Kris Vervaeke captures the ghosts of Hong Kong
With Ad Infinitum, photographer Kris Vervaeke creates a serie of images by exploring the cemeteries of Hong Kong. The mortuary portraits of women and men, left in the outdoor, become, for the photographer, still alive representations of the deceased.
Why and how did you get interested by these photos of the deceased left on the graves?
I often find my inspiration on the street. In cities I just wander around. I used to live in Hong Kong. A city with a soul. When searching for Hong Kong landscapes, I stumbled upon these seas of graves with the cityscape in the background. Cemeteries are essential features of Hong Kong’s cultural landscape. They are a symbolic place, powerful and feared. A link to the afterworld. Burial sites are carefully selected in consideration of good feng shui. The only prime property in Hong Kong that is deserted during most of the year. I got attracted to these beautiful eroded memorial portraits and started photographing them. I went back many times. And the project was born.
What were the steps in your photographic process?
The portraits on porcelain show the person in real life. Portraits, personal and often intimate, that were never meant to be used as a memorial. A single image selected to convey a whole life. I isolated the portraits from the headstones on purpose. Out of the context of the cemetery and away from the idea of death. The focus lies on the portrait itself, people in their present. Over time the portraits are exposed to rain, sun and humidity. The portraits become abstract. In the end, we are left with the simple abstract beauty of the image as such. A transition shown in one single portrait. The portrait series exposes both the strength of the individual face and the perishable nature of the individual human body. The fading images reference mortality of human life, and the limitations of our impact. Subconsciously, our interest in the individual fades as the portraits become less clear. It is quietly replaced by our draw to the beauty of the abstract image. We will be remembered only by the children of our children. As the faces fade further, anonymity returns and once again we become part of nature… ad infinitum.
Why did you decided to make a book out of this project?
I had not done any real photobook before. Photobooks are great, you can play with so many different styles, materials, textures, sizes, etc. You can feel and smell it. I had so many portraits. I decided to make something out of it. In a book the portraits come nicely together. It’s book with a simple design with focus on the beautiful portraits or what remains. The black (color of death in our culture) cover turns gradually into white (color of death in Asia) for the back cover. I self-published the book and was really happy that it got nominated for the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First PhotoBook Awards.
Any future projects?
Currently I’m finishing a project called ‘98 objects found in my mother-in-law’s-basement‘. I photograph objects found in people’s basements. A surprising collection of prosthetic devices, dysfunctional tools, tooth brushes, 20-year-old cans of food, old toaster, decapitated toys, to a single shoe. Through these kept items a portrait of an era emerges, everyday objects as a capsule of time of society.
Artist’s website: krisvervaeke.com
© Kris Vervaek. Ad Infinitum series, 2014