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Irene Kung: rational thinking can mislead us, our feelings do not

an interview by Enrico Ratto – translation by Elisa Chisana Hoshi

Irene Kung, your latest project is dedicated to trees, like the title suggests. What brought you to the idea of the Trees book and exposition? 

Trees, especially fruit ones, symbolize productivity, health and fertility: in this time of economic crisis and difficulty, they embody a positive and universal image.

“Stopping to see, feel, think and dream” is the same approach that you adopted for your previous work The Invisible City. Is Trees an ideal continuation of that project, or does it represent more of a disruption?

There is no disruption between the two projects: in their own way, they both depict an element becoming part of an imaginary whole.

What does the word “essential” mean to you?

Essential means to bring the subject back to what I was feeling when shooting it. It means to erase any noise and show that tree or monument exactly the way I was feeling them.

Did your background in advertising and graphic design help you simplify and work on the essential?

It did. In graphic design it is vital to produce a clear message that everybody can understand. I learned how to simplify when I was painting. Picasso once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

All the captions in Trees are not about the places, but about the species of each tree. Once again, your pictures can’t be confined to a place. Does photography take us in a different direction, a place that doesn’t belong to a map?

This is true for my photography. The trees in this project don’t belong to any specific place: the focus is on the many facets of their essence without losing their individuality as a lemon, olive or fig tree. It’s not important to know where they are, but which emotions they convey.

You photographed monuments and even trees that others have shot before. So does it still make sense to say, “I photograph what interests me, I photograph my tree?”

I believe an artist should give the public what it lacks, and so the job of a contemporary artist is to allow people to dream through a positive and intimate message. When I choose my subject to shoot I try to ignite my emotions through them, while trying to reach the souls of whoever is looking at my pictures.

The work on trees inspires more silence than the work on buildings, don’t you think?

Maybe it is because, even if in my photos the buildings appear submerged in the dark, we tend to imagine them in the middle of a city, surrounded by cars, tourists and noise. It is easier to access our emotions while looking at a tree that we naturally associate with a wood, with nature. Also, the building would not exist without humanity, unlike the trees.

Let’s now talk about image manipulation. Frank Horvat, a great author and digital pioneer, told us that for him the postproduction is an opportunity not to correct per se, but to get what originally interested him when he was taking that picture. Do you recognize yourself in that?

Yes, absolutely. Like I said, I try to bring the subject back to exactly what I was feeling when shooting it. The postproduction helps me in that matter.

Your prints reignite the old debate about photography and painting. Do you thing about painting when you shoot or work on a picture?

Sure. I started as a painter and for me the camera is merely a tool to create images. When I work on photography I concentrate on the light with a very pictorial approach.

At what point do you stop shooting and furthermore, when do you stop working on an image?

When I’m satisfied with what I feel. It happens instantly with some pictures, but it can take months or even years with some others.

The strictness, the rules and guidelines of your projects are very evident. Have you ever feel limited by your own rules?

Having worked so much on monuments I felt the need to change, so I started the project Trees. Protecting the passion I feel towards my work is very important to me, I would not hesitate to find new challenges the day I feel that limitation.

Is dreaming just as important as real life?

Dreaming is a fundamental part of reality, it is intuition and irrationality. Rational thinking can mislead us, our feelings do not.