There Is No Camera: "My Things" by Hong Hao
Source:Artintern Author:Meg Maggio Date: 2008-08-26 Size:
Hong Hao’s latest computer-manipulated photos are the product of a man addicted to his scanning machine.


Hong Hao’s latest computer-manipulated photos are the product of a man addicted to his scanning machine. Composed of found objects “excavated” from Hong’s kitchen, bedroom and desk drawers, the series “Things” offer a comic and at times profound critique of personal consumerism. What are the basic components of our material lives? What are the things we can’t live without? What do we find stashed away in our drawers? Hong has clearly wrestled with these questions. We can picture Hong, rummaging through his apartment, grabbing his own personal effects, and tossing them one-by-one on to the scanning machine in a frenzy of personal inventory taking. Even the camera he never used to complete this work has been scanned, catalogued, and exhibited.

From a technical point of view, there is something unnerving about the creation of such eerily illuminated photos that do not require the use of the camera. Crowded onto a black background, the personal objects of Hong’s fascination appear life-like with a sharpness and clarity that renders them nearly three-dimensional. We are invited to see his toilet paper, plastic wrapped sausage, apple peels, keys, passport, visas, knives, wallet, pills, comb, and toothpaste. The technique is deceptively simple: First, Hong places each object directly on to his scanning machine. Then the machine whirs and purrs and spits out a perfect replica of the object. The scanned images are catalogued on to the computer, and with a little help from Photo Shop, Hong arranges them onto a crowded jet-black field of his random composition. No need to fuss with cameras, lights, lenses and dark rooms.

Not many of us are willing to spend this inordinate amount of time with our scanning machines. The number of objects scanned by Hong must surely be in the 1000’s. Eventually, the scanner appears to work with a mind of its own. Illuminating Hong’s belongings with the cold hard precision of an electronic magnifying glass. The computer, with the complicity of the scanner, then presents the finished compositions in all their idiosyncratic glory for all to survey. Privacy and a human touch are almost completely eradicated. This is the public commodification of Hong’s very existence.

Most of us would be unwilling to hold up the contents of our own messy drawers to this degree of public scrutiny. This is the strange domain of Hong Hao, who is brave enough to reexamine his own life as commodity phenomenon, and, acquisition as an integral part of his every day reality. We now know far more of Hong’s quotidian life than we need to. And we sense his compulsive need to divulge.

Now that Hong Hao has completed his work on “My Things”, this may be the time for an intervention and a friendly attempt to wean him off the scanning machine. Like all good artistic production, Hong’s collaboration with the scanning machine has been extreme and intense. Recalling the hours and weeks and months spent completing each work, we can’t help advising Hong, “Perhaps this is a good time for a little break from scanners, computers, and all forms of electronic machinery”. Natural light, after all, is not such a bad thing.

[Editor] Mark Lee