馮君藍 Stanley Fung

Photographing the Souls of Mankind  / By: Yuan Yi-zhong, Dust Icons / From "Life Monthly", Sept. 2011 edition

A student that I had not seen for a long time contacted me one day and said that he wanted to get together with me and a few of his classmates to reminisce about old times.  The gathering place was set as the cafe next to Museum of Contemporary Art.  On the day of the gathering, I arrived on time.  There was only one student who arrived earlier than me, and that was Fung Chun-lan.  His appearance had always left me with more of an impression than his works.  Twenty-one years ago when he first enrolled in my class, he had long hair up to his shoulders and wore a simple shirt and cotton pants.  Put those onto a skinny body with poor skin color and one would think he had been starving.  Although he was not yet thirty at that time, he did indeed look older than he was by a few decades.  After so many years, age had clearly left their marks on me and other students.  However, he not only looked the same as he had back then, he actually looked younger than his actual age of fifty.  Six years since he left my class, he had went to study at the Theological College & Seminary for seven years, been ordained to the priesthood seven years ago, and become a full-time preacher.  That year in the classroom, he was a shy student who rarely spoke, and just liked to listen quietly.  In darkroom drills on magnification techniques, he was also silent, but put much heart into the exercises.  When there would be many people, he was often the one most easily overlooked.  That held true for this gathering as well.Before it concluded, Fung stated, “I have eight works that are being exhibited in a joint exhibition next door.  I am wondering if teacher could go over and provide me with some guidance.”

I had often passed by Museum of Contemporary Art, but I never actually stepped into its exhibition space. I had always been confused by the new creative approaches of the mainstream. That was an easily overlooked section of the corridor.  There were old-fashioned wood-framed windows on one side and an old plaster wall on the other.  On both sides, there each hung four paintings that were one meter in length.  There was no extra space.  In the photos, the eight pairs of bright eyes that seemed to look directly into the mind and soul immediately put me into a state of awe.  They were no longer pictures, but portraits of souls. Over all these years, these were amongst the most in-depth works I had seen in the Chinese community.  Originally, this exhibition space did not seem appropriate to hang anything.  However, Fung’s work overcame these obstacles.  Each of the faces in his photographs conveyed many things - childlike innocence, purity of spirit, the shackles of fate, the confusion of exploration, a desire for salvation, a clear repentance, and beliefs of the faithful. The models in the photo are Fung’s friends from church, and all dressed in outfits related to stories from the Bible.  The photography was shot at a rented studio above the church.  The people in the works reveal the photographer’s complete trust.  Under his guidance, each of their spirits is naturally formed onto the outside, which coruscates a brilliance that people cannot overlook and attracts their lingering gaze and attention.  The entire conversions within the content of the works allow these dim corridors to become a necessary reinforcement contrast, much like light in darkness, a lotus amongst mud, beauty amidst ugliness, and redemption amongst sin. 

Twenty years have passed, and Fung’s life and art both turn to religion.  He creates figures of Bible characters through the use of a camera.  This touched me deeply.  J.S. Bach once stated, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”  I believe that Feng’s creative process is filled with a spiritual immersion and enlightenment.  With this newly found faith and refuge, his handling of the camera is also able to obtain more depth, which empowers him to capture the figures of the soul.I am very aware of the origin for the depths of Fung’s works.  For him, photography is not only an artistic method for expressing the self, but a way to photograph the souls of mankind.  In the history of portrait photography, Edward Curtis, whose works are mostly those of North American Indians, is without a doubt the foremost pioneer in using photography to capture the soul.  Although he found it difficult not to be influenced by Curtis and his works, Fung still managed to create his own style, which is an amazing feat.  As a pastor, Feng discovered hints of biblical revelations amongst his fellow church members.  From this, he successfully conveyed the magical powers of faith, those that make one feel calm, fulfilled, strong, and satisfied.  These portraits exude a sense of spiritual sublimation, and express that even a humble mortal can also become extraordinary. The strongest characteristics of photography lie in capturing a moment.  Fung’s works seem to do exactly the opposite, and are more like a slow release of the flow of time.  The world is never devoid of confrontations between right and wrong, or a tug of war between good and evil.  Human nature has always hovered between a bestial nature and divinity.  What he captures is actually the process of awakening that occurs when one goes from being lost to being enlightened.  Only with faith can one distinguish between right and wrong.  From Fung’s works, we indeed see a search for redemption.