Feng Li (b. 1971, Chengdu) took a particularly non traditional career path of a photographer, establishing an early career in Chinese medicine. In 1996 Li picked up his first camera and has since developed a distinct signature in photography, one recognised internationally having exhibited at multiple renowned galleries and fairs. Li’s current exhibition ‘White Not’ at Galerie F16 (Paris), a past exhibitor of PHOTOFAIRS, showcases a series of work developed over the course of ten years, across three cities; Chengdu, Berlin and Paris.
The series demonstrates Feng Li’s fascination with the everyday banal lifestyle of citizens in the city. The attention of the viewer is swayed towards the unique characters captured in an unposed fashion, who are either strangers walking the streets or close acquaintances of the artist. Li explains that if a scene appears too humourous or attractive, he will avoid taking the shot, as this would therefore not align with the overall aesthetic and narrative of capturing ‘the norm’.
PHOTOFAIRS had the exciting opportunity to interview Feng Li for an exclusive insight into his practice and current exhibition...
White Night in China and White Night in Paris both follow a similar recognisable aesthetic of yours, however, portray contrasting societies and individuals. What were the biggest differences that you noticed between the two cities as an artist?
From my point of view, the cities themselves in my work are not the main focus. I pay more attention to the individuals that inhabit the cities as they are containers of us.
How did your relationship with the subjects in each series differ from one another?
Personally, I prefer to act as a spectator in reality and use the camera to solidify what I think is an interesting moment. Of course, apart from strangers on the street, my subjects are also the family and friends around me. In addition to my intuition, I sometimes interact with my subjects as a game, looking for more shooting possibilities.
Can you please explain to our audience the title ‘White Night’ and what it refers to?
The title of the series comes from a magical night I experienced in 2005. Naturally, the words White Night pop up in my mind, meaning ‘to pursue the illusion and then discover the reality’.
The series interestingly captures banal and routine moments in life. It is fascinating that everyday, normal occurrences in one culture may contrast to another. What attracts you to capture life from this angle?
It should be an instinct and intuition. Sometimes, inexplicable moments will come to you without expecting it.
Which is your favourite image from the series? Can you explain the story behind your selected image?
Some of the images in the exhibition are beautiful, some are absurd, some are surreal. But in all, they have no story to tell. They are not a narrative but a metaphor or a fable.
Your signature technique/photographic style involves flash photography. What impact does this have on the story you are trying to tell about the subjects?
The use of the flash is simply for my technical needs as an artist. The flash solidifies the moment I see, therefore, I don't need to consider the change of light all the time. Interestingly, the flash very much reminds me of the shadowless lamp in the hospital where I studied medicine, or a kind of stage light which can filter out any unnecessary interference.
How do you avoid the photographs from appearing too staged?
When the photo looks funny or interesting, then it will be avoided.
This project was developed over the course of 10 years. As a successful photographer, what advice would you give young, aspiring photographers about maintaining a creative project over a prolonged period of time? How do you retain the same level of enthusiasm and integrity towards a particular subject?
If you are passionate enough about something, there is no effort required to stick to it because you will enjoy it enough. Keep sensitive to life, life is always the source of creation.
What can we expect from the limited edition manifesto that is being published alongside the exhibition at Galerie F16?
This exhibition book is the creation of curator, Dan Sablon. The manifesto analyzes the series from a fashion perspective and addresses my photographic possibilities. The book design pays tribute to the early form of the YSL manifesto, a newspaper-sized manifesto with no photo descriptions and a layout that deliberately reverses the order of reading, creating more context between images.
Visit 'White Not' at Galerie F16, 5 Rue d'Aboukir, Paris.