Zeng Liwei – A | Part
Recently, I went to the island of Lombok to photograph pre-wedding images for a couple. In my opinion, the tenderness and love shared by the couple can only be transmitted accurately onto a photographic medium when the photographer is capable of empathy or is madly in love.
Zeng Liwei, is a young Singaporean photographer, who primarily shoots wedding images. Yet in his series, A | Part, he uncovers the dual condition of being a part of and apart from the country he has grown up in. I question the reality presented by him in his gritty personal work against the bright and happy images he creates for clients.
Singapore is densely populated at 7,669 pop./km2, which places us as the 3rd most densely populated country in the world after Macau and Monaco. In this sombre piece of work, Zeng shows a slice of urban loneliness. How many times have we taken a train ride full of people and feel as if we were just a piece of cog in a giant machine? How many times have we walked home through (the aptly-named) void decks, letting the emptiness of souls overcome our being?
In a Guardian article – Sick Cities: Why Urban Living Can be Bad for Your Mental Health, a study suggested that urban living can be bad for you:
…urban living was found to raise the risk of anxiety disorders and mood disorders by 21% and 39% respectively.
Using blank-and-white street photography, Zeng ironically displays a different side of himself. As a wedding photographer, he is no stranger to capturing the beautiful moments during a wedding ceremony. Yet, beneath his smiling exterior lies someone who feels increasingly “apart from the nation he used to love”.
Zeng on the divergence between his personal and professional work:
It is quite a struggle for me – bright, colourful wedding images and gritty, graphic black-and-white images
We question the authenticity of his work – which is truer, the gaiety captured during his professional work or the darkness experienced during his personal time? Can this duality exist when the audience is exposed to both sides of the same coin? I remember a period in my life where I photographed late in the night because I was suffering from insomnia. It was a dark period in my life and the resulting black-and-white images were representative of my inner state at that time. Perhaps largely influenced by Daido Moriyama, I was hoping to replicate the maniac pace I experienced when viewing his images. Now, if you asked me to revisit the series, I would be unable to do so. I’m definitely happier now with both serotonin and dopamine levels well under control.
In conclusion, I believe that a photographer’s inner state is reflected in his/her works. And to be truly authentic to oneself, one should continue to explore the deeper underpinnings of one’s emotions and thoughts. However, photography becomes a self-indulgent tool. How could we as photographers impose our own emotions on others? What then would the purpose of our photography be – to record, inform, question, entertain or bewilder? What does your own personal work speak about you? Let me know by leaving a comment.
For beautiful images, visit Zeng Liwei’s portfolio.