Saturday, 25 August 2012

Up & Coming: Andrew Lau

I started out like a lot of street photographers: a Cartier-Bresson wannabe. I was in my early twenties, in law school and hating it. ‘There’s no money in art’, was what my Chinese elders had drummed into me. So, because I was good with words and good at memorising stuff, I canned the artistic side of me that had always been so important in my teens and concentrated on becoming a City solicitor.

The Internet was still quite a new thing in my life, and I was thrilled and distracted by all the art it was showing me. I remember first opening a Henry Cartier-Bresson book in a shop and marvelling at the composition, the virtuosity and the élan of the man. There was a sense of life that had been leeched out of me by over-schooling. I dropped out of the law, bought an Olympus digital compact and started making photographs.

It was a nice camera, and one of the shots you see here was made with it, but the lack of responsiveness meant I just couldn’t capture what I was seeing. A couple of years later, I’d finally saved enough to buy a nice DSLR, but had reached a crisis point in my relationship with technology and digitalia, realising that all the high-tech toys I was bringing into my life weren’t making me any happier and that they were usually unreliable and short-lived. 

I wanted to get off the materialist, upgrade-driven merry-go-round. I knew Cartier-Bresson had used a rangefinder, but there were no digital rangefinders then, so… film? After all those years? When everyone else was abandoning the stuff? How on earth would I process it? Scan it? I knew nothing about the analogue process. All I did know was that I was fed up with consumerism, fed up of the buying cycles that digital technology was trapping me into. 

I took the plunge, and never looked back. I don’t think it’s a ‘magic camera’, but it’s important to have the right tools to make the photographs you want to make, and for me that was a rangefinder. I sold the Olympus last autumn for about £25.

Okay, I confess to a tendency towards contrariness: everyone else was using crop-frame digital SLRs, so I thought I’d use 35mm monochrome film in a rangefinder because I kinda like to be the nail that sticks up. 

My pictures tend to reflect my angst, which tends to mean that I have to keep apologising for coming across as a pessimistic git, but I honestly see myself as a disappointed and wary optimist instead. It’s a tough world to live in if you can’t help noticing so much utter craposity alongside the quotidian ecstasy. In my case, I tend to make my best pictures when responding to some pain inside me; I still haven’t figured out why. Maybe I’m channelling the pessimism that would’ve made me a good lawyer into my photos, like a lightning rod.

They (the pictures) tend to work better when sequenced or clustered in certain ways, but here are ten that I like which touch on feelings, themes and questions that seem occupy me a great deal: emptiness, natsukashii, consumerism, anomie, loneliness, saudade and subjugation. I hope you like them.

To view more of Andrew Lau's work please visit:

All images © Andrew Lau