Artist Interview: Laura Ming Wong

Your photography depicts the comfort of a bed surrounded by the outdoors. What does the contrast of furniture and the outdoors symbolize to you?

People I’ve interacted with professionally and personally have told me that I’m guarded to the point of secretiveness or self–deprecation, although I wasn’t aware of it. In the PLACE workshops I wanted to explore where that was coming from. It wasn’t difficult to identify the painful moments and relationships that partially contributed to that, but it was surprising that these experiences continued to have a hold on me, years after emerging from them. Like when you have a virus and your body mounts an attack against it; the virus never leaves but is quelled if you’re relatively healthy. The high and low points of life can behave the same way. I can’t rid myself of the tough parts, nor can I fully protect myself from experiencing future pain– because pain will come in different forms. But I can learn to handle it better, less destructively, less fearfully. 

To represent that visually, I wanted to bring my possessions outside, as symbols of my personality out in the open. But that was logistically very difficult (this was shot at the top of a mountain) and I didn’t want it to look like a garage sale! So instead, I chose a bed–the heart of the home where we recharge and dream. Placing it in the wild outdoors means moving away from the armor of walls or the tint of windows, into a more natural space. It’s a reminder to be the person I am at my home in every environment. 

Why are you drawn to photography as a technique to explore your ideas?
I am drawn to photography partly because I like seeing the rapid expression of an idea or event. I usually shoot less personal things, like events,  people I meet or places I visit. But with my camera phone I take photos of words, like a page in a book or a museum placard, as personal notes for my practice. For me photography is kind of an anthropological tool for documenting and making sense of them later.

What did your process look like for this particular body of work? Was it different from your usual process?
The A Place of Her Own workshops asked a simple question that was difficult to answer because of its personal focus. This conceptualization part of the process was very difficult because I’m a documentary photographer who documents other people’s lives as they are, not as they wish them to be. It felt strange and even a bit self-centered to participate in this project by looking inward, although I recognize self–care is necessary. To execute the project, I had to stage the scene, carrying by hand a twin-sized bed up more than sixty steps to the top of a mountain, assembling it, climbing a tree to dislodge an old tricycle thrown up there, photographing it all, then disassembling the bed and carrying it back down the mountain.

Laura Ming Wong is a freelance photographer pursuing long-term documentary projects related to her interests in social justice, women in combat sports, and communities close to her home in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. She graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in Psychology and studied photojournalism at Laney College in Oakland. She is a member of the Asian American Women’s Artist Association in San Francisco. You can see more of her work at: lauramwong.com

About the Interviewer
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Interim Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She has a B.A. in Asian American Studies and is an Ethnic Studies MA candidate at San Francisco State University.

The exhibition:  A Place of Her Own is opening November 19th and on view from November 19th – December 11th, 2015.

Images from top to bottom: “Reclaim”, digital photograph, 2015; courtesy of Laura Ming Wong