University: University of The West of England
Genre: Social Documentary
Artist Statement: Four years ago we lost my elder brother, Tuan, in a tragic accident. Not far from where he passed, we had recently began work on our new family home. An optimistic long-term project we hoped would provide a base for family and friends in the future.
The need to rebuild our lives both physically and mentally has led each of us to deal with the influx of emotion differently, as we try to regain stability and peace of mind. For me, the feeling of guilt and absence remains heavy amongst the backdrop of the endless construction.
This body of work is drawn through the residual conflict pertaining my confused sense of home, since my parents moved to a small french village situated outside of Bordeaux.
A recess in time where the past dominates the future, a reality inescapable through the changing of setting. We must reform a sense of structure from the fractured one we have endured here.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? Some highlights I have from university come from the diverse range of guest speakers we had throughout the course. I regret not fully taking advantage of the opportunity we had to speak with them, show them work and discuss their tips and insights of how they are sustaining a career in the industry.
To be honest the second half of uni was a bit of a blur, due to the fact I was away a lot to be with my family. One positive experience that I remember was when we visited John Spinks in his home/studio in London. He is a photographer I admire a lot, and it was interesting to see some of the extensive background work that goes into each of his projects.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I guess it would fall into the category of social documentary, though these days it seems common for genres to cross over. Even now as I would like to produce more conceptual work, my ongoing interest in people and stories I care deeply about will always carry an element of documentary or social awareness in some way or another.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? After looking into the theme of home for quite some time I’ve realised that it ties into many other themes that I’m interested in exploring further. I like to start with themes in there broadest sense and then break them down. Identity for example, I’d break down into place, group, self, expression, community, history and so on. Until I can form a better understanding of the person, community or theme I am looking into.
Four years is a short time in terms of the grieving process and accepting the loss of a close family member. Can you tell us how you felt ready or in the right mind set to make this work, if at all? I didn’t set out with the intention of presenting this project to an audience this way. As things developed the decision to share Homebound was important for me. As the grieving process continues I feel that in order for me to exercise some form of personal progression, I should be able to open up more and communicate to others what I’m going through. Though sometimes I still struggle in accepting the reality, having a collection of written and visual extracts from recent years has helped me consider and evaluate the momentous significance of what was at the time an incomprehensible period of clouded thought and denial. I constantly questioned myself throughout the process, as I asked myself why am I doing this? Who is it for? In the end I accepted that this project is for my family and I, and that even though it’s now in the public realm it remains very much an extension of my inner self.
How do you feel now having made the series? I am less skeptical now than I was when it was first published. I’ve come to understand that even a project that remains so personal to your family and to your heart will always take its own course once it’s released. People relate or not to certain aspects or themes within the work and that is something as a photographer you can’t really predict or have any control over. I am trying to be less affected or controlling in how the project is presented through different platforms. To let people ingest what they want from the work, as we do consuming and dissecting the incredible amount of content that is available to us on a daily basis.
You mention you have a confused sense of home. Can you expand on that? It relates to how the sensation of home changes drastically according to your experiences. I have never thought about it so stringently before, that in a split second your whole life and sense of home can be altered forever. That’s not to say I can’t regain some of the qualities and comforts of the home environment, but that my family unit and what was to be our new base going in to the future has ultimately shifted. The confusion comes from how the natural pleasure I have when I go back and see my family is also fused with the constant triggers of memories and regrets, emphasised by the knowledge that Tuan had put so much of himself and hard labor into building this home.
In terms of your relationship to your surroundings and close family, how do you see yourself moving forward photographically? What are you next steps? I’m going to give my family some respite now as I’m sure they are sick of me sticking my camera in their face. I’m focusing on other projects at the moment as well as getting my existing work out there.
Who are the people in the images? What do they think of this work? Considering the answer to the last question, I think overall they are proud that I have found a way of expressing myself through photography or in my writing. The images are of my family; I intentionally chose not to identify them specifically in the portraits, as I wanted the viewer to focus more on relationship between the individual and myself. I felt the images where as much about how I saw the individual as how they saw me, identifying my role within the family.
Tell us about who or what influenced this series? The need to photograph my family so incessantly came from losing Tuan. I realised I didn’t have many photos of him or us together and that frightened me into documenting my loved ones any chance I had. This influenced the project early on and then as it developed I felt more encouraged to share our story. Time was a big a factor, as things were changing so rapidly the series had to adapt in accordance with what was happening around me. This involved including my extended family as more of them had moved to the same village as my parents.
My main influences came from the people around me. I realised that everyone had a unique way of coping and expressing themselves after our loss. Whether it was in music, painting, writing, meditating, chanting or anything, the underlying feeling and sense of individual pain and recovery strengthened the wider impact of each solemn ritual when we shared it with each other whether directly or indirectly.
You mentioned earlier that you're now spending time focusing on other bodies of work and pushing existing work out there for us to see. Can you expand on what your other work is about and how you're aiming to get it seen? A past project I feel I should try and put out there more was my final piece at university, Studio Upstairs. It’s a look into an art therapy studio based in Bristol and London. Art therapy is a subject I feel I only just began to explore and I think I will revisit it at some point in the future in a different setting. It was important for me to show the people I met in that specific environment, as the space was integral to providing the members an inclusive and creative environment. It would be great to have that work published somewhere as I believe strongly in the power creative expression has in relation to well being. The more insights we can gain into places such as Studio Upstairs could hopefully show how important art therapy is for people.
A current project that is a little sporadic at the moment is called Limbo. I’m currently working on a short film with the intention of creating a multi-media exhibition along with an installation showing the film. Limbo is still in its early days and I have only put together some images and text at the moment, as can be seen on my website.