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Speaking Beyond Words

by Ai Wei Wei

Feng Yan’s photography captures random daily scenes without belonging to any particular category, with no specific selection of neither form nor content; yet, they are indispensable parts of our routine life. These parts are so commonplace that they draw nobody’s attention or appreciation. They are what we delete in feelings and communication——indifference resulted from life’s training. We are emotionally used to the distinction between the significant & the insignificant, the necessary & the unnecessary. To heed and express the “insignificant” emotions calls for a higher price. If you unfold a person’s life, you’ll find many missing images, like the remains of a torn picture.

Feng Yan’s pictures reveal this part of emotion. In the empty scene without human presence, the photographer is the sole spectator waiting for the moment to press the button. The uncertain, hesitant sentiment prevails the scenes which echoes the photographer’s meaningless feelings; these weightless pictures drag us into a mood——a context normally seen without observation thus unable to enter.

Like a seasoned hunter, Feng Yan is acutely precise about what to shoot & how to shoot. His visual world exists with a different order that is somewhat blurry and dangly but enlivened with harmonious tranquility in unity with the past and the future. The expression leans toward a substantial existence, at once concrete but casual.

Photography sustains a non-reality, but rather point to a dishonest relationship with reality. From the second that actual, substantial light is cast on the film, its independent existence magically betrays its matrix. The substantial existence—parasitic in our perception of reality— resurrects itself at the very moment upon the touch of sight. Sight is part of mentality and perception is connected with insight. We can’t really see what fails to enlighten us. We see what we choose to see; perceive what we want to perceive thus building our mental framework and understanding of the world. Our way of paving the basics of social anesthetics. What you see is who you are and what your world is all about.

Feng Yan’s grandest bewilderment & interest lie in the sense of distance in photography: the reflection on distance, the distance of reality and psychology. Is there distance of reality? How to measure psychological distance? His focus on distance gives his photography a clear sense of notion, making his choice and assessment unique. Picking the distance between him and his object also unveils the mood, the aura and the meaning of his work.

The tone of his photography is loose, drifting, missing, dissolving and meaningless, all but implied a different mentality and value pursuit. In this world, there are many levels of realities and different human philosophies; that’s the reason why we share one world yet living in worlds apart.

Aug.17, 2005
( Translated by Cui Yang )