Digital Issue 19: Ying Ang – The Quickening

© Ying Ang, The Quickening (self-published, 2021)

Excerpt taken from Paper Journal Digital Issue 19, available to download now.

The primary subjects in Ang’s images are her partner and son.  If the viewer traces her partner’s progression throughout the book, visual shifts that mark internal changes become apparent. In the beginning, Ang photographs her partner in a way that depicts him as grounded and contemplative. Later, as a father, we see him mostly in close-ups, brooding and overcome by weariness. His arc within the visual narrative mirrors that of Ang’s. The new life formed from the “primordial sludge” of her own body, as she describes it in one of the excerpts of text throughout the book, becomes a living, breathing weight that both parents must grapple with.

This emotional burden is visually depicted in striking ways. Night vision stills of the child and parents, ominous lighting from surrounding buildings, a swan with its head submerged underwater: these images carry a sense of dread, fear, and even foreboding references to death. There are no moments of a happy family smiling in front of the camera. It is a strong contrast to the lightness of the images from before the child’s birth, giving the book a multi-layered and transformative structure.

This structure, with its thoughtful and layered editing and sequencing, is a particular strength of The Quickening. Together, the images build a narrative that echoes the shifting nature of life. The first third of the book consists of colour images that are mostly brightly lit and under-saturated. Many of them are made in outdoor environments. A simple photograph of a persimmon tree’s branches and fruit offers the reader a sense of calm and stillness.

This feeling ends suddenly with a dramatic shift once the child is born. From that point on, the atmosphere is dark, claustrophobic, and at times, haunting. The couple retreat into their apartment with their newborn child, closed off from the outside world and forced to come to terms with their new existence. In one image, Ang’s partner is photographed with only his head visible, the rest of him obscured in darkness as if he himself is emerging from the womb, or perhaps falling into the depths of non-existence.

  • A selection of spreads from Paper Journal digital issue 19. Cover © Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Vanessa and Diane, 2016

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