The art of being flexible – Michael Chiu

Michael’s photography, whether it’s shot in colour or black and white, is characterised by stark contrasts, bleakness and a strong sense of alienation or solitude. This is both ironic and fitting, as most of the photography portrays people in busy cities – a place where you technically never are alone, but possibly very lonely.

The people in Michael’s photography are often obscured in some way – fences, glass, a turned back or some other barrier. Only a few of his photos show any kind of crowds or busyness – mostly his subjects inhabit a near-deserted urban landscape.

Somewhat surprising then, is Michael’s other area of interest: portrait photography. But despite his somewhat desolate urban photography, his portraits can be lively and energetic, showing people’s unique features and personality.

”Sometimes it is difficult for me to figure out whether I should photograph the essence of that person, or whether I should look for the side of the person that no one has seen before. It is quite difficult to strike a balance for me, and I am always learning from failing and re-doing.”

Michael’s interest in portrait photography has landed him a number of fashion-related and other commercial opportunities and he does recognise the work side of his skill.

”For me, photography pays my bills. Seriously. I work as a photographer and it pays the bills (though sometimes it doesn’t…). I am never really a Fine Arts Photographer… I am not that good with working around a concept and developing it into a piece of art. When you work as a photographer, you need to be flexible, you need to show your client what you can do and fulfil the brief,” he says, laughing. But more than that, photography to me is also entertainment.”

When asked if he thinks he is concentrating on fashion, Michael disagrees. ”I am still figuring out what kind of a photographer I want to be. The world of fashion is fascinating for me, I get to see a lot of crazy people doing all sort of crazy creative work, but I guess I need a lot of training and practice before I can say ‘I get it.’ Perhaps I shouldn’t really set myself to be only one kind of a photographer (i.e. Fashion Photographer, Still Life, Architecture…). I’m merely a photographer that loves shooting different people.”

Though he recognises the recent civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong as ”a wake up call for everyone, from this moment on, that things will not be the same,” he has not been documenting it very actively.

”I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable when they are getting photographed (after all, [the protest is] illegal), so I tried to avoid taking headshots or close-ups of people. I don’t have enough time to follow the whole thing as close as I want to – I only went there for a small amount of time. Also, I am never really comfortable of taking photos in a protest.”

Michael’s plans for the future are not crystal clear. Continuing the ”Dystopian Dream” project is up next, but beyond that is unknown. As Michael says: ”I have given up on planning my future since late 1989.”

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