Explore Muge’s unique approach to large format photography based on ancient Chinese philosophy

The acclaimed Chinese photographer talks us through his ongoing series informed by the philosopher and writer Lao Tze’s “theory of nature".

23 March 2020

“To me, photography is the act of creating images. But what I care about, are the images that remain after shooting.” These are the words of Muge, a Chinese photographer currently based in Chengdu where his eponymous gallery, Muge Gallery, also resides. Named one of the most notable photographers born in the 70s by the Japanese magazine IMA, Muge is drawn to the more subtle of images. “Images I like can be very simple – a simple object or a trace of nature,” he tells It’s Nice That. “While simplicity can lead to complexity, I think they are all very beautiful.”

An artistic philosophy is showcased throughout the established photographer’s practice, perhaps most notably in his magnum opus Go Home. Starting off in 2005, he began the project documenting the drastically changing landscape of his hometown, Chongqing. The area underwent years of rapid development starting out with the construction of the The Three Gorges Dam. Ever since, Muge has observed the situation along the Yangtze River with his thoughtful camera lens by his side. It allowed him to reflect on fleeting childhood memories, which are in turn, imbued throughout the series in the subtext of the still black and white compositions.

“Chongqing seems increasingly unfamiliar to me now because of the rapid development in China,” Muge continues. “As the villages, towns and cities near the Three Gorges were taken down and rebuilt in different locations, the lifestyle we had been familiar with was broken down.” Where he documents a changing landscape from the natural to the urban in Go Home, alternatively, Muge contemplates the metaphors of nature in his recent publication Ash. Created in collaboration with Zen Foto Gallery and designed and edited by Amanda Lo, the beautifully formed document marks the first release of Muge’s studio, Mugetang Art Space.


Muge: Ash

Here, he ponders the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tze’s “theory of nature,” approaching scenes, objects or places from the perspective of an insider and not as an observer. The pared-back book of large format photographs is separated into three sections; “Ash”, “Shan Shui” and “Scenery”. On one hand, the still life section “presents things in our lives just the way they are,” while “Shan Shui reflects my thoughts towards this reality,” explains Muge. The Scenery section, on the other hand, represents traces of nature, echoing the Lao Tze’s idea of: “Do nothing and leave nothing undone.”

Following this philosophical train of thought, Muge hopes the viewer will see beyond what is presented in the image’s composition, and instead, “become receptive to their own feelings when they look into the images.” Rather than reflecting his own identity in the artworks, Muge is more interested in how different people from different places in the world will interpret the images in their own subjective way. It’s an intention carried throughout the design of the refined publication, avoiding the usual curation of images that follow a logical reasoning. Made in close collaboration between the photographer and Amanda Lo, the book’s design emphasises how “the images are more abundant than our logical values.” Muge goes on to say: “It is my greatest wish that my readers can look at the book in their very own perspective and grasp hold of their true feelings inside their heart.”

The ongoing series allows Muge to constantly assess his relationship between the external world and his feelings towards it. For the poignant photographer, the body of work is “not just another project,” it is part of his life work to slowly become more receptive to his own feelings. When considering a composition to capture, he asks himself whether the particular subject exists in the way it originally is. And if it is, then that is exactly what Muge wants for his images. In this vein, not only does photography offer up a platform to express himself, “it teaches me to love the world, because in doing so, the world will give you a lot in return.”

GalleryMuge: Ash

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Muge: Ash

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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