Brian Van Lau’s powerful photo series deals with his father’s premature passing and questions of identity

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Brian Van Lau’s powerful photo series deals with his father’s premature passing and questions of identity


Born in Honolulu, Brian’s relationship with photography began quite typically, taking pictures of friends and day-to-day life. It was when Brian later came across his mothers 4×6 drugstore prints of when he was first born, and she and his father began dating, which pushed him to “think about photography not just as a diary, but as a selective narrative through archiving”. Since then, Brian has found himself particularly drawn to work that “sits in-between documentary and conceptual fine arts, while leaning on images that feel more poetic and emotionally charged by nature”. Naming a few such projects, Brian lands on McNair Evans’ Confessions for a Son, Eli Durst’s The Community and Mimi Plumb’s Landfall.

Upon viewing these projects, you can see how they have served as aesthetic inspiration to Brian; atmospheric, unstaged, black and white photography that crafts a subtle narrative without telling the viewer too much. Interestingly, however, Brain tells us that some of his aesthetic choices were not purposeful. “The choice to shoot on medium format film was more of a budgetary and practical choice, along with the use of flash; especially in the pictures of my father. The images aren’t staged and they document the process of hospitalisation and the fall out from the surgery, where natural lighting isn’t always available or practical because of the limited time I had with him.”

But, whilst Brian may not have had control of some of the aesthetic variables, he worked within very strict parameters to produce the sense of atmosphere and address key themes. One choice Brian made was to not include images of the Vietnamese landscape and culture, and to instead lean upon American depictions, so as to “more fluidly stitch the pictures together”. This decision, Brian elaborates, is “both to deliberately focus on the space contained by my Dad’s illness and an unconscious play deception of rejection or shame of Asian-ness”. Concluding his thoughts on the series, Brian says that “I don’t think the story is just about my late father, and not explicitly about the process of terminal illness either”. Instead, he finishes, “I see it as the evidence that either leans towards catharsis or entrapment, almost like a divorce proceeding in a way.”



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