Installation view of Photo Diary as displayed in the Nightvision video program as part of Asian Traffic, Asia-Australia Arts Centre, Sydney, 4 June – 19 June 2004. Photo by Stephanie Cheung.

Photo Diary: 31 Dec 1994 – 1 Jan 2000. (version 8) Video format, each image is displayed for a half second, total time for one showing: 17min. 10sec.

Artist’s Statement

Between 31 December 1994 and 1 January 2000 I took at least one black and white photo every day. These images form a sort of photographic diary or subjective photo-documentary record of the last five years of the previous millennium, or a period of two and a half years on either side of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. Photo Diary: 31 Dec 1994 – 1 Jan 2000 consists of a strictly chronological sequence of digitized photographic images taken from this archive and projected in ‘slide show’ mode: each day is represented in turn by a single image. The work is intended to be presented by means of a digital projector and it exists in two formats: a DVD-based PowerPoint presentation (to be run from a suitable computer) and a DVD video (to be run from a DVD player). Both the PowerPoint and the DVD video format of the work exist in several versions, differing only in the rate at which the images are displayed. The PowerPoint versions exist at speeds from 12 seconds per image to approximately a quarter second per image, while the video DVD version exists in versions of a half-second, quarter-second and a tenth of a second. The different speeds of display offer different possibilities for viewing, and more than version can be shown at the same time (e.g. six second, one second, quarter-second).

Most images in the archive are of Hong Kong, the city where I live. For the most part they were discovered rather than deliberately stalked down, since I tend to take photos in the course of my normal trajectories through the city instead of setting out to document in a more programmatic way. I tend to photograph that which is familiar or close at hand, localities and situations where I am an inhabitant or participant rather than those to which I feel an outsider. I refuse the rhetoric of truthfulness and objectivity that photography of a documentary nature often claims, and deliberately produce images that declare a certain allegiance or reveal a specific personal viewpoint. I enjoy the way photography allows me to shift between the private and the public, between a biographic mode and a more socially-engaged one, although in the end the city and its transformations becomes the main subject of this daily sequence of images, rather than its author.

Although certain of the images hold together, I feel, as self-contained works of art (and some have been exhibited independently as photographic prints) I have taken advantage of the nature of this project to produce many images which are fragmentary in nature, which focus on details rather than offering well-framed views. Obliqueness is favoured as a strategy, and supposedly important sites or events are often left offstage or looked at askance. Meaning is found across images rather than just within them (filmic montage might be an analogy), or belongs mosaic-like to the sequence as a whole rather than just to its individual parts. And other ways of sequencing the parts than the one adopted here would highlight other dimensions of meaning. In my book Reclaimed Land: Hong Kong in Transition (Hong Kong University Press, 2002), for instance, I feature over 300 of the images from this archive as part of a more focussed analysis of Hong Kong’s social transformations during the years around the end of British colonial rule and the resumption of Chinese sovereignty. In Photo Diary by contrast I have consciously chosen to eliminate all words, including explanatory captions, to allow a more purely visual approach to the archive. By assembling such a quantity of photographic images (which are proverbial for their perfect memory and willingness to play the role of witness) I have hoped to create an archive that will exceed (and hence serve to counter) any ideologically-reductive historical narrative that emerges about the time and place in which they were made.

The bare sequential way in which the images are presented echoes the rule-based nature of the project which generated them. By being temporal (and not just spatial as a framed photographic print would be), Photo Diary alludes to the passage of time the images themselves document (and the passage of time was something residents of Hong Kong were very aware of in the years of the handover’s approach). Time is compressed, though, as in a novel which can cover fifty years in a few hundred pages: five years is condensed into a few hours, or in the faster-paced versions of this work, into just a few minutes. That half-decade is one that any adult viewer of this work will also have lived through, albeit in a different way.

Details concerning one possible presentation of the PowerPoint version of the work.

My proposed work is titled Photo Diary: 31 December 1994 – 1 January 2000, and it was completed in 2004. It consists of a DVD-based PowerPoint presentation designed to be played by a computer enabled with a DVD drive, the appropriate Microsoft PowerPoint software, and a suitable amount of memory, and displayed as a projection by means of a digital projector. Optimal display conditions would require a darkened or partially-darkened space. The PowerPoint presentation can be played directly from the DVD itself, or the PowerPoint file can be copied into the computer’s memory (please delete at end of exhibition period). The latter option may be required if the computer’s memory is not sufficient to play the DVD directly. Due to the file size (approximately 1.6GB) it may take about 10 minutes to open the file before playing. Please ensure no cursor is left visible on the screen when the work is being displayed. The DVD is intended to be played in PowerPoint’s ‘slide show’ mode only – individual images are not to be displayed in isolation. It is intended that the display would be set to repeat continuously through the opening hours of the gallery without interruption (repeat play is the default option of the slide show programme). The work will be offered in 4 versions, which differ only in the rate at which the images in the presentation are displayed (although this change makes a big difference to how the work may be viewed). The speeds are: 6 seconds per image, 1 second per image, 1/2 second per image, and several images per second (perhaps 1/4 second or less per image). It is envisaged that different versions of the work would be played on different occasions (perhaps in turn according to a daily rota, although circumstances of display might also influence choice of version). The faster versions, especially the two fastest, might be short enough for viewers to view the whole presentation while standing in front of it, although the 6 second version is far too long for this – viewers would have time to view only several images under normally gallery wandering conditions, but would have time to examine each one in some detail. The 6 second version could function well in some public locations where the same people pass by at different times – each time they’d see a different segment. The 6 second version would take about 3 hours to view in its entirety, the 1 second version repeats after about 30 minutes, the half second version after 15 minutes, the fastest version in about half this time or less. Although each version can be played individually it would also be possible to project more than one version at the same time in the same place. If there was room for two simultaneous projections I would prefer that one would be the 6 second version and the other one of the faster versions, to maximize contrast and viewing possibilities. Having all four versions projected at the same time in adjacent spaces would of course be wonderful if space and facilities permit, and in this case the sequence should be arranged in ascending/descending order of speeds, rather than randomly.

The content of the PowerPoint file is a sequence of scanned black and white photographs. There is one photo for each day between 31 December 1994 and 1 January 2000, and they are displayed in strict chronological sequence. These photographs are taken from an archive of daily images I created myself during this period, which represents the last five years of the previous millenium. Most of the photos were taken in Hong Kong, where I live, and since the handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain to the People’s Republic of China occurred at the exact mid-point of this five year period, Hong Kong and this political transition are perhaps its main subject. Although I have called it a ‘diary’ biographic meanings are secondary to more public meanings, even though most images are more personal that documentary in conception.