For photographer Ka-Man Tse, her creative process begins with an examination of the tension between “longing and belonging, place and placelessness.” As a queer, Asian-American woman, her work addresses themes of a hybridised identity; “being more than one thing”. Through the medium of photography, Ka-Man captures stories and scenes through a queer lens. She documents delicate and intimate moments, not only of lovers but of platonic homosocial relationships.
“Through my photography, I am asking questions of home, community and family that are inherited or chosen”, Ka-man tells It’s Nice That. “What does it mean to look? Who gets to do the looking, and what does it mean to be seen?” Her beautifully-composed images explore the notions of margin, whether that be in a social circumstance or through the metaphorical depiction of haphazard telephone wires crisscrossing the dusky backdrop of Hong Kong. By considering notions of “the margin”, Ka-Man asks: “Whose histories are told or centred, and who is made invisible? In these liminal spaces, my camera allows me to centre and reshape these narratives.”
Ka-Man’s work is nuanced and negotiable. It captures an intersectional viewpoint from an Asian Pacific Islander and also from the LGBTQ+ community. While her photographic intentions hang from this liminal space, this concept of “in-betweenness” can also be seen in the fragile moments of “potentiality” that Ka-Man photographs. The images are “made in private and public spaces, out of a need to occupy and hold the landscape, space, and frame. To establish a sense of personal space and agency where it is often contested and contingent”, explains the photographer.
She uses a large format camera as a resist to the efficiency of the modern world. Through using this rather time-consuming method of photography, Ka-Man deploys a more mindful way of “working, making and seeing.” Her carefully considered working methods contribute to the intimacy of her portraiture, which focusses on “those who are often marginalised. They are seen taking care of their city, each other, and their own communities that they have built.”
Many of Ka-Man’s photographs take place in Hong Kong. Known for its capitalist finance districts and cramped living quarters, the city can be a difficult place to roam around freely as a queer person. “There are not a lot of safe spaces in Hong Kong, or in the US, or in this world, for queer people and for queer folks of colour”, says Ka-Man. “To open a dialogue or a conversation around queerness, around our heritage or ethnicity or race is sometimes so difficult – in spaces outside, or even in homes or households.” The heavily charged city is an ideal setting for Ka-Man’s photography. As a post-colonial Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong itself lies between two convoluted systems of power; wrestling between Beijing’s pseudo-communist rule and its British colonial past.
“If you are living in an intergenerational household with your family, that may also be a contested space”, says Ka-Man. In one image, Untitled, Ka-Man documents a member of Hong Kong’s LGBTQ+ community, changing in the stairwell. “He identifies as he/him/his and wears gender non-conforming clothing”, explains the photographer. “He is out to his parents but in order to avoid regular conflict, he changes in the stairwell in the housing complex. We made this photograph together to talk about these interstitial spaces and this gesture.”
The image is one of 84 photographs published in the book, narrow distances by Candor Arts. It also features accompanying essays, poetry and texts in English and Chinese, as well as an interview with Ka-Man by Elle Pérez. Essentially, Ka-Man’s photography sees queer people of colour in the public realm as well as in their own homes. “How does one navigate public spaces – a space where we don’t necessarily feel welcome or feel safe to be seen and recognised?” questions Ka-Man. “That is why it is so important for me to make photographs in the public realm, to hold these spaces, to actually take up the space! These gestures are so important, whether they are clear or coded.”
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