Landscape Stories: When did you begin your career in photography? And why? Where can the roots of your work be found?
Muge: I started doing photography since high school. By the time we graduated, we took snapshots for and with each other like crazy, fearing that we might not see them in future. But photographs would remain and keep that memory. I don’t know why I started doing it. When my father spent all his monthly salary buying me a camera, I wanted to treasure this gift with love. The roots of my work can be found in the integration and collision of real life experience and day-to-day reality. Also, traditional Chinese culture and art has inspired me greatly.
Landscape Stories: Are there any photographers or movements that have influenced or inspired you?
Muge: I like studying the history of photography, from the inventing of photography to the modern age, of which time many photographers have influenced me, including Peter Henry Emerson, Sally Mann, Masahisa Fukase, Josef Sudek, and Victor Schrager, etc. They made me persist in thinking and expressing myself in my own way.
Landscape Stories: How deeply are you influenced by the surroundings and places in which you grew up?
Muge: I barely speak in front of people when I was small, especially when there are many. I was nervous. I studied in a boarding school since 12. When I was in high school I learned to speak like other people but I usually stammered; as a result, I became introvert and sensitive, even a little diffident. However, this might be the reason that I was allowed to watch and examine surrounding people and things instead of saying something of them via language. The intervention of language will bring extra consideration and balancing when expressing oneself, thus losing the instinctive side and sincerity that lies within.
Landscape Stories: Do you have a method of working which you follow for each series, or does it vary for each different project? Please explain the themes in your artwork and your working process…
Muge:I don’t have a certain fixed way of working, but I do have one principle, that I’d hold on to the true expression deep inside. I don’t want to give any underlying political meaning to an image. This is what I consciously want to avoid. As for photographs, I hope that they are visual media that I create to carry personal meanings and to surpass the function as merely criticizing tools. A very important aspect is to help me delve into deeper feelings and mystery. In the Going Home series, I wanted to study mainly on how we should look at the Three Gorges Dam (aka San Xia) in the current time, instead of preoccupying the theme with personal criticism. People who are affected by the Dam Project, their living condition and their feelings are more important than the existence of the Three Gorges Dam. The Ash series has two parts. The first part is still life that examine the subjects’ existence in reality. The objects are from the most mundane daily life. I wasn’t just representing the objects themselves, but instead, I wanted to represent the objects being in our space and time, and maybe also in our hearts. The second part is Shan Shui. The word Shan Shui is the traditional way of calling landscapes that involves the landscape in our minds. In Ash series, Shan Shui is a visualization of human desire and human’s development that have changed the natural landscapes. Nature that has been shaped by human hands. The core of both parts is what Laozi, the founder of Daoism, claims: the Dao obeys the law of Nature; namely, man should not claims things as his properties; never show off his merit and contribution; never tries to rule or dominant other species, but listens to the laws of nature and accustoms himself to the development of nature. The title Ash is actually from the Holy Bible: Dust to dusts, dirt to dirts, ash to ashes, and may God bless your spirit into Heaven. Amen!
Landscape Stories: What interested me about your new project ‘塵 ASH’ is your desire to explore new directions and to think in a very conceptual way. Will be seeing more conceptual works in the future?
Muge: I’m not really into copying the reality. Images help me find feelings and mysteries that hidden deep within. I never thought about what exactly I would make in the future, but feelings will remain the essence of my expression. But the expression may not be limited to a certain feeling; it may be an idea, or conceptual spirit. My next work will be more conceptual and mysterious. I will explore the definition of Shan Shui through framing during shooting and installation when exhibiting.
Landscape Stories: Referring to the new book ‘塵 ASH’… Could you tell us something more about the creation of the book (concept, editing, design, printing, limited edition etc.)?
Muge: Firstly I’d like to express my gratitude to the designer Ms. Amanda and supervisor Mr. Mark of the Zen Gallery in Tokyo. Before the designing work take place, we discussed a lot about the work’s expression and we exchanged each other’s opinion regarding the Ash series. The final concept that we all agreed on is the idea of Zen. Ms. Amanda picked a combination of both single sheets and folded pages in accordion form as the presenting form of the book, which I really love about. Folded pages in accordion form is what the traditional Chinese books look like, and the single sheets are finely printed that you can totally frame and hang it on the wall if you like. I believe this is a good way for display. The collection is a 500 limited edition, and each is a unique copy because we didn’t deliberately assign the arrangement of the sheets photographs. Breaking the normal sequencing, we expected the readers to understand these photographs in their own way.
Landscape Stories: The use of light is a very important thing. Does the light help to create the story? Is there something special that inspires you and drives you in creating a certain feeling?
Muge: Light means hope. In the Ash, the use of bright and stereoscopic light is rare, because I wanted the light as an ingredient to build up the atmosphere. In the photograph numbered Still Life XV, the tiny shiny dots in a dark background become very clear and evident; it’s actually a custom for Chinese people when praying for good wills. They would place those coins in a shrine, and those shiny dots, in my view, become metaphor for hope.
Landscape Stories: Your work deal so specifically with ideas of landscape. How do you approach the landscape while working on your project? Do you work from your memory of the Chinese landscape to examine your feelings about it?
Muge: Virtually in the Ash series, the Still Life part collects more images than the other part, Shan Shui. Landscapes in the Shan Shui represent the shaped nature by human desire and social development. Chinese people’s love for Shan Shui (mountain-water) comes from ancient mountain-water paintings, which engage scenarios that come not only from visual landscapes but also from the painters’ mind. They were like idyllic dreams. Therefore when I work on the Shan Shui, many invisible scenarios borrowed from the ancient Shan Shui paintings come to my mind. However, what were eventually captured were different because the Shan Shui that belonged to ancient minds no longer existed; only the shaped nature remained.
Landscape Stories: Why do you shoot in black and white? And what kind of camera do you use?
Muge: I would neither refuse black and white nor color shots. I would decide based on different types of work. The world of black and white is more subjective and closer to my inner world and spiritual orientation, compared to colors, thus is more suitable for the work’s expression.
Landscape Stories: What about your next projects?
Muge: My next project is a continuation of Ash. It will discuss the subjects in the Shan Shui part and it will be more conceptual and mysterious. I will include a variety of new materials and new methods of representation and display.
Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena