Analyzing Different Versions of Self with Teresa Eng
Over the course of several months, photographer Teresa Eng took to the streets of Chongqing, China to capture young people in their natural habitat – that is, amidst neon colored LED lights.
Self/Portrait juxtaposes soulful images of passersby with their own self portraits, illuminated by the bright white backlights of their personal smartphones. On a surface level, the project speaks to the generation’s new found sense of individualism that has resulted from the country’s rapid transition toward capitalism. However, the diptychs also speak to something much more raw – indeed, each pairing is effectively an examination of appearances versus perceptions, reality versus hopes and desires. Eng took a few moments to speak in depth about her intentions and experiences surrounding the body of work.
You’ve spoken quite a bit on Self/Portraits’ focus on millennials in particular. In your opinion, what makes their perspective particularly interesting or insightful?
I approached this project as a way of understanding the generation gap. As someone who is part of Generation X, we transitioned between the analogue and digital world so we’re more aware that the impact technology has had on society. There’s a perception that older generations have of millennials, that they’re narcissistic and shallow because they’re immersed in their phone and social media.
I was interested in what their digital world looked like and they engaged with it.
I understand that you are a Vancouver native. Were you at all apprehensive about taking on a project that involved collaborating with strangers from a vastly different country and culture? Were you able to learn anything about yourself through the brief encounters with your subjects?
I was born and raised in Vancouver, but I am also of Chinese descent. So in China, I look familiar to locals which perhaps gave me more access, but as soon as I speak they knew that I wasn’t from there.
Did you feel any sort of connection with the individuals you photographed? Do you feel that the act of making a portrait is an intimate one?
The subjects that I tend to approach possess some form of innocence. When I look at their faces, I see that they’re still trying to figure out who they are.