Long Chin San's Photographic Painting

"Photography should take us on a journey within. Good images should allow us to tap into our imagination and see beyond the subject to a meaning that is ours alone, a personal impression or feeling"

I have a large collection of photographic books at home. So many in fact, that until recently, they had extended beyond the book shelves and were taking up space on my studio floor. I've tidied them up and done a bit of autumn (it's coming!) cleaning, to give my book collection the space it deserves.

One book that I've revisited this month is a small publication from China about the photographer Long Chin San. I thought I would share with you some of the images from this book. These were made in the 1950's, and I just love them. 

Long chin San took objects such as flattened flowers, leaves and twigs and placed them onto photographic paper, exposing them to light to create these innovative photographs. He called these works 'photographic paintings'.

I'm not a verbatim photographer. I don't see photography as a means to capture what was there, but instead, as a means to give an interpretation. I think we are still very much at the emerging stage of photography: it is going to evolve and change so much over the coming century that to think of it only as a means for recording real pictures is to limit its application and potential.


I believe the past often gives us clues and hints as to where we are going in the future. With this in mind, photography has always been an experimental medium and photographers have always manipulated their work since the first images were recorded. We all know that Ansel Adams greatly manipulated his prints and that they were often a radical departure from the initial negative. Manipulation and specifically interpretation of a scene are nothing new and this knowledge, and acceptance of photography as a creative medium, not just as a way of recording the real world is vital in letting the medium evolve.

Thus, looking at these beautiful 'photographic paintings', I see not only beauty, but great potential for the future. There is always room for exploration.

I know that influences come from many sources and I'm touched to think that perhaps my most recent Icelandic 'minimalist' images are derived from looking at these photographic paintings of Long Chin San's. I've never been much interested in the verbatim aspects of photography. I'm much more interested in creating a new reality, or a vision of one. I'm more  'art' than 'verbatim', and that's why I find these images of Long Chin San so appealing.

Photography should take us on a journey within. Good images should allow us to tap into our imagination and see beyond the subject to a meaning that is ours alone, a personal impression or feeling.

In these photographic paintings of Long Chin San's, I can't help feel he has conjured up beautiful compositions that would be most difficult to find in real life: because real life is never this perfect. And yet, when we look at landscapes, I think this is what we do: we try to distill them into some kind of order, some kind of sense of arrangement that pleases us, and makes us feel good. That is why the paintings of Hokusai for instance resonate with me: the great wave off  Kanagawa is perfect: everything is in place, as it should be. One would hope in our photography that we can reach such idealistic compositions.

I love these 'photographic paintings'. I'm convinced they have been instrumental in my own photographic development. I find them very beautifully composed and very pleasing and I think I often aim to simulate this level of beauty in my own work.

The book by the way, is called:

'Landscape on Negatives,
A special exhibition of Long Chin-San's Photographs Works',

Published by Cultural Relics Press, 2012.