Friday Focus: Nico Ng and “Chasing the perfect photo”

By Christopher Osborne

Malaysian artist Nico Ng features in this week’s Friday Focus.

In this week’s Friday Focus, we talk to Malaysian born artist Nico Ng. She is amongst an increasing group of people who regularly employ photography in their art practice and yet who shun the term photographer.

She grew up surrounded by a family of business people who know nothing about art. “In the art world I can breathe. I can be myself”.

Nico is an almost evangelical proponent of analogue photography. Her analogue journey began with a feeling that the digital images she was making often visually degrade over time. “To me, Analogue is real. And it is important to preserve images which contain my memories and images that I make for my work”.

She started researching photography on Flickr, and this is where she discovered “a huge community talking about photography. And discussing analogue photography”. She worked her way through several digital cameras and then bought a Leica lens which was fitted to a Fuji body. There was more experimentation and then she bought a Leica M6. “I’m not a technical photographer and I thought that the TTL metering might help”, she explains.

In contrast, she describes “really seeing a difference” when viewing the results of her first film fresh from a lab. This is ironic because she later describes the results as “having colours that were so horrible”. She had a second roll developed in a lab while visiting Paris, and her recollection of that roll was that “the film was so dirty”.

So she turned back to Flickr and researched self-developing her film. A shipment of bottles, a tank, changing bag, thermometer and other equipment arrived from B&H and she started processing colour negative film with a Unicolor kit.

“I was chasing the perfect photo, and I started to wonder if the two bath process was not enough”. Next, she tried a Tetenal kit and then a Fuji Press kit. “I loved the results. Maybe I’m just better at the temperature or the agitation”?

Three months later Nico started developing E-6 slide film too. “When I start something, I want to get to the end. I don’t like hanging in the middle”, she says. I visited Nico in her apartment a few weeks ago. She showed me a cardboard box containing forty or fifty undeveloped films. Many are years passed their expiry date, and when I ask about this, she replies “oh, I think that the soul of the film grows over time”.

Our conversation turns to what makes a really good photographic image. “We see thousands of photographs every day. What do you remember? Only art. Art has something spiritual, a vision, or a concept. Art is something multiplied”.

Her work has an almost stylistic quality, a graphical feel. “I keep rediscovering myself. I often don’t immediately satisfied with my work right after I took, but it keep evolving”.

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