Beyond the Skin of Symbolic Currency:The Photographic Sutras of Stephen Cheung

by Blues Wong Kai Yu

Like other metropolitan cities in the world, Hong Kong could not escape from the demerits of hyper growth - the mass consumption behavior and fast pace of city life under the spell of economic progress provide the urban landscape contesting grounds of symbolic battles. Our city is movie towards the stage of "the society of the spectacle" (a term coined by the French Situationist, Guy Debord in the 60's) where different levels and categorization of signs adjoining into a contrasting or contradictory matrix and provides a paradoxical collation of visual rhetoric into the city's symbolic phantasmagoria.

As a professional photographer for almost two decades, Stephen Cheung can be coined as a guru in handling demanding advertising assignments and is keen to understand the rules of the symbolic game. Unlike the younger generation whom are plain receptors and consumers of commercial images, Stephen Cheung's personal photographic works have shown to us bold, confident and ethical statements with his selected objects (flowers, butterflies or images of death etc.). His high intensity of social consciousness and awareness is a clear distinct from other local photographers.

Apart from self satisfaction Stephen's sole belief in visual creativity have triggered a sense of illumination to himself as a living being. Highly influenced by the photographic work of Czech's Josef Sudek, Stephen's still life photographs are a repertoire of visual drama forfeiting the skin properties of commercial symbolic currencies. Through the juxtaposition of flowers and light paintings he aimed to represent the fleeting moments of our life; through rough textures and vivid shadows the photographer wishes to preserve the dying earth with a caring heat. His recent concern with the situation of illegal immigrants from mainland China pushes Stephen further to the abstraction of forms and colors (especially in "Butterfly 2000"); the aura of his latest works is a rethinking of Chinese art theory of perspective, color and composition. In sum, the moralistic and aesthetic dimension of Cheung's work presents the viewers a 'Gift' for living and loving of our planet. In an interview Cheung told me his plan of making wood sculptures and treat them as possible props; his endeavor in the relationship between the tactile world and the photographic lens is a key to "paramita", a Buddhism mindful site where nirvana took place. This level of visual cognition in my opinion is a bleeding ground for the rekindling of the voice of the photographic image into absolute 'silence'