LOOK17/ Photography as Social Exchange

A final word on LOOK17 from Curator Ying Kwok, who shares her early thoughts behind the theme and approach to this year’s festival, based on an international exchange between Liverpool and Hong Kong, and photography’s development on the web as a medium of social exchange.

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I am a freelance curator based in Hong Kong, I used to work in Manchester, I worked for CFCCA for six and a half years where I have a lot of opportunities of staging contemporary art of artists from Hong Kong, China, artists from Chinese descent in the UK. This is my first time to curated an international photo festival which actually focuses or centres on photography as a major art medium.

Its quite a new experience, so at the beginning, when I received the invitation I was like hang on, where should I start? The uniqueness of this opportunity of curating a photography festival is the medium, photograph is probably one of the most accessible art mediums. Everyone take pictures. In a way I can say images is a way to share our lives. We could see it as a new way of communication to the world. You share what’s happening, how you feel. This is something I bring to the whole constellation when I’m curating the show. So today what I’m going to share with you is my understanding about exchange of photography and I’m going to use the exhibition I curated to show you the thinking behind it, the connections I am trying to make.

I would like to start by sharing one of my recent experiences.

On Facebook, I come across a post of a college friend of mine. We used to catch up once a year when I went back to Hong Kong, but even through I still feel very distant with my old friends in Hong Kong. I felt that I didn’t know a lot about what they were doing, until we start to share images on social media. I used to be very close with her, and when we graduated we went on a trip to Tibet together – that was a short trip because we had just graduated, and we don’t have much budget. We kept saying that we want to come back again and explore together.

This is the place where we planned to go together ten years ago, I looked at it properly it is not just her travelling picture – it is her wedding picture! She got married and went on a trip with her Fiance. When I looked into it more in detail, it’s actually a guy we met when we were travelling in Tibet. I could not sleep after I saw her post. The images are not about how beautiful Tibet is, or how sweet and lovely that she’s getting married, but also a message that I’ve not been in touch with my friend for such a long time. And I was thinking, this is the power of the image. It says something beyond words.

I see photographs as a way of communication. For this exhibition, I’m trying to see how can I build connections. You might have or never been to that side of the world so what a photo festival about exchange can do for you, for the City? I started to think about showing what kind of image, what story can I tell? Then one thing came to mind – working on a big festival, I think the story is not just coming form the curator or the curatorial team, it’s coming from the artists. Because artists being in their own opinion, they’re injecting the liveliness into the world and making that into their own aesthetic. Collectively they are telling a rich and three dimensional story of the city, from multiple cultural perspectives, which echoes recent development in both China and the UK.

– Ying Kwok


This text is based on a transcript from Ying Kwok’s inroductory talk at UK/China Cultural Exchange Lab at Leggate Theatre, Victoria Gallery and Museum, 7th April 2017. 

The lab was an opportunity to explore and discuss current and developing practices of cultural exchange between the UK and China, asking ‘how can we develop collaborations or networks to strengthen UK and China Exchange?’  

Transcript edit by Anna Taylor www.backburner.org.uk 


Image Credit
Cover image courtesy Ying Kwok

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