Chen Nong is a Chinese artist who currently is living and working in Beijing. He is a self-taught photomedia artist. As a child long liked to draw and paint and although having a delayed entrance into the creative industry, he soon became fixated on photography. Since then, he uses photography as a platform for him to express his own ideas and thoughts to others. He combines his love for photography and the hand crafted together to produce images that have a painterly effect and are captivating.
Narrative and history is huge part of his work. He uses historical references based on events that were taking place in China, paying homage to them.He said: “We can never escape history. It is embedded in us, part of who we are and what we become” To tell these stories, Nong constructs his photographs with props which he makes himself and then asks local members of his community to ‘act’ for him. As contemporary Chinese culture is full of historical re-enactments which are highly realistic and include high visual detail, this plays a key role in the production of his work.
He receives inspiration for his project from reference photographs, then he makes sketches of what he wants the images to look like so that he can have complete control over the photographs. To produce his work, Chen Nong uses an 8×10 large format camera and black and white film. Then he prints them onto traditional watercolour paper and hand colours his images using photo inks. He says that: “What I want to visualise in the end can’t really be achieved with colour film. It is possible to adjust colours on the computer after scanning, but I still think it lacks dynamism.” He is not affected by the digital age and that is why he does not use any digital intervention within his work. By doing this, his images become more valuable to him, as he not only took them, but spent a considerable amount of time hand creating them and additionally, making the scenes look more impressive.
This work above is entitled ‘Climbing to the Moon.’ Produced seperately then joined together, they tell a story. “Chen Nong turns out to be more of a curtain-raiser than just a storyteller. With his fascinating pictures, he is opening up the contradictory and often conflicting worlds of ancient as well as contemporary China.” (Simons, R. 2012.) This story is enhanced by this use of colour. By adding inks onto his silver gelatine images he creates a vintage, burnished effect which adds to this narrative and makes the images more powerful to look at. The result of this use of colour means that his images are super-realist, highly stylised, at times even verging on the expressionist.
The composition of his images is very successful in the production of his images. In all four of the images, the ground lines up perfectly, creating a domed shape which emphasises his narrative of being on the moon and the use of the astronauts. Additionally, I believe that the use of this almost grid-like system is very effective in creating a orderly pictorial representation of the scene. These images have been cleverly thought out as they could still be shown separately, however the visual impact would not be as strong as they do when unified together.
After researching Chen Nong, I am really inspired by his work. In particular, the immense amount of time and consideration that goes into each individual print and the way that he doesn’t use any digital intervention, so it is completely hand made. I think the strongest aspect of his work is his narrative. As I do my own work of colouring in images, I would like to consider what I want my message to be and how to best portray that within my hand made images.
- Chen Nong (no date) Available at: http://www.chinaphotoeducation.com/Carol_China/Chen_Nong.html (Accessed: 12 March 2015)
- Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. United Kingdom: Laurence King Publishing.
- Simons, R. (2012) Chen Nong, Climbing to the Moon. Available at: http://reflexamsterdam.com/wp-content/themes/newfish/pdf/chen_nong.pdf (Accessed: 12 March 2015)
© Kirstie Wilkinson