Interview: Impermanence of Perception

An Interview with Wen Hang Lin by Hon Hoang

Memories have no continuity. They move between the ridges of our consciousness, appearing when stimulated or when least expected. Sub-consciously provoking us to actions and inactions, our memories control us more than we believe them to. The perception of our world is framed by past experiences, yet memories of these experiences are not always reliable.

Photographer Wen Hang Lin captures such distortions and unreliability of memories in his work.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

When I was a senior in high school, the administration decided to start clubs for after school activities. However, we were so busy preparing university entrance exams; no one signed up for any of the clubs. Out of the blue, I was assigned to the photography club by the school. I had no knowledge of photography or even owned a camera.

Fortunately, my teacher gave me my first camera and helped me start my path in photography. Years later, when I had no idea what to do next, I came across Robert Frank’s The Americans. His potent and deeply haunting images inspired me to study photography in the United States. I am also grateful that my parents supported my crazy idea of being an artist.

What is it like to live in Phoenix, Arizona? How do the city and your emotions affect your photography?

It is very hot and has little rain. You can expect 110°F/44°C or higher in the summer with less than a quarter inch of precipitation. Arizona is famous for its vast landscape and the Grand Canyon National Park. There are many famous photographers that are inspired by this unique landscape, such as my former teacher Mark Klett. However, what this wide open landscape really does to me is to help my meditation and distill my thoughts. I often explore different subjects or topics. When I am in doubt, the desert offers me a place to see things clearly.

Has your upbringing in Taiwan affected how you capture and produce your art? Do these memories manifest anyway in your work?

There are two art forms that influence my works, Chinese paintings and movies. One of the key ideas in Chinese painting is the importance of negative space. In my project, that space doubles as mindful emptiness. By leaving traces of subtle detail, it makes the viewer wander and explore.

My work does not show personal experience. On the contrary, it is an abstract and ambiguous space open for interpretation.

Why did you choose photography as your medium to broadcast the unseen?

We want to believe that the camera captures the moment. However, what is the moment? In practice, the moment of any photograph is a fixed length of time corresponding to the camera’s exposure. Do we even wonder about the moment that is not recorded by the camera? My goal is to look beyond the visual spectrum and discover other sides of possibility with the camera.

What draws you to the subjects in your photographs?

To me, the street is a stage. The color and geometric shapes of the shadows are the props. I am patiently waiting for the plot to unfold in between the light and shadows.

Finding a simple background is a key because the distraction will be minimized. A figure is always included for the storytelling element to an abstract scene.

What inspired you to start Silence in Synesthesia?

Before I started the “Silence in Synesthesia” project, I tried to photograph different subjects. Unfortunately, nothing really stands out. I was very frustrated. So, I decided to shift my mind and work on a non-photography project, “9 to 5”, which is a computer recording of my usage of computer mouse during my regular work hours. This project transform time into an abstract illustration. A few years later, when I look back at this project again, the idea of time and moments sparked the beginning of this project.

In this project, you overlap images by rewinding film after it has been exposed, do you have the previous image in mind as you take the next or do you allow the moment to dictate the shutter without remembrance?

I do not have plans or references during the shoot. The main idea of this project is to adapt coincidence as a tool, exploring the possibilities and discovering the unseen. Shooting double-exposure also takes time. Although it contradicts the instant gratification we’re accustomed, it shows the benefit of living in the moment and being observant.

What are your thoughts on memory and perception? How do these beliefs affect your photography?

Even though we can only see what’s immediately in front of us, we have a very detailed memory of the past. However, memory itself is not like a video-recording, with a moment-by-moment sensory image.

In fact, it’s more like a puzzle: we piece together our memories by perception, which is both what we actually remember and what seems most likely given our knowledge. My goal is to peek between the memory and perception through my work and to provide a venue to encourage viewers to perceive themselves in the act of perceiving.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

Do not give up easily. Being an artist is not easy especially when we have many obligations in life. You will not get to where you want to be overnight; however, if you work hard every day, you are one step closer. Run your artistic career as a business and learn every aspect of it. For example, you should know how to write a grant proposal or artist statement, file taxes, understand the copyright law. They are not exciting, but equally important to artists.

Photos Courtesy of Wenhang Lin

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