We are delighted to invite Jeff Cheng, a photojournalist and visual artist, to share his story with us. He recently embarked on a journey to East Africa with the Lomo'Instant Automat Glass Magellan, to document the work of a Hong Kong organization performing cataract surgeries in the region. Let's take a look at his work and hear his thoughts on the numerous possibilities of photography.
Hello Jeff, Welcome to Lomography Online Magazine! Please introduce yourself to everyone.
Hello! My name is Jeff Cheng, also known as ＠ffejc . Apart from working in various photography roles, I am also an artist. Currently, my creative focus revolves primarily around visual imagery. I'm not the type of creator who constantly carries a camera around, but rather, I plan my shoots meticulously to capture the specific images I need.
Can you share the story behind your transition from being a photojournalist to becoming an artist?
I would describe photojournalism as a job that demands speed, precision, and decisiveness. On the other hand, being an artist allows me to slow down, contemplate the medium, and consider the context and development of my works.
From self-learning photography in 2014, to working as a full-time photojournalist at a local media organization in 2017, and then returning to academia in 2020 to explore the broader possibilities of contemporary art, the transition primarily arose from my reflections on imagery: "Can it have more possibilities within various limitations?" "Is there potential for integration with other mediums?" "What does it mean to view and create images?" and so on.
Did you always envision yourself holding multiple roles as you do now? Is this your ideal profession?
From childhood aspirations of being a radio host, writer, and actor to now juggling different roles in my creative pursuits, honestly, it was beyond my imagination. Rather than saying that being a photographer or artist is my ideal profession, I am more certain that I do not want to be limited by the confines of a single occupation. I aspire to explore diverse fields in the future, such as film, theatre, and music.
What is your daily life like as an artist/photographer?
Currently, most of my creative inspiration comes from my work. As a photojournalist, I often have the opportunity to observe society and events from a unique visual perspective. Despite the repetitive and sometimes mundane aspects of my daily work, I enjoy discovering new ideas in the small details.
For example, my graduation project "To become the landscape, 2022" was inspired by the aluminium ladder commonly used in news photography, exploring the concepts of imagery and observation.
Who are the photographers or artists who inspire you?
Hiroshi Sugimoto and Takuma Nakahira are two artists who have deeply influenced me. Their artistic styles are different, but they share a common thread - their works delve into the unseen aspects of the world, such as history, time, and the essence of objects.
I would like to quote a statement by Takuma Nakahira: The act of transcending one's consciousness is by no means simply unfolding and displaying the consciousness that has been established about the world. It is about receiving the power inherent in the world itself, starting with myself as the photographer. This is also something I aspire to achieve as an artist.
How would you describe your photography style?
"平" (Flat), which also corresponds to the title of my solo exhibition, "太平" (Taiping). "Flat" does not mean that the works lack depth, but rather, it is an attempt to reduce the tension, dramatic effect, and sensationalism in the images. I believe that landscapes, portraits, and still-life objects can reveal their true essence when they are in their most serene state.
How would you describe the process of creation?
Creation is the manifestation of personal desires, the longing to be seen, a process of self-reflection, and an endless pursuit.
Creation is a process of turning thoughts into actionable steps. How do you transform what you want to say into something achievable?
Before embarking on the practical aspects, don't let the notion of "possibility" limit you. Once you have a relatively complete idea, then think about how to bring it into reality.
Taking my artwork "太平" (Taiping) from my current exhibition as an example, the idea of burning a car and having others gaze at the flames emerged in my mind. This seemed like a challenging concept to execute in Hong Kong.
However, with the help of many people, we were able to successfully capture the moment. I believe that creativity often isn't about whether something can be done or not, but rather, how much you truly desire to make it happen.
Can you tell us more about your recent trip to East Africa? Why did you choose instant portraits as the main theme?
My recent trip to East Africa was primarily for documenting the work of a Hong Kong-based organization providing cataract surgeries in underserved areas, as part of my current media assignment.
Africa was a place I had never set foot in before, and I had many imaginations before departing. Throughout the journey, many aspects exceeded my expectations. I would describe this trip as timely, as it allowed me to escape momentarily from the busy pace of exhibitions and other demanding work, even though the workload remained intense.
One of the highlights was encountering fascinating individuals. Despite the language barrier, we tried to understand each other. For instance, some patients who had undergone cataract surgeries were eager to express their gratitude, which is one of the reasons why I chose instant portraits as the main theme.
Why did you choose to use our Lomo'Instant Automat Glass for this project?
A few years ago, I used instant cameras frequently to document my daily life or travel experiences. However, most cameras had limited focal lengths, and I wanted to approach my familiar creative method differently. That's why I chose to use the Lomo'Instant Automat Glass Magellan with a wide-angle glass lens for this project.
This camera offers a significantly different visual experience while being simple and convenient to operate. It has made it easy for me to approach various shooting scenarios in my current project. Additionally, its wide-angle feature allows me to communicate with subjects at a relatively ideal distance even when we don't share a common language.
Do you have a favourite photo?
I particularly love this photo of a patient wearing a light red shirt, with his hands trembling and an indescribable expression of excitement on his face. This patient willingly approached me for a photograph, and despite the language barrier, capturing the photo in an unprepared moment truly highlights his joy at rediscovering the light.
Do you have any upcoming projects or plans for the near future?
In the future, I will continue to explore different creative mediums beyond photography. In May of 2024 I will be curating an exhibition primarily focused on video works. Stay tuned for more updates!
What advice would you give to fellow photography enthusiasts?
I don't have any groundbreaking advice. Always remember to slow down at the right time and reflect on what your creativity is truly for. This is the most significant realization I've had recently.