Shu Yeung and Ania Mininkova are featured in our Displaced exhibition with "Away from the NIght". An ethereal collaboration that has pushed both artists both personally and professionally. Recently I had the chance to sit down with Shu and discuss the collaboration with Ania and the evolution of his art.
How did you and Ania end up collaborating?
We knew each other before and we both did workshops at the same time. The thing about these workshops is that it's a one week intensive and you are really pushed to your limit. You're out there photographing every week producing images for the workshop participants as well as the instructors to see. And after we did an exhibition we had kind of lost contact but then somehow… someway we ended up getting back into contact. It just happened to be when we both went through this really intense period where we were pushed photographically and artistically and as always after such an intense period you start to try to find yourself back in the real world. Because we had both traveled for the workshop and were are sort of removed from society only to find yourself back in the world after such an intense experience it's like… "what do you do with yourself?” I remember Ania was we were a bit lost and I was in a lull. And not knowing how to progress.
So I said to her, "Hey, let’s repeat the magnum workshop I know we are in different countries but your mission now is to go out and get me photos and I will do the same thing for you and then we will compare". And when we put our photos together in the one spot we started to see some interesting things happening. And it just grew from there.
What did you see happening?
Well... Ania and I have very different aesthetics. But we started to see a coupling of rhymes in our work and parallels. So we would have two images up that were very different but we would seem to be a conversation between each other. It became more than an image and became something complex and your eyes dart back and forth and your mind makes associations between the two photos is sort of like a conversation. The two mesh together, so we were really interested in this idea of conversations between images and we were both very taken by the idea of creating visual rhymes and viewing photography as a visual poetry. And that’s how it grew. Thematically and conceptually are the difficult bits and that’s the part we are looking to evolve.
Was “Away from the Night” birthed from this collaboration or was it a conscious idea to create this collection?
It was never a collaboration. It was more like… “I know where you’re at and we both need something to push each other”. It's interesting because technology has really played a huge factor in our collaboration because without that virtual space we really wouldn’t be collaborating at the moment. So yeah the collaboration came from just looking at these images together and feeling very strongly about them and wanting to present them together.
Has this abstract form of photography been a growing theme in your life?
Well, it's interesting you say that because if you look at my images you can see that they have evolved over time.
So when we first started we never had this away from the night concept but Away from the night came from the process of "how do we fit our photos together in a narrative". So now answering your question of where did this aesthetic come from? Ania has evolved from her own personal projects - she has got a cryptozoology project at the moment - which takes her to different places around America so when you see the dark/poetic/figurative images that are representations of reality but it comes from trying to not photograph what you see but how you feel and that’s very much become my practice as well.
So I come from a photojournalism background. So when I did this workshop I did it in a way that was very “newsy”… very reportage but it has this human connection which is the reason why I did this workshop because I wanted to learn what it was and if you see the evolution of my images it's trying to find what is it about a particular scene or gesture. It’s about capturing it and it’s about the entire process even the anxiety of getting there.
Did you have a moment where you realised that these photojournalism lines can we stretched into the abstract?
Yeah less so looking for an aesthetic rather than not feeling comfortable in the visual language of traditional photojournalism. In traditional photojournalism where it's one frame and everything is set within that frame. Very left to right but my view of reality is always more layered and it's always not quite not what you see. I’m very interested in secret lives and hidden communities or just secret things which are not easy to photograph. Nor do I want it to be a photograph that tells you everything. So this nonacceptance of a superficial reality began to make me look at different visual realities and cues.
And the dialogue spawned from this work is beneficial whether the reaction is either positive or negative?
Yes - I agree. Good photography for me is never an answer and should be a question.
So what was the common thread between you and Ania?
So the common thread between me and Ania is that I respect your work and she respects mine and we like how it looks together - and that’s kind of been the driving force. The thesis came from us debating “what are we doing here as artists” and “what we want to be doing as artists” and “what is this thing that we are trying to produce”. So we knew when we’re producing that it had to have a narrative. But how do you string together images in a narrative that was never deliberate? When we first edited this it was more a feeling - we had peaks and troughs but never had a conceptual framework.
So this collaboration has formed a parallel between us. Because we are both in this darkness, this night and trying to transition to a new start. And we are trying to transition to a new start and a new beginning as a contributing photographer to society.
So if it was anyone else but Ania do you think “Away from the Night” would have worked so well?
To be honest it's very special and it’s difficult to find collaborators who you trust because trust is everything. When I talk about trust it’s that you know that this person cares about you more than just another artist. Criticism always comes from a place of trying to channel effort. So you need to trust in that person’s analysis of wanting to have you in a better place. Ania has a work ethic like no other, she is brilliant and resourceful and not many people think on the same level as her. She's woke you know! And has very different ideas. The is lens she sees the world through that is kind of how I see the world while we are both very different. But to answer your question, I don't know. I'm on the lookout for people, I always look for people to collaborate with.
At the moment would you say that you have emerged from your night sea journey?
I think it's still transitional. I’m not quite sure when I will come out of the night. I feel definitely since the beginning of the collaboration I have grown a lot and I don't know where I would be if I didn't collaborate with Ania. I think I would need a lot of catching up. But in this moment I'm hoping that I'm close to the end of the journey, I think Ania is closer than I am! (Laughs) I’m still trying to find purpose and at the moment I have the base layer on and it's just articulating those ideas.