Zhuang Wubin bukanlah nama yang asing dalam scene fotografi di Asia Tenggara. Beliau merupakan seorang fotografer, editor dan kurator yang telah menerbitkan beberapa buah buku seperti Photography In South East Asia, Chinese Muslims in Indonesia, Chinatowns in a Globalizing Southeast Asia.
Sering dijemput menjadi panel curator/editor dan membuat pameran untuk festival berprestij di rantau ini dan antarabangsa. Zhuang menjadikan fotografi sebagai medium untuk beliau memahami sejarah, budaya dan politik yang tertumpu dirantau ini.
Ketika saya menyertai bengkel yang dikendalikan oleh beliau, perspektif saya terhadap fotografi terbuka dengan lebih luas lagi apabila kaedah beliau mengasak daya pemikiran peserta agar lebih kritis, terbuka dan lebih bebas dalam menentukan arah tuju dalam berkarya. Temuramah ini cuba mengupas dari peringkat dasar bagaimana seseorang mampu memahami peranan sekeping gambar.
Have people learned really look at photography?
I cannot speak on behalf of the masses. The way a person looks at photography could be quite different from another individual. In a limited sense, what she or he could see depends on what she or he desires to see.
What makes one image stand out more than another?
A person’s taste for photographs is fairly subjective. A good composition might display certain features, like the rule of thirds, for instance. But this does not mean that an image, which follows this compositional rule, would automatically stand out. The context in which someone encounters an image also plays a part. Today, as the CCP Virus infects the world, images that reveal local/global realities (in accordance or in contradistinction to what you believe) might tend to stand out more. A “dramatic” image taken in ICU might capture a few more eyeballs. But that is also not guaranteed. Some people might be turned off by it, precisely because it is dramatic.
Do you think a photographer needs a philosophy to do good work?
At the very least, a photographer should be able to explain why she or he uses a particular method/approach in making a body of work, and to always test and question if her or his method/approach is the most suitable way to deliver the results that she or he wants (the intent of the work).
Do you think a picture should ask questions more than answer them?
Human beings should always raise questions.
What can you do to improve your visual seeing/language?
Because seeing feels so “natural”, it might be useful to train the way we look. There are probably many ways to do so. I cannot list everything here. Reading would help because new knowledge would guide us to see new things. I can also quote from an article that I often re-read, titled “Photography and Sociology”, written by Howard S. Becker (published in 1974). In this essay, Becker provides a simple exercise for social scientists who want to learn to approach visual materials. He writes: “Using a watch with a second hand, look at the [selected] photograph intently for two minutes…. you’ll find it useful to take up the time by naming everything in the picture to yourself: this is a man, this is his arm, this is the finger on his hand, this is the shadow his hand makes, this is the cloth of his sleeve, and so on. Once you have done this for two minutes, build it up to five, following the naming of things with a period of fantasy, telling yourself a story about the people and things in the picture. The story needn’t be true; it’s just a device for externalizing and making clear to yourself the emotion and mood the picture has evoked, both part of its statement.” This exercise would improve our looking.
How much freedom do photographers have in terms of the edit and design their book?
It depends on the context through which she or he enters the process of editing / designing the photobook. Will the photobook be self-published? What is the funding source and does it exert control on the editing/designing process? What is the individual capacity of the photographer (i.e. does she or he has design skills? Or does she or he have copy-editing skills)? There are many factors in play here.
What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a picture editor/curator? Can you learn to train the eye?
There are many ways through which a person can become an editor/curator. I don’t want to be prescriptive here. Of course, training our ways of seeing would be useful but that is also useful for general consumers of images. In response to your question, everyone could potentially contribute to the editing/curating process, just by starting from her or his initial training or background. To give an obvious example, someone who is originally trained in architecture or interior design would probably have a better visualisation of physical space, which is obviously an important consideration in curating. Similarly, a poet would sequence a series of images in a particular way. As always, the challenge for all of us (editing or curating) is to be able to articulate our thinking logically and rationally.
Can you walk me through your editing process?
As you have gone through my workshop, you would be aware that I do not have a set formula in editing a body of work. I have a structure and process, to begin with, but the key is to deconstruct (or evolve) it through an intense collaboration (and negotiation) with the photographer. The aim is to find a structure that fits the intentions, tastes and desires of both the photographer and the editor, without losing sight of the audience.
What has working so closely with artist thought you?
Since 2004, I have interviewed many photographers and artists, mainly across Southeast Asia, but also in Bangladesh and Hong Kong. I have learned tremendously from these encounters. But I cannot generalise what I have learnt.
How do you choose a certain project (editing/curating)? What do you look into artist/photographer?
I have not done much editing work on a professional level. In some instances, I have volunteered my time, largely to help friends in Southeast Asia who could not afford a few thousand dollars to hire a Japanese or German photo book editor. On the other hand, I am paid for my curating work. Typically, the works selected have to fit within the curatorial framework that I propose to (or have been given by) the exhibition organiser (or venue).
Where do you think photography is going?
I am not a fortune teller.
How has the web/digital media changed the way we looked at photography?
This question is too imprecise and broad for me to answer.
When can something be called art?
Perhaps we could ask other more interesting questions. For instance: What are the power structures that give someone the “authority” to label something as “art”? Can we reject his authority and choice? More broadly speaking, what does a body of photographic work do (in society and/or in private life)?