presentations of professionals. These presentations are something that the students need to attend. This is also one of the merits as being a university student. However, times have changed now and there are many other platforms which a non-university student can use. More photography festivals take place now than the time when I studied. These festivals are good platforms to help photographers today to progress.

I achieved my degree in London College of Communication in 2002. As I came from Malaysia, it broadened my eyes to spend a few years in London where most of my ‘education’ was from the city itself rather than the university. I learnt much from the various museums and galleries, the lifestyle and community of the city, and the various art festivals and cinemas that the city offered.

I suppose university education is important, and I also believe that it is significant to go to a university where the culture and lifestyle are different from where you used to be.

Photointer: Your perspectives to the world through your works are really extraordinary. It seems that you are pretty calm in creating these series which reflect a negligible perspective usually from others’ eyes, such as ‘Seascape’, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, and ‘This Used to Be My Playground’. Those works are all about the theme of life and death. Is this something you are interested in? Are you familiar with this kind of creation form?

I think I grew up with a huge interest in the supernatural. I grew up reading and listening to stories of ghosts and monsters. Furthermore, the reason that I photograph is to release the day-to-day work stress. Therefore, photography is something I use to express what I cannot use words to describe. I like to stay alone and explore on things and places where no other is around. Activities like this give me a sense of calmness and I enjoy it very much. To me, photography is an excuse for me to travel and explore the world.

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@Eiffel Chong “Seascape”Series

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@Eiffel Chong “Seascape”Series

Photointer: Could you tell us more about the ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ series? How did you create this one? Personally I’m really interested in it. And is there any difficulty during shooting because you need to get the permission from the hospital, right? How do you feel about this series?

I think you have mistaken the hospital series for another one. ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ is not the hospital series that is called ‘Institutionalised Care’. This series was created when I was working on my Master Degree. I always wanted to visit hospitals. Going to a hospital means something bad happens to us or to someone we love. We are not well and need to go to the hospital, which means something a lot more serious than going to the clinic; or someone we love is admitted to hospital and we need to visit them. Both occasions are not happy occasions. I do not want to visit a hospital under such unhappy occasions. And I want to be a ‘tourist’ visiting the hospital. That’s why I chose to photograph the hospital when I was working on my Master Degree.

I sent out letters to a lot of hospitals in Malaysia seeking for permission. Some did not reply, some refused, and some said yes. I probably photographed six different hospitals in the two years when I was working on this series. It started out as an exciting project for me as I was able to visit hospitals and photograph everything that fascinated me.

However, after half a year of the project, my grandmother passed away. I drove her to the Emergency department. Everything became different ever since that moment. Since I had to continue to work on this series (it’s my Master Degree project), I noticed that my visit to the hospital became increasingly painful. Every time when I was in the hospital, I would ‘see’ my grandmother. Everything in the hospital reminded me of her and her last moment in the hospital. Everything that I saw in the hospital signified the loss that I had during that time as I still suffered much in bereavement.

This series of work became all the way personal to me because the life and death that I portrayed in this series really happened. It was very close to me.


@Eiffel Chong "Institutionalised Care" Series


@Eiffel Chong "Institutionalised Care" Series

Photointer: Being a contemporary photographer, we have to talk about the photography market of Malaysia. How about it now? And a lot of Chinese artists with overseas backgrounds would like to sell some of their photographs at overseas markets. Do you have any agencies in other countries? How are the sales of your photographs?

Besides represented by a gallery in Malaysia (Richard Koh Fine Art), I am also represented by a gallery in Hong Kong (Artify Gallery). One thing that you are right is the fact that the market for the contemporary photography is still small and young. I am lucky that I have a gallery in Hong Kong offering the opportunity to showcase my work to a wider audience. Hong Kong is one of the main art cities in the world where a lot of collectors from all around the world visit the various art events and fairs.

The collectors who buy my works in Hong Kong are mostly expatriates, being European businessmen who are working in Hong Kong. I am really glad that these important figures (directors for multinational companies) can see the values in my artworks and decide to collect them.

As for my collectors in Malaysia, most people who collect my works are working in the creative fields. My collectors include curators, art dealers, graphic designers, art directors, and architects. Again, I do appreciate the fact that these creative people can see the values in my artworks and decide to collect them.

Photointer: What are you working on right now? Are there any more series of work coming up soon?

I have been exploring on the theme of identity. It’s a series of works based on the idea of man creating a habitual mask for himself. The purpose of the mask is to please and impress the society where everyone is mingling with his or her mask to see whether it is perfectly placed. This epic performance is a huge drain on the minds, bodies, and souls, thus resulting in the fact that masks contort their shapes. This series also presents something about accidental masks created when people are trying to hide their true personalities or feelings.

However, rather than hiding and protecting, these masks indeed have exposed people’s vulnerability.


@Eiffel Chong "Institutionalised Care" Series


@Eiffel Chong "Institutionalised Care" Series


@Eiffel Chong "Institutionalised Care" Series


@Eiffel Chong "Institutionalised Care" Series

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