Fion Hung Ching-Yan, is a photo artist from Hong Kong, whose works focus on family conflicts, trauma, generational gaps, and breaking traditions.
When and how did you first start getting into photography?
I started getting into photography when I was in high school. At that time, my art teacher built a dark room in his school office and invited us to learn film development. Soon I spent all my lunchtimes in his office working on my films.
What were you first interested in when you started taking photographs, and how did that change over time?
In the beginning, I used photography as a medium to make art because I was bad at other mediums, such as drawing and painting. Over the years, photography remained the best medium to express my ideas, but it also acts as a comfort zone to talk about anything that I am not allowed to talk about in my family or my social circle. To me, photography is like “Kitty” to Anne Frank (“Kitty” is Anne Frank’s imaginary friend, she also named her diary that way.)
Can you tell us a bit about your project “The Skeletons in the Closet?”
In ‘The Skeletons In The Closet’ I attempt to subvert my family’s filial pressure on me by keeping our family scandals a secret. This is in response to the family trauma that occurred after my grandmother’s departure in 2016. My grandmother’s death brought huge changes in the relationship between my extended family, my parents, and me. Despite the fact that my extended family has done something terrible to hurt my parents, they still expect me to say nothing because of my role and my gender in the family. I was stressed out immensely and decided to respond to the incident in my own way – through photography. Ultimately this is how the series was born.
You use Chinese Folk tales to speak about the complex relationships within your family. What initially drew you to these folk tales?
The series of folktales I referenced is called “The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety”. It is a set of Yuan-dynasty folktales about acts of loyalty from children to their parents. Among them, I am familiar with one story called ‘Attracting Mosquitoes To Drink His Blood’, which is about a loyal son who removed his upper clothes for mosquitoes to bite him during the middle of the night, so that his parents did not have to suffer. During my childhood, my dad used to tell me this story very often, and he asked if I would always be loyal to my family. This is the reason I chose the series as a metaphor to subvert my family’s authority over me for my project.
What are you currently working on that you are excited about?
I am currently extending the idea of family and trauma from the project ‘The Skeletons In The Closet’ to a new body of work. I am thinking of using salt as a material to destroy images that represent my happy childhood. My grandfather started a family business a long time ago. He exported salt from a local mine in China to Hong Kong. Later on, he could afford to buy a salt mine in Fujian, where my family is originally from, and started a business by himself. He is now in his 80s and can no longer work, so he passed the family business on to my mother. My mother is responsible for the business now but my family has a hidden expectation of me: I should be the next person to take over this business. This expectation has put a huge amount of pressure on me, not only because of the abilities required to take over a business but also because of the connection between my extended family and me. Besides that, my family has argued about the inheritance of my grandfather. This brought even more conflicts between different family members and became a trauma to me. Therefore, I want to use salt as a metaphor of breaking family relationships for my next project. I am thinking about adding salt in the process of film development. I wonder what the final outcome of the images will be like. Besides that, I am redesigning my previous book project ‘A Month With You’, which is a book about the relationship between my mum and me.
You were born and raised in Hong Kong. How would you describe the art and photography scene there?
In my opinion, people love following trends in Hong Kong. The trends change very fast to suit people’s desires, but they disappear as quickly again. I can never catch up with these trends. However, to me, it seems that not many people are interested in discussing the deeper cultural layer within our identities, for example, our original backgrounds and the history of our families. I think this makes me struggle a lot because my family has lived in a totally different way- I was born into a big family, and our relatives all lived very close to each other. My grandparents called their friends and relatives in China every day to catch up with them. Their actions made me feel strongly connected to my family roots, and so I was curious about my past. It feels deeply important to me to trace back my origin and to search for the meaning of my identity and belonging. My friends and I founded a photo book club called PhoBoKo in Hong Kong in 2019. It is a registered NGO now. We gather with our members and friends every month to discuss photography-related issues. We also organize exhibitions together.
Can you tell us a bit about the process you use to create your surrealistic images?
I would describe the process of creating my photo collages as a sort of digital drawing. The photos were taken in hotel rooms. I always chose the same hotel named “The Locke”. They have 5 locations in London and I visited all of them! I chose this hotel mainly because of its sense of home, colorful backgrounds, and minimalist settings. The most important part is that this hotel does not include any British decorations, which I found in a lot of other hotels I stayed in. I filled the hotel rooms with objects or my own body. I arranged small quantities of objects and took pictures of them in sessions. Later on, I combined everything in Photoshop and duplicated the objects or myself, when I went home. I repeated the same action every time I started a new shooting until I got a total of 24 images. Sometimes, I had to reshoot the images because the positions of myself or the objects were wrong after combining them in Photoshop. In a later stage, I would test photos at home before going to the hotel rooms, to make sure everything worked for the final outcome.
How does it feel to share deeply personal work such as your family’s story or the relationship towards your mother? How do people usually react to it?
I feel great and proud to be able to share my deepest feelings towards my family. I cannot seem to find another way to express myself in reality. I only care about how my parents react to my projects because they often seem to be irritated by the content I convey in the images. Most audiences love my images because of their striking colors and surrealist effects, but some people find it difficult to connect with my personal stories without seeing the real settings of my home or my living area. I bet the rest of my family would hate me if they knew what the contents of my projects are about, but I don’t care.
If you wouldn’t work as an artist, what would you do in life?
When I was small, my dream job was being a mother. It is because I thought mothers would have full authority to control their life. When I grew up, I was disappointed by this idea because in reality my mum was trapped by my family’s scandals and traumas. Today, if I wasn’t an artist, I think I would be a dog trainer because sometimes I think animals are more humane and easier to understand than humans.
You use a lot of vibrant colours in your work. Do they have a specific meaning to you?
I am sensitive to colors, and I think each color has its own meaning, such as a particular emotion or a symbol of something else. I regard colors as a tool to convey my emotions most of the time.
What kind of symbols do you consider especially important for your work?
The use of red color is especially important to my series “The Skeletons In The Closet” because it represents Chinese tradition to me. My presence in the collages is also an important symbol because it represents my own role and gender in relation to my family. The reason I used myself as the model is that I see the images as my self-portraits- they talk about my personal situation and struggles within my family. If I used someone else, it feels less about myself and more about my point of view towards gender and inequality in traditional Chinese families. I used a lot of repetition in my images. This is due to the invisible reality that I wanted to create. By repeating objects, I want to create a sense of messiness to show the chaotic feelings I have in mind with my family’s situation. Some props are references to the Chinese folktale “24 Paragons of Filial Piety”, while others are related to objects that are mostly seen in my family.
How do you decide if a college is finished or not?
The advantage of making a collage is that I can always add or delete things in the images. I decide if a collage is finished if I cannot find spare spots to fill in anymore, but a few years later, maybe I will change the compositions again.