Reflecting on Nguan
Nguan is an up-and-coming photographer whose work seems to capture the essence of humanity. If that sentence won’t convince you to look at a few of his pictures and try to come to your own conclusions about them, I don’t know what will.
Nguan was born and raised in Singapore and shoots pictures pretty indiscriminately all around the world, with projects ranging from Shibuya Terminal to Coney Island, Tiananman Square to Los Angeles and back again. His work has appeared in American Photo, Vice, The Daily Mail, Slate, and a host of hugely popular Tumblr blogs that I know and love because I spend too much time on the internet.
I don’t think I want to try to strangle a lot of meaning out of Nguan’s works because—as a person whose interest in photography doesn’t extend to any formal study of its rules or history or what-have-you—I’m not sure I’m qualified to do so, but I have a huge appreciation for all of his photos so I can try to talk about what they mean to me.
I’ve only been getting into photography fairly recently. I’ve always had an appreciation for it but never the equipment necessary to pursue it with any significance. Ink and paper: cheaper, as it turns out, than a dSLR. But I have quite a few friends who I think are very talented for the work they do behind a camera lens, and find the entire enterprise inspiring. To be able to show people what you see when you’re looking at the world in a much less abstract/arbitrary way—without signs and signifiers mucking up the whole ordeal—is incredible. Sometimes I think it’s even a better way to understand how people see the world. And Nguan absolutely has some ideas on how he sees the world.
His work presents a world a lot like ours with a few things highlighted—with muted colors, which is a beautiful irony that I appreciate. The pictures he’s showing us make a world out of the pastels of children’s chalk drawings; he forces a naïve and childish view of the world onto the view through these rose-tinted glasses. Then he shoves the glasses into the skin around your eyes so they bleed.
Through these colors that he captures the world with, somehow he shows how vast it all is and how tiny we are by comparison—how alone we are, how much we are like broken toys. He shows this picture after picture: broken people that don’t seemingly belong in the world they’ve been painted into. But somehow there’s comfort in the idea that all these people he’s photographing seem equally lost, equally as alone, and equally uncomfortable. There’s an incredibly humanistic quality in knowing that the stress, anxiety, discomfort, and loneliness all these people—all of us—are feeling on a daily basis is something we all share together.
Or maybe that’s just me. When I asked Nguan for permission to reprint his photos on the blog, I also asked whether he’d like to give a statement on his photography, he said, “I think I’d rather not make a statement (lest it be held against me).” Why don’t you come up with your own ideas on it?
And if you like what you saw here, you can follow Nguan on Facebook and check out his own website, on which he hosts a blog and a portfolio of his works in a larger size for you to see them. His newest book, How Loneliness Goes looks incredible, and the previous, Shibuya, won the 2011 Photo Book of the Year award from PDN Photo Annual. He also just seems like a pretty cool guy.
Sidenote: This is not what I usually do with this blog, however I’ve embarked on an internship this semester that requires me to do more blogging than I’ve ever done for that blog, and thought it might be well enough put here too. I probably won’t post all the posts I write, but I’ll post the ones I enjoyed most. This is one of them. Thank you, nguanblr.