KHENG-LI WEE - Zen City: Recent Photographic Works
solo exhibition @ Art Forum, 21 February to 13 March 2004


The Photographer and The City

"I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think"
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard, Hill & Wang, New York, 1981, p 21

Today, the majority of the earth's population lives in cities. Urban existence may be the defining characteristic of human existence. The concept of The City, standing as it does at the juncture of architecture, modernism, industrialism, history, psychology, and human density, is a distinctive and recent phenomenon in human history - and the momentous consequences and implications of this shift in human settlement patterns are being felt in every corner of the globe.

Cities have always fascinated me. As a city boy, born and bred, and as an artist, an analyst, a poet, I can think of no richer subject. All my personal work to date has largely been an extended meditation on urban life. There is a certain joy in losing oneself in a crowd on the streets of a strange city, exploring, observing, thinking, detached yet passionate. Wandering the streets alone, watching, absorbing, thinking, distilling, recording.

I trained as a painter. Today I choose to use a camera as my tool for making sense of the world within which I live. I feel that photography is a unique process of communication - particularly suited to the poetic discovery and expressing of that which cannot be expressed and that which escapes ordinary representation.

There is something magical about the mechanical and chemical process of recording light, which somehow makes photographs such profound documents of time and loss. Because photography for me is fundamentally about time - specifically, lost time. Because the specific moment which is captured in a photograph. Frozen forever as a slice out of the endless passage of time will never occur again. Which makes photographs, for me, inherently sad.

It is precisely the beauty and pathos in this sadness which moves me, as a viewer and maker of photographs. The best photographs have the power to affect us, to make us think and feel, to make us a little more aware of what it means to be human.

As such, I would consider myself a documentary photographer: one who responds directly to the reality of a scene in front of his eyes; one who attempts to see through the surfaces and understand a little of the truth of human existence; one who walks the line between journalism and art.

I choose to do most of my personal work in colour as I consider that I respond most intuitively to the rich, subtle and varied colours of the urbanscape. In addition, I feel my personal interests in concepts of abstraction and surrealism are best expressed through the medium of colour. I try to work very simply, with as little equipment as possible, mostly just a small camera.

This latest exhibition is a collection of some recent photographs I made in November 2003 during a trip to Japan. I find Japan to be endlessly entrancing: the incredible density and complexity of the accretions and fragments of urbanity, the contrasts between the richness and calmness of traditional culture and the dazzle and speed of modernity, the extreme manifestations of a cultural obsession with perfection, the visual sophistication of both high and low culture.

Kheng-Li Wee
February 2004

The Artist

Kheng-Li Wee, Photographer. Born 1971, Singapore. Member of pioneer year, Art Elective Program, The Chinese High School, Singapore. Studied Asian Studies and Fine Art at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA. Studied photography in the highly selective Full-Time Program at the International Center of Photography, New York, USA. Has exhibited in both the USA and in Singapore. Work is represented in private collections in both USA and Singapore, and in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography, New York, and the European House of Photography, Paris, France. Personal focus is in fine art and documentary photography. Clients include The Citigroup Private Bank, The Association of Banks in Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board, SKA Architects, as well as numerous private clients.