Nai-Wen Hsu

Nai-Wen Hsu

Intuitive photography

by Nai-Wen Hsu (United Kingdom)

Nai Wen is a Taiwanese photographer, currently based in London. Her practices are heavily influenced by the experience of growing up on an isolated island nation where identity is still unsettled and people live under variously-packaged manipulations of everydayness. The series consists of analogue black and white photographs, in which by navigating the external urban space, she asks questions through photography, upon all kinds of encounters, as a philosophical approach to face the longing and the fear within an individual mindfully.

Portfolio from the Intuitive Photography workshop with Anders Petersen, May 2015.

Written review by GABRIEL BAURET,
Independent curator and teacher

The above text that one can read as an artist statement, contains 2 interesting elements for me: – It was written by someone whom practice is strongly influenced by a childhood spent on an isolated territory, that is to say an island, but also by a population submitted to a certain form of insecurity, of whom the existence is unstable, the identity hard to identify. The insular mentality is indeed a reality: to live on an island affects psychology; as to this other character peculiar to Taiwan, it is hard for me to judge, but it is important to take it into account. Especially, since it appears to be influencing the motivation of the photographer. – On another hand, the declared ambition is to consider photography as a tool of questioning throughout encounters it allows or provokes ; and yet even more ambitious, a philosophical type of approach is announced.

As to the territory on which the photographer evolves, it is clearly defined as the one of urban environment.

If I resume and insist on those different points, it is because they take on an openly programmatic characteristic. They link photography to a high level project. They show a direction in which practice is engaged, a practice that is inseparable of an intention. When I look into Nai Wen’s photography, I indeed recognize the territory that is being explored: the urban landscape, the street. I identify photography as a support, a mean to provoke encounters that could not be done without her. I discover a group of human subjects in which diversity is clearly visible and I am guessing they are shot at random of encounters. I imagine the author of those photographs, navigating in the middle of a rather nocturnal life and meet marginal people with whom can be created affinities. Do they go beyond the shooting instant? the image does not say and in the end, it does not really matter. To those encounters – but I had no other access than the web portfolio I saw – are added, objects, animals, interiors of which the presence is not matching with the original social preoccupation.

We then wonder if the photography motive would then be rather a quite free travel inside a territory than an approach more or less methodical of a population. And maybe that the territory is not geographical. Isn’t this simply about the night? A universe that attracts since always photographers as well as writers.

If I am asking this kind of questions, it is to highlight the importance of the existence of an approach, a project. Because even behind disorder or apparent freedom of certain photographical oeuvres, there is always a coherence; a dominant preoccupation, one that impose itself and which consists sometimes in a refusal to create sense. Or to show a particular significance. In that case, it is not in what is represented that there’s a meaning, it has to be found in the personality of the photographer. I totally adhere to the concept of intuitive photography, but intuition must not remain at the stage of experience, it has to end up with a discovery. As with a police investigation. Intuition serves the aim.

It’s important to try to build something coherent, according to a method, based on certain criteria (on the content and the form), even if one is led to deconstruct or question the order that would have been established. If I introduce those reflexions, it is that the few images by Nai-Wen that I see here do not revel on the content a sufficiently specific approach. They are snapshots, capturing furtive encounter; for sure, they sketch a territory but with a quite a blurred manner still. The set tends to spread. There would still be the photographic formal approach, style, to be discussed. That is what is the most easily perceptible here. One can feel the influence of a trend incarnated by Anders Petersen, but also Daido Moriyama, and to whom a young generation fo photographers is very sensitive. A trend that contrasts with a clean and colored photography, wise and delicate. it is important to remind to never dissociate the content and the form. The form serves the intention, the vision, if photography is only form, it is decorative or simply fashionable. In Petersen’s and Moriyama’s works, one can feel a certain brutality, a violence of the form, a refusal to make a clean image, nicely composed, balanced, stable. but this approach only finds a meaning when it is linked to the photographer’s personality and to what he wants to say. it is carried on by a vision of the world. The form must come from the inside, it must not limits itself to simple effects. photography is a mean of expression.

Gabriel Bauret, May 30th 2015

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