LEE KA SINGThe chair with blue sky as backdrop, 1989, instant film, 14.6 × 10.3 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong. 

A Permanent Instant: Instant Photography

Blindspot Gallery
Hong Kong

During the early 1970s, the pocket-sized Polaroid camera was introduced to the mass market, making instant photography ubiquitous in popular culture. It particularly gained support from artists such as Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and David Hockney, and also from the fashion and film industries, who used it as a creative medium. While instant film was attractive in the immediacy of its image delivery, it also drew users for its ability to produce a unique photograph. As a result, the trend of instant photography that began in the United States and Europe spread to Asia, and it is this juncture in Hong Kong’s photographic history that is spotlighted in Blindspot Gallery’s latest exhibition, “A Permanent Instant: Instant Photography from 1980s–2000s by Hong Kong Artists.” Inspired by their Western predecessors, the ten Hong Kong artists featured in the show adapted this low-tech medium not only to capture everyday glimpses of life, but also to use instant film as the foundation for artistic experimentation.  

A surrealistic undertone carries through in Toronto-based Lee Ka Sing’s rectangular-format photographs, such as Objects in front of a piece of Indonesian batik (1986), where a stack of consumer-goods boxes are enclosed by a monumental metal cage, luring the attention of five miniature figures that surround it. The scene is set against a textiled backdrop that is contrasted with a royal blue sky. Similarly, in The chair with blue sky as backdrop (1989), a solitary chair rests on a floor of wrinkled sheets. The photograph is capturing the moment when a red draping fabric billows in the background. Lee’s staged photographs not only capture differing scale and textures, but also alludes to the way commercial photographers use instant film to test shoot, in order to check lighting and other visual effects beforehand.


BLUES WONGRaise the Red Lantern, 1995, instant film, set of 5 panels: 27 × 27 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Nearby, Blues Wong pushes the instant film medium by playing with its format, creating a running narrative through the work Raise the Red Lantern (1995), which is composed of five square panels that are each made up of nine polaroids showing several repeating scenes. Inspired by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s internationally praised 1991 movie of the same name, Wong’s photographic adaptation mimicks the filmmaker’s cinematic style, using bold, saturated colors and Chinese ancestral props. The emotively arranged collages, with deliberately blurry images, create a psychological agitation that expresses Wong’s political apprehension during the leadup to Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.

While Wong displays insecurities in Hong Kong’s identity under the sovereignty of China, Almond Chu takes a more personal approach in his “Self Portraits” series (1984–90). The latter is distinctively different from his more recent, large-scale conceptual photographic works that speak to social issues, which capture the artist’s moments of introspection as a dazed youth. Scribbled and scratched on the polaroids, multiple emulsion manipulations convey Chu’s struggles with identity. In Self Portrait No.3 (1990), Chu’s half distorted face appears to be partially dissolving, bearing the chaotic state of the artist in his late 20s. Similar manipulative techniques are seen in Joseph Fung’s series “Airbrush Room” (1989), a collection of abstract imagery that portray different perspectives of a room creating the “hybrid mixture of photography and painting.” By sketching directly onto the polaroid before it is fully developed, the marks come together creating a unique liquified effect. Fung explains that these techniques allow “possibility of reconsideration” and alternative meanings toward the photographic material. These postproduction features in film photography cultivated the spirit of experimental imaginations before the invention of photoshop and lens filters that we are accustomed to today.


BLUES WONGRaise the Red Lantern (detail), 1995, instant film, panel 2 of 5, 27 × 27 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong. 

ALMOND CHUSelf Portrait No.3, 1990, instant film, 10.7 × 8.8 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong. 

JOSEPH FUNG, “Airbrush Room”, 1989, instant film, set of 4: 10.7 × 8.8 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong. 

“A Permanent Instant” reveals over two decades of instant photography in Hong Kong. Praising the legacy of the medium, the show addressed the value and importance of photographic print. In the golden age of multimedia technology, it is no longer necessary to possess actual prints, as limitless snapshots can be easily captured and accessible via hand-held devices. These polaroids at Blindspot Gallery hark back to a bygone era and urges visitors to feel the weight of the less-recognized format. As a part of photography’s evolution, instant film holds an irreplaceable status and is one worthy of being preserved.

“A Permanent Instant” is on view at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, until April 23, 2016.