John Clang is a Singapore-born, New York-based photographer with a fixation on urban interactions, city people and the life he left behind in south-east Asia. After catching our eye with his Time series, of photos from particular New York spots ripped apart and reformed as new, we catch up to chat influences, family and the best cities in the world.
To start off, which aspects of your upbringing in Singapore do you think inform your work most now?
Singapore only gained independence in 1965 and I was born in the early 70s, so I witnessed its rapid growth and urbanisation. All these changes had their positive and negatives aspects but, most importantly, the memories of the feelings I had at the time have stayed with me.
I recollect and use these feelings as the creative basis of my work; it’s a by-product of growing up in a country where isn’t very much cultural history. Everything is subtle and mundane, and gives you the space to be immersed in self-reflection.
There are lots of mentions of family and distance in your photography. What is it about photography that makes it your chosen medium to explore these emotions?
I chose photography as my medium only because I'm not good with words. I find it difficult to fully express myself through them. Words themselves aren’t limited it's more about my incapability to fully use them. I see photography as a form of poetry and I feel great ease in using it to express my emotion, fear and insecurities.
I really enjoyed the complexity and detail of your Time series. Where did the concept spring from, and how long did you work on it?
It all started with my earlier series NYC 64.1˚N 21.9˚W and Strangers. With the recent tendency to over-Photoshop everything I wanted the Time series to involve more physical interaction. I wanted the process to be very intimate and focused, without any unnecessary fuss. I’m fascinated by the people around me, the space we live in and the time that wanders past us and I hope it shows that. Like all my other work, it’s more of an expression, rather than a definition or answer.
Each image took me about four to five days: from taking the images on location, making prints and literally staring at them for hours before making the final collage. It was a very quiet and contemplative process.
The interplay of urban interaction and cityscapes also sits centrally to your work. Which of the cities you've shot in do you find the most inspiring?
I’ve been shooting mainly in New York and Singapore, two cities I live in and am totally in love with. Most cities look about the same to me but landscape has another definition: to me, it's the people that form the landscape, not the structural buildings. And it's the people I care about most. Personally, I love NYC, Paris, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Twilight Dreams of a Papilio Demoleus
What do you hope viewers of your work take away from it?
I hope my work can resonate with some of the viewers and make them feel more in touch with their own world and feelings. Everyone can feel differently looking at the same piece of work. But then again, I never create my work for viewers so I'm not exactly sure how to answer this question!
Could you tell our readers more about the thinking behind the Erasure series?
Erasure is a continuation of Fear of Losing the Existence and Guilt - earlier works focused on my parents. The original images were taken during a vacation in Tokyo. I brought them out several years later and start manually erasing my parents and in-laws with an ink eraser. The act itself was slow and it brought back past memories spent together. Now they are all too old to travel much and the image reflects their slowly fading existence from this world.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the power of reflection and self-perception, in photography and in day-to-day life?
Constant reflection and self-perception realised in photography mark the contemporary time we exist in. As we age or as we pass away, the future generation will be able to see what was going on in our minds, besides all the other major historical events.
As in day to day-to-day life, it gives us a chance to hear our voice and be in tune with ourselves. We now spend most of our time on social media, with friends and at work - very rarely we have a quiet moment to actually be alone, do nothing and talk to ourselves. So I find it very important to constantly 'update' our understandings of self, not just the latest Apple software.
See more of Clang's work on his site.