Jing Huang, born in Guangzhou and now a resident of Shenzhen, China, was just named as the recipient this year’s Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award. His self-selected portfolio of 12 black-and-white fine art images shot with his beloved Leica M4-P were chosen from over 2,000 entries. His favorite image in the group: “The picture of a kitten walking along a fallen tree branch, which makes me imagine a journey to an unknown destination.” A graduate in Photography and Digital Art from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Huang’s provocative and often whimsically surreal images convey a sense of the magical in outwardly ordinary scenes. “Perhaps we all have that sense of magic deep in our hearts,” says Huang prophetically. “All that is necessary to release the passion of this inner magic is a tool which, to me, is a camera.” What follows is the underlying story of that passion expressed by Jing Huang.
Q: You mention that you see the world from “an Oriental point of view” and your photographs, especially those of plant life, do seem to have an Asian sensibility. Do you think you have been influenced by traditional Chinese art and can you say something more about how your culture speaks through your images?
A: Absolutely I am much inspired by our own culture heritage, both philosophy and arts. Chinese express emotions through metaphor. That is a very common syntax for Chinese poetry. I like this implicit way of story telling.
Q: The portfolio of your work that we have seen is all in black-and-white. Why do you choose this medium and what is your favorite film? Do you make traditional chemically-based prints or scan your work and print digitally?
A: I am a film grain maniac. Grain gives you feeling of reality. My favorite film is Ilford HP5. Unfortunately, I use more Fujifilm Neopan 400 due to the increasing price of HP5. I do both traditional prints and digital prints. The chemical print is an art that you can feel and touch, while you definitely need digital images to share over internet.
Q: It is evident that you are an artist with a camera. Can you tell us something about your mission,or about what you are generally trying to achieve with your photographs.
A: Photography is a way of proclaiming my truth to the world or a means of expression. I was an dumb boy before I started photography. Now I have a window to see the world through and to be seen.
Q:. Precisely composed images appear to be a hallmark of your work. How do you think your Leica M4-P helps you achieve this and what characteristics does the Leica have that are especially useful in your work?
A: I love taking picture at wide apertures. The rangefinder camera allows me to continue observing the subject up to and even during the release of the shutter. You never miss an opportunity. That is something the SLR cannot offer.
Q: We note that your three Leica M lenses are all wide-angles. Which one is your favorite, and does your 35mm f/3.5 Summaron have different imaging characteristics from the 35mm f/2 Summicron? Do you think that Leica lenses have a special character or quality that makes them different from other lenses you have used?
A. I used to have many other Leica lenses, but I retain these as the ultimate trio. I mostly use the 35mm for city scenes and sometimes the 28mm for a wider view when I’m near the seashore. The performance of the f/3.5 Summaron and the f/2.0 Summicron are so close that you cannot really tell the difference from a casual observation of the images. Yet the f/3.5 lens is an older, slower lens, that forces me to work more slowly. This is actually an advantage because slowing down my pace often leads to more careful observation.
Q. Do you have any thoughts on transitioning from your classic Leica M4-P to the digital M9? Do you have any ideas on how you will explore the digital realm? Do you intend to shoot in color as well as black-and-white with your new M9 and do you intent to continue shooting on film as well as digitally?
A: I am longing to see the difference. At this point I still haven’t had a chance to use the Leica M9. Moving into digital will undoubtedly be an interesting and extended journey from one end to another. I feel there must be a lot to learn and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fun during the transition. Since the design and form factor of the M9 is essentially the same as that of a 35mm Leica M, I guess I can adapt myself easily to the camera. I assume I’ll also be doing more with color photography at that time.
Q: Can you tell us something about which Magnum photographers and other master photographers inspired you? Do you think any of them had a direct influence on the kind of pictures you shoot?
A: I was definitely inspired by Klavdij Sluban who held his exhibition in Guangzhou in 2005. Subsequently, I learned about Josef Koudelka, ZhaoTang Zhang, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Yamamoto Masao, Robert Frank and Araki, all of whom influence my work in subtle ways. TS Tang is a very important mentor photographer to me.
Q: It is understandable that you want to “extend the winning series” of images that earned you the Oscar Barnack Newcomer Award, but how do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next five years. Are there any other subjects or genres of photography you would like to explore?
A: Photography is a way to tell one’s own story. As life goes on, I would expect more interesting things to happen that will inspire me to take pictures. The first series represents a transition from being a student to becoming a recent graduate and then venturing out into the commercial world. I expect that the next series will evolve and extend into a deeper understanding of our society.
Q: Are you now, or are you considering becoming, a full-time professional photographer who earns his livelihood with his camera and, if so, what kinds of work other than fine art imaging do you see yourself creating?
A: It won’t be easy to make a decent living out of photography in my country since I am not an expert in commercial photography. Selling my recent work cannot earn me enough money to survive. I have thought about becoming a teacher so that I can have adequate time and money to support my unfinished photography work. If I am going to continue my studies, I guess I will have to find my place abroad.
Q: Have you ever considered acquiring any other lenses for your Leica M cameras, such as a classic 50mm lens or a 75mm or 90mm moderate telephoto?
A: I have owned a few 50mm lenses before, but I found them less comfortable when using a Leica with a 0.72XZ viewfinder. I have thought of acquiring an old M3 or a current Leica with a 0.85X viewfinder specifically for use with the 50mm lens, but somehow I have never fulfilled that plan. To me, the beauty of Leica is found with lenses of 50mm or shorter. I have never tried a 75mm or 90mm.
Q: How do you see the role of a photographic artist in society? What is your relationship with the people who view your pictures, and is there anything else you trying to communicate to them other than your personal vision of the world?
A: Photography is a very important medium nowadays and it is also a unique form of art. Taking photographs is now very easy in this digital era, yet a fine and compelling photo is still not easy to produce. It seems that the more you shoot, the less you observe and think. These days photography is like a religion to me. We have a very large photo circle on the Internet with people of all occupations and skill levels participating. Beside this winning series, I have another series called “schoolmates” which has not been shown to others except, of course, my real schoolmates. This series records our four years together in school. We all cried when the series was exhibited at our graduation. That is the magic of photography — every single shot tells a story of life, a real story, that conveys some essential moments in a real life.
-Leica Internet Team