Maleonn and his “Studio Mobile”
Studio Magazine: Some regard you as a photography artist, how do you define your identity and career position? (Briefly introduce your identities and what you do)
I can’t say I’m clear about my position. To me I’m using the camera to paint. Some call it “media artist” or “image art creator”, but I myself don’t really care about the title.
Studio Magazine: It is said that both your parents practiced drama, did they have any influence on your art enlightenment during your childhood?
Yes, my father was a drama director, my mother was an actress and performed in many TV series later. But it could be could be considered as enlightenment but only living in such family makes art a natural thing and I never regard it as a complicated or tough choice. Of course, I would have more access to various forms of art including drama, movie and painting. In this regard, I should admit I was privileged at the starting point of my career.
Studio Magazine: Please talk about the start of the Studio Mobile and the stories behind it.
With my studio, I set off. Maleonn started the Studio Mobile mainly because his previous studio was pulled down. It happened last year, but Maleonn was a kind person so he didn’t want to be a nail household. Currently he starts his new studio in Sijing, Songjiang, with a comparatively low rent. In a short span of eight years, he has been forced to move for three times. “You never know where you’ll be on next day, just like what’s happening in today’s society.”
To some extend, this experience made me realize that things keep changing. It has been my ninth year since I engaged myself in photography. Sometimes I do worry that I will run out of the passion for photography one day, especially when it’s 2012 and people say we’ll face disasters or some huge changes. Moreover, I turned 40 this year, which is indeed a turning point for my life and I can tell that many aspects of it, including the way I live and the way I treat myself, are going to change. At some points, I think it’s time that I returned to a “normal” person, for my parents aged and my youth slipped with years rolling on. Creating art is after all a crazy idea, which exhausts me from time to time. Perhaps it’s never been clear to me what is the “art” that I’m going after? In this case, I took this trip so as to give myself an answer by getting back to the passionate life, contacting people, devoting my talent and efforts to the world as a present. I want to see what I can do for the world. It owes me nothing, but rather, I’ve been in the ivory tower for long and I’ve owed my friends a great deal.
Studio: How long did you take to prepare for the project? And how much preparation did you do for the details? (Please show us the studio plan and the introduction of background props.)
From the original idea of the project to its being carried out, it took me altogether eight month and much preparation is included, such as arranging the schedule, seeking help, looking for a truck, raising money, and then step by step we turned the plans into reality. The plan for the truck is a habit, for I like to write down what to do since it’s the best way to work out a huge and complicated plan. The space inside the truck is limited, but still I hope to take as many things as possible in case of necessity since we’ll go to so many cities and take photos for so many people. The thing was that I had to plan well and make full use of the space. That’s why I drew this plan.
Studio: How many people are in the team? What do they do respectively?
Altogether seven team members, two assistants, a prop/ filing manager as well as the schedule maker, a producer who’s in charge of all the location issues and public relations with all the related workers. Besides, there’s a documentary director and a truck driver I hired. During work, our positions switch based on needs, for the workload is huge and the staff so limited that every one of us should be assigned to whatever tasks that need him.
Studio: What kind of equipment do you use during your trip? How do you finish the post-processing?
I use digital equipment so that I can leave the works to the participants as their souvenir as soon as I finish them on the spot. I even give them the props if they want. They can create a bigger version on their own. Naturally, some special techniques are applied, so little modification is acquired and they can directly get the final pictures.
Before I set off, I painted some background sets, including some set cloth and foreground boards like motorcycle and airplanes, which are prepared for the shots that creating a style similar to the that of the old photo studios. I didn’t paint really well. They look a bit silly but interesting as well.
Studio: How was the plan carried out? Did you confront any difficulties on the road and did you receive any surprises?
Since the Studio Mobile set off on Feb. 17th, it has already been to Suzhou, Wuxi, Nantong, Changzhou, Nanjing, Hefei, Qingdao and Weihai. According to Maleonn, there will be altogether over 800 photos after their visits to more than 50 cities.
The Studio Mobile has already carried out its plans in Suzhou, Wuxi, Nantong, Changzhou, Nanjing, Hefei, Qingdao, Weihai, Jinan, Handan, Shijiazhuang and Tianjing. Nothing especially difficult has appeared except that we are unable to do laundry and we don’t really wear decent clothes. In the end, I hope I can visit 50 cities. Based on the current workload, I estimate the number of the portraits to reach 1000, i.e. I’ll take photos for at least 1000 groups of people in the ways they prefer.
Studio: Can you make a conclusion of the main theme of these pictures? Do they reflect the nice dreams inside your mind?
Romance and kinship are most frequently seen in this studio.
From my view, I don’t really expect the works to express some certain topics, but I simply hope that people like them, that’s why I’m willing to listen to them and satisfy their demands. I want to try my best to create a “Maleonn-style” portrait for the photographed. The portraits are what they like or what they’ve always been dreamt of but never got a chance to own.
Studio: The Studio Mobile is a pioneering project in China. What are you going to do with the studio after you finish the trip?
There should have been many other people who had done similar thing throughout history. The country photographers, for instance, tramped over hills to take photos for others. Their service was paid. The only difference between us is that I hope my artistic talent can be a present, instead of a commodity, to those who like my photos. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether there have been any forerunners. I’ll do it all the same since I haven’t done so.
After the trip, everything will come to an end. The props will be back at my storehouse, the truck will be sold; I myself will probably get back to my original track.
Studio: After finishing the trip, what do you plan to do with the works?
I haven’t reached that far yet, but I suppose there will be an exhibition. Some museums and art institutions did invite me to exhibit these works, so I’ll make an attempt if I still have adequate funding to make accomplish an itinerant exhibition. I myself regard this project as something romantic which is full of positive and kind energy and therefore want to share it with more people in the hope of its being enjoyed and its influencing them. If there’s anyone who willing to sponsor the publication of the travel notes, I’ll be glad to write them down and make a storybook of the “Studio Mobile”. Maybe there won’t be many outstanding pieces in this project, but I take it as an encouragement to myself. At least I have fulfilled my promise and proved to the young who hold bigger dreams than mine that every dream can be realized no matter how unrealistic they seem to be. As long as one has a strong will and is ready to share his kindness, his fantasy will be accepted; the cold world will then turn a bit warmer.