Different from photo-journalistic work that has to use facts as its subject matter and base itself on reality, “Some Days” is a completely personal artistic construction. Despite being in different places, different scenes, and arranged in various different combinations, the individuals in each photograph all have their eyes closed. Closing their eyes turns on a projector of memories that casts a silent inner drama onto the screens of their heart.
Wang Ningde has described the photographs in “Some Days” as being “related to my childhood, growing up, family, memory, sexuality, and my attitude towards these issues”. Nevertheless, these images are not narratives of specific events, but simply elaborately-arranged refusals over and over. All the characters are refusing to enter into visual exchange with their audience in this work. No matter whether old or young, male or female, individual or collective, they are all either closing their eyes or turning their backs to their audience. We can but garner a few clues of their hidden secrets from their facial expressions that show intoxication, yearning, numbness, and secretiveness. Are they meditating or recalling, stealing a moment from their fantasies, or degenerating into their imaginations? Are they refusing to converse with reality due to its darkness, or refusing to be moved because reality is filled with too much temptation? There are no answers to these questions in Wang Ningde’s photographs.
Nevertheless, so many refusals reveal his clinging on to past experiences and memories. A plump, naked woman (aesthetic elegance?), an anonymous man wearing a Sun Yatsen uniform and hat (a delusion of the grown-up world?), a mysterious gambling scene made up of four men wearing Sun Yatsen uniforms and hats (fate’s elusive nature?), a train carriage with no-one aboard other than those with their eyes shut-tight (for fear of not knowing their destination?), a deserted suburb (arid memories of uninhabited places?)… Is there a profound loneliness or fake calmness behind these gestures of refusal that allow fate to lead the way? Are they indulging in past happiness or refusing the allure of the present? Outsiders can, after all, draw no firm conclusions about what these images inform us of. In fact, there are few clearly and easily interpreted clues given away as to what Wang Ningde himself is actually pursuing. Yet it is clear that through these images he has been able to rearrange his past and his memories, giving them a new form. All he can tell us is that these images present a kind of squaring up with the accumulated memories of his life, whether they be beautiful or painful.
“Some Days” is evidence that proves the magical interconnection between reality and memory. Given their mutual reliance, reality and memory consult with one another, constructing an absolute reality in which memorable reality and real memory are barely distinguishable. Without memory as its background, reality might look quite pale; while lacking the mirror-like examination of reality, memory itself could turn into nothing more than a dream, void of any sense of reality. With “Some Days”, Wang Ningde does not offer a fixed form of his past, nor does he provide an explicitly current form of reality. All he represents is a real world that draws upon the absolute that exists between reality and memory. Although the clothes in that world may be old-fashioned, the imagination and dreams to which that world has given birth are infinite. Looking at his photographs, we can’t share his experiences, but we can share in his consciousness of time, his perception of the world, his attitude towards life, and his imagination.
Wang Ningde has previously mentioned the concept of “T Zero” by Italian writer Italo Calvino. I guess that the absolute time of “T Zero” has the same significance for Wang Ningde as do his concrete “some days”. “Some days” in his life, “some days” that he could not forget in fact always left open the possibility of eternity. Such “days”, or moments, that live long in his heart represent absolute time to him, time that is forever unchanged. For this specific individual, “some days” are actually equal to the absolute time in “T Zero”. Photography fortunately happens to be a method of equalizing “some days” with “T Zero” in time. “Some days”, turn into “T Zero” through the eternity of photography, surpass time as “T Zero”, and finally become absolute time that is filled with time itself. In this sense, “Some Days” is actually challenging the concept of how time relates to time, and does not merely involve personal memory and experience. With his images, Wang Ningde constructs a present that never goes away, as well as a future that never comes. Life is but a prisoner of just such ever-moving time, with no beginning nor end.
“Some Days” reminds me of a passage written by the father of Dadaism, the poet Tristan Tzara, in his prose work “Horse”:
Some Days, I have seen loneliness. On the top of the mountain, a horse halted still in the unmoving universe. My love was suspended in time; at that moment, it condensed its own memory that had long since turned to stone. All the doors of possibility flew wide open. Life and death replenished each other. Only once did I see it, the meanings of objects acting of their own free will. I separated the image of my world from other matters, I let its borders expand, extending out to infinity and beyond. I have entrusted the desire for things that I would like soon to see in the care of my offspring. But who knows what promises will been kept?
Isn’t “Some Days” just an absolute form of “memory that had long since turned to stone”?