Janet S.H. Choi was a photography graduate from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver sever years ago. She felt deeply lost at times that she wandered around some deserted areas. The strong wind from the Pacific Ocean inspired her to make a stunning photograph called The Unknown, which mystically captured an unknown creature hiding with its unknown fear. Since coming back to Hong Kong, she almost abandoned pursuing art and photography.
Until recent years, Janet got her inspiration at work as a photographer. But once you know what this artist does for living, you will be as curious as me. “I work in the plastic surgery department in a hospital. I take photographs of patients, before and after treatment, as well as the process of surgery.” I showed my utmost interest to the unknown world and she answered me professionally. “My job requires me to take photos of any body part in an identical manner and setting. I also need to remove identification from the photos like earrings, pendants or even moles not related to the surgery. Finally, I will have them cropped to the concerned area. A human body somehow has been objectified, like a packed piece of meat in the market, whereas my role is to reproduce it for clinical use.”
My kind of response was expected. According to her statistic, 90% people eager to know more about plastic surgery while 10% known her well would feel pity for her creative talent and aesthetic passion. When photography acts as a medium at work, Janet starts to relate it to plastic surgery, and explore its nature. “People looking for a treatment are resolute against pigmentation. Think it this way – pigment is formed by prolonged exposure to light which causes ‘photo damage’ on skin. In photography, photo-imaging is formed also by light exposure over time. Through the lens, people aim to reproduce images as they’ve seen in life, not to mention their latest model of top-notch DSLR camera.”
In her recent work, Janet set up an installation of ‘face maps’ which embodied injection and traditional physiognomy. Viewers could choose their own perfect face and adjust their images in front of the mirrors. “On one hand, I would like to express a perfect face is a projection of desire to control one’s own face, or fate. But the face maps like plastic implants and surgeries are controlled by doctors and implant manufacturers. On the other hand, the movement of fitting themselves in front of the mirrors is like adjusting the depth of field in photography. Photography as such does not require a camera.” Following this interesting association, Janet as a master graduate-to-be will continue to explore pigmentations in a photographic discourse for her coming work.
When asked by the nosy interviewer about her work again, Janet remarked, “There were several occasions inside the photography room that patients persuade me to have my single eyelids folded.” If you think Koreans are more receptive to plastic surgery, the clinical photographer tells you that it is equally popular in Hong Kong. People here are just less open to share.
[The edited version of this article was published in a.m. post July edition.]