Gabriel Geng, New York, NY
So we’re going to start with the difficult question: sum up your creative process in one word/phrase, and explain why!
Question. The whole process of creating my work is about the question. Not only questioning those being photographed, but also myself. The starting point was the crossing road I was facing right before graduation – to stay here in the United States or to go back to China. The same question is also faced by all my friends around me, we talked about job, visa, economic policies and international situation every single day. And all of these concern and anxiety are from the same root question – WHERE TO GO. Everyone has his or her own different background and experience in life, as well as future plan, so everyone has a different answer for the same question. I tried to listen to and understand everyone’s answer and hoped to use them as a reference. At the same time, I believe our life is made up of countless questions, and we are always in the loop of solving problems and discovering new problems in which we grow and mature. As a result, the entire work is about the question, even the title is a question. I hope when the audience is looking at my work, they can be reminded of and think about some moments in their lives where they need to make a decision.
Were you always an artist, even as a child? What was your path to becoming an artist?
I was born into an artistic family. My grandfather is a well-known calligrapher in China, and my uncle is the designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Medals. I started playing the piano since I was four years old, and was outstanding among peers. I even thought about going to music-focused high school. However, I left the music path unfinished after studying flute for a while, because I wasn’t’ happy with what my parents wanted me to do and I was too playful.
I got my first DSLR camera, a 40D, during my senior high school. And the reason was quite simple, to shot photos of the girl I liked at that time. Maybe it was at that time that I laid the idea of focusing on a portrait.
I studied Economics at Southern Methodist University for an undergraduate degree. My family wanted me to become someone that can afford himself. Thanks to the flexibility of elective classes at SMU, I was lucky enough to take all the photography courses during college. Toward the end of my undergraduate life, my mother asked me whether I want to pursue a master’s degree, and I told her that I wanted to study Photography. I really appreciated the support from my family, as they said if I got an offer that would mean at least I have talent in this area, so I should go for it. And it is not a bad idea to turn your hobby into a career. So this is how I became the person I am.
What is your medium of choice and what drew you to this particular medium?
I used a Hasselblad medium format camera to shoot portrait and documentary. Photography is the only thing I am good at in art. I can never paint or draw, so the camera is like my painter. I like to write, then the camera is also my pen. In terms of using a film camera, I like the sense of ritual of using it. Also since the final print of my work requires a large size, a medium format is an ideal choice.
Part of my work is presented through writing on canvas using Chinese calligraphy brush pen, and this is highly associated with what I a presenting. In Chinese culture, how a person writes shows the personality of the writer, and the brush pen helps by showing more details,
Is there any particular experience, person, place or thing that inspires you to create? Tell us about that.
My work is about my own group of people – Chinese students who were born between 1990 and 1995 and are currently studying in the United States. All the people in my work are my friends, my work not only reflects their current status but also reveals my thinking about reality and future. The choice between staying in the U.S. and going back to the home country is a constant question distresses us, every single day. I wish more people see us and the situation we are facing, and possibly offer some help and provide a chance for our voices to be heard, and finally make our life easier.
What is it like showing your work to people and what do you hope people take away from it?
I am never afraid of showing my work to the public. My work is the story created by me, but also true stories happening around the world. It would be lucky that people could learn more about our group through my work, and hopefully make our situation better. As minorities in the country, living away from home country, we can only get support within the community. There isn’t a lot of platforms that we can let our voice to be heard. I’m hoping that I can help raise the voice of our group in the United States.
What advice do you have for other artists who may be looking to get their work exhibited?
As a young artist, I wouldn’t call it advice, but I’d love to share my thinkings. I believe I can benefit most from playing in the field that I’m good at, in another word, quality over quantity. This is my humble opinion.