Festival: Look Photo opens in Liverpool this weekend

Liverpool – home of The Beatles, a passion for football and the unforgettable Scouse accent; Hong Kong – one of the world’s key financial centres, towering skyline, exotic cuisine and ongoing violations of human rights. It might seem unlikely, but there are parallels to be drawn.
Both are historically part of the British Empire and both brazen a rich maritime past with large trading ports still used today – perhaps one reason why the northwest England metropolitan borough is home to the oldest Chinatown in Europe and some 10,000 Chinese residents. It comes as no surprise, then, that Liverpool’s biennial International Photography Festival, curated by Hong Kong-based Ying Kwok, hones in on this complex, age-old relationship for its upcoming edition – which opens on 07 April.
Sarah Fisher, the executive director of the Open Eye Gallery, the central venue for a number of specially-commissioned exhibitions at the festival, explains that today’s 10,000 residents are a fusion of two communities – the second and third generation Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong, “whose parents established Chinatown”, and those who have come over to study and set up businesses.
Together they create a population which is “future-focused, affluent and with a sense of global opportunity”, she told BJP in for an article originally published in our April issue. But she adds: “We are equally interested in our past connections and the future-facing perspective. In particular we are interested in what we can learn from China.”
Under the theme Cities of Exchange, the festival will focus on urbanism in the two cities, and the local and global challenges within them. Photographers from both Liverpool and China have been invited to interpret the other city from an outside perspective, to explore their shared experiences, and and to think how they might be organically connected today. “We learn via exchange,” says Fisher.
Xuan Yihao waiting as a substitute for his team: Computer Science FC at Liverpool University © Yan Wang Preston
Xuan Yihao waiting as a substitute for his team: Computer Science FC at Liverpool University © Yan Wang Preston
“The anthropologist Daniel Miller has stated that photography is as important as written text or oral histories in understanding our world. We need to embrace photography’s central role – great photography reveals perspectives, nuances and ideas developed by artists but relating to the world and human condition.”
One of the commissioned artists, whose work will show at Liverpool ONE, is British-Chinese artist Yan Preston. The Yorkshire-based photographer captures portraits of individuals in the growing Chinese community, particularly those belonging to the “transient student population”, and considers how they have adapted to western contemporary culture on arriving in the city to create “the modern China in Liverpool”.
Equally influenced by city life and social evolution is Luke Ching, who takes the Tobacco Warehouse in Liverpool as his subject, and captures its eerie reflection by turning a room in the Titanic Hotel opposite into a pinhole camera. His work-in-progress will be prominently exhibited at the Open Eye.
“We are particularly focusing on Luke Ching’s pinhole installation, and envision it as grid-like forms on the gallery walls,” says Fisher. “Luke is interested in including objects from the room at Titanic Hotel to have a presence within the gallery space.”  The passage of time, both of Ching’s method and of the permanent versus temporary state of the buildings he documents, is crucial here.
Also showing her work at the Open Eye is Wong Wo Bik – a photographer and mixed media artist who is little known in Europe but very successful back home in Hong Kong. Her work delves into the history of a building or place, particularly those that have a cultural significance in her home city.
“Wo Bik has had a fascination with colonial architecture in Hong Kong which sheds a different light on our past,” says Fisher. “In Hong Kong many historic buildings have disappeared to make way for modern buildings that are, frankly, more profitable.”
1/F 17 Fung Yi Street, To Kwa Wan, KL, Hong Kong (Door, Wall, Window), 2001 © Luke Ching
1/F 17 Fung Yi Street, To Kwa Wan, KL, Hong Kong (Door, Wall, Window), 2001 © Luke Ching
Derek Man is also originally from Hong Kong but he has spent the last six years in London – one of many who have moved away, in part due to Hong Kong’s skyrocketing housing prices. He travels back to China to look at the city’s diverse social construction developments and talk to people about what home means to them.
“Hong Kong knows how to do high-rise living – and they have to deal with very severe space restrictions,” Fisher explain. “We want to see how he will reflect the changes that have occurred since he was last in Hong Kong and how his perspective may differ to that of other artists we are working with, who are from Hong Kong and there based. Derek is building on an existing body of work, exploring changes in how people are living in a densely populated environment.”
The festival, which celebrates its tenth year this year, last for four weeks until 14 May, and also incorporates a Fringe programme of work by students at Hugh Baird College, as well as a series of talks and workshops. Working closely with Open Eye this year, LOOK hopes to develop a four year planning cycle to “enable real exchange and learning with one other country,” says Fisher.
“The world is shifting east, something we in the UK are aware of in general terms, but it still feels vague in relation to our western centric media, art and cultural world.”
Curator Ying Kwok writes: “We are living in a shifting world that changes and where interactions take place on a daily basis. I believe artists play an important role in inventing their own universe, and re-inject the liveliness into the world we live in. They respond to the world and bring our attention to particular subject matters that are worth thinking through.”
lookphotofestival.com This article was originally published in BJP’s April issue, which can be bought via the thebjpshop.com
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy