MA Course Jan-Apr 2017

This is the third time I’m running this MA course called “Special Topics in Genre Studies”, one of those umbrella course titles which allow us to teach a variety of topics.

The class is subtitled “Writing, Photography and Blogging”. In it, we explore topics to do with autoethnography, street photography, as well as social media.

The course is basically an occasion for students to explore various Hong Kong micro cultures that intrigue them through the mediums of street photography, reflective writing and blogging.

I’ve blogged about how we have to work through a number of readings concerning thick description, autoethnography, etc, in an earlier run of the course here.

We’re currently into the second week of student presentations.

There’s still one more week to go but so far, things have been great. I’m actually learning so much.

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Group 1 is working on hongkongkidz. There was a comment made concerning kids’ behaviour on public transport, on how children basically tend to play little games with themselves, hence turning urban transport spaces into playgrounds of sorts. Thus for children, to be on public transport is to be on a journey of sorts, in contrast to adults, to whom public transport is about the daily commute. Another person from the group focused on education. A point was made concerning the rather Panoptic surveillance technology in the classroom – the teacher could actually see on his own screen what individual students were looking at on their monitors. Another person talked about the phenomenon of “Monster parents” and “Kong kids”, concerning how over-protective parents are creating a generation of emotionally dependent children.

Group 2 is working on the theme of leading a slow-paced life in fast-paced Hong Kong. A point has been made concerning how clocks are everywhere in public spaces, on how speed is a disease. Their photographs represent a search for spaces where time seems to slow down. They made connections with the slow food movement, pointing out how the practice of yumcha is actually a deliberate slowing down of the pace of life.

Group 3 focuses on the colour red. There is a degree of randomness here, in that they went about taking pictures of red objects in public spaces. A point has been made concerning how the arbitrary act of paying attention to the colour has enabled one of them to notice objects that posit various cultural narratives that she would otherwise miss. Another presenter made a point concerning how traditional Chinese products make use of red as a cultural marker of nostalgia.

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Group 4 is working on hkpsychogeography. A point has been made concerning how Hong Kong’s public spaces have an excessive tendency to make themselves legible through signboards. This in inevitable especially given Hong Kong’s population density. We simply cannot afford have large groups of people getting lost and wandering about. There’s irony involved when one sees bills on walls warning against posting bills on walls.  One of the presenters noted how makeshift political statements are often pasted on various signboards, hence making the political will of Hong Kong people legible.

Group 5 indulged their curiosity concerning horseracing in Hong Kong. They made a point concerning social stratification at the horse races, about how the social elites are in the booths whereas the general public are in the bleachers. This in turn led to a comment concerning how the same thing happened at the theater in Shakespeare’s time. A point has been made concerning how a vice becomes civilized via ticketing procedures and protocols. The presentation got me thinking about the possible analogies to be made concerning picking horses vs picking stocks. Perhaps the various life choices we make, such as picking a course of study, our careers, etc, are subject to the same sort of rational calculations in a world that is sometimes arbitrary/random.

There are still 2 more groups who will present next week. One project concerns transportation culture while the other has to do with boundaries in urban spaces.



Street Market and Printing

Though all the images here are created with film cameras, they are of course scanned from negatives and ultimately, on display here are digitised images on a computer monitor.

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I’ve been experimenting with colours lately, having bought a dedicated pigment ink photo printer and various Ilford and Harman papers.

It really does make a difference whether the image is printed on glossy or on matte, etc. And of course, I am going to frame them up, now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on photo-safe tape.

Images like the one below work on both matte and gloss. On matte, there is a gritty look which fits in with the grungy seat-of-the-pants attitude of street photography.

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A colleague who used to paint commented that the matte print looks more like a painting than a photograph. He said there’s a Caravaggio framed-by-darkness quality to it.

On the other hand, the glossy print has what I think of as a “Nirvana in Carnegie Hall” effect… a refined “fine art” treatment to street photography.

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I suppose glossy is good for portraying drama in ordinary scenes.

And now that I’ve got all of these, I’m now thinking of what I should do next. Where is this taking me?

Direction 1: Teaching and Research

A fascination with photography (and film cameras, I must admit) is now changing the way I work. I find myself making connections between photography and creative writing, between the history of art and literary history. Is there a homology between creative writers and photographers?

What would a university course on the connections between photography and literature look like?

I am now thinking of creating a course that is practice-based, one that encourages students to go out and explore HK culture using literary and non-literary writing and photography, and getting them to think about what constitutes valuable cultural knowledge.

I’ll probably throw social media (such as a WordPress blog like this) into the mix, getting them to think about the use of social media for sharing one’s work. And what is meant by “sharing”? What, really, is being shared? And what is “work”?

Direction 2:

This has all to do with the situation of one’s work, I suppose. Digital images live in one’s hard disks or are displayed on sites like this. Now that I have the physical prints on hand, perhaps the next step is to work towards a gallery exhibition.

It’s a kind of curating, I suppose, setting up one’s work for viewing …

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What kind of logistics and various other considerations would this involve? There’s a learning curve ahead of me …

What is becoming clear to me now though, is that this blog is like a thinking-in-progress technology, a depository of raw ideas… much like a building under construction …

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Thanks for reading.