20/2/2021 - 17/4/2021
Black-and-white photography accentuates the play of light and shadows. Even without vibrant colouration, its monochrome qualities highlight the image’s composition and lines, enriching the photograph with poetic ambience and imaginations. Dickson Yewn is a renowned Hong Kong jewellery designer and a great art lover with an affection for monochrome photography. He studied fine art in Paris and conceptual photography in New York. The exhibition showcases Yewn's landscape and still-life photography taken during his travel around China over the past decade. He cleverly used a smart phone camera to imitate the visual effect of platinum printing process developed in the 19th century. Demonstrating a delicate scale of black-and-white tonality, his photographs look as if they are painted in ink.
Dickson Yewn’s Pictorial Photography
Dickson Yewn loves monochrome photography. He believes that it is a pure art that only focuses on lines and compositions without any embellishment nor decoration. The print is spiced up with blanks deliberately to evoke its viewers’ imagination. As a matter of fact, these are both characteristics of Chinese ink painting, also referred to as literati painting. In light of this, monochrome photography can best display poetic charm through literati painting.
Yewn is fond of platinum printing from the 19th century. Each print produced by this printing technique is unique. Different shades of grey are perfectly layered, projecting an intricate gradation of black and white. Unfortunately, platinum printing is no longer accessible. Yet Yewn skilfully achieves the same visual effect with just his mobile phone.
Yewn has created countless artworks using this method and they are all monochrome photographs capturing various places in China. Under his lens are numerous scenic spots and historical sites, towns and villages, buildings and gardens, as well as valleys and plants. It is perhaps due to the limited functions of his mobile phone that he focuses on micro observations of the surroundings to capture features and intriguing elements as opposed to presentations of wide-angle landscapes. Each black and white print appears to be a small sketch of an ink painting.
From these photographs, Yewn extends his imagination to associate with Chinese characters. Chinese characters are formed in six ways known as the “Six Methods”: (1) ideogram, (2) pictogram, (3) ideogram plus phonetic, (4) associative compounds, (5) transfer character, and (6) phonetic association. Pictogram is derived from Chinese painting while the rest of the methods are formed by symbols that express meanings. In other words, characters are symbols. The title of each of his photography elicits a Chinese character according to what he captures on camera. A single word could be a pictogram of an image. One could also decipher a photograph through its word symbol.
Naming an artwork using this approach is incomparably creative. By combining the art of photography and words, imagination becomes infinite not only for the artist, but also for the viewers. It allows a photograph to be perceived as a painting which is then visualised as a character. If we try to rearrange these titles in various combinations, it will lead us to more diverse imagination.
A simple mobile phone could actually enable Yewn to achieve his dream. What he captures on his phone unexpectedly becomes unique paintings that draw on inspiring characters. Yewn’s pictorial photography is so exceptional and enjoyable that one would never tire of looking at his works!
YEUNG Chun Tong
Director, Sun Museum
Editor: Elaine NGAN
2020, paperback, Chinese/English, 296 pages, 17.5 x 23.5 cm
A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue featuring 140 pieces of photographs by Dickson Yewn.