Feelings are like animals, you could say. Some are like dogs and roosters: loud creatures accustomed to human contact. Happiness, anger, excitement fall into this category. Other feelings are more elusive and hard to observe in the daylight, in the way of night birds or funny rodents. Those are feelings of loneliness, melancholy, dreamy moods, states of mind which are hard to put into words and even seem somewhat alien to language. Like rare birds, you don’t really know their names.
Chinese photographer Quentin Shih has this remarkable gift of being able to capture the most withdrawn of our emotions. His pictures are like beautifully crafted ecosystems where one is given to observe the realm of our silent and ungraspable moods.
“Ethereal compositions” is perhaps one thing you could say of these photographs. Yet everything about Shih’s work is so familiar, grounded as it is in the mundane and everyday life. “I believe more and more that real photography should rely on the real world, not the imagination,” he says. “On an essential level, it is the same with Art. Artists recall fading memories through their work, which is the reflection of something initially physical.”
Reminiscence is the dominant theme in these pictures. Quentin Shih says of his work that it is an attempt “to find clues in reality that can bring back certain memories.” Although Shih’s intention is to reach beyond the mere representation of a personal experience. The audience, as well, is invited to share in. “I wish the space, colors and light in my pictures can help the viewers bring back some of their own forgotten memories.” Shih is aiming to depict fragments of his past in such a way that they appear universal.
In many ways, these photographs bring to mind the seductive and melancholic paintings of Edward Hopper. Light sculpting and shaping the space, the solitary figure, the touch of cinematic glamour, these elements run through Hopper as much as they run through Shih.
Light, of course, is key to Shih’s compostions. “I love the mixture of both cold and warm light sources,” he says. “Every light source has its own idiosyncrasy and, in turn, stimulates people in different ways.”
Many of his pictures are shot when the night is closing in. “I prefer the light of dusk personally,” he says again. “It is the most fabulous moment of a day when the cold color of the sky contrasts finely with the warm color of man-made objects. From an emotional perspective, dusk is the time when people start returning home, it is the turning point of the emotion of the day.”
At times, Shih’s compositions are so clean and refined that they almost seem to be lifted off this world. “I think that the ultimate of aesthetic is abstraction and simplicity,” he explains. “Maybe something close to one’s entire life’s visual memories before the instant of death, for example when a freezing winter would turn into the color blue.” This latter comment is mysterious. Perhaps what Shih is trying to do all along is to distill past memories to their visual, emotional essence, and that is how he is able to touch us. Perhaps he has Plato in mind and is seeking in this earthly world traces of supernatural Ideas.
“I think that real photography is more close to literature or philosophy. There are implications and overtones beyond the mere sense of sight that enables photography to transcend the field of Fine Arts.” Another mysterious comment for you to reflect on, if these pictures have set you up for contemplation. In fact, I feel like the very act of pondering about this last comment would make a good subject for Shih to work on. It seems to be the kind of animal he is chasing, after all, if you agree to follow me to the end on that train of thought.
This article was kindly provided to us by HuArts and is focused on Quentin Shih’s personal photography work. Shih is however also a filmmaker, and as a photographer he has long collaborated on commercial projects with the most prestigious luxury brands. His work on these projects is equally remarkable.