Millennial Vintage: the lo-fi, erotically charged analogue photographers on show in Hong Kong

In the exhibition, London-based agency-collective Artizians reimagines a "pastel-dreamy late-’70s California", with shots by Hong Kong-based provocateurs Nicoline Aagesen and Mherck Dela Cruz, and Casper Lundemann from Denmark

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 9:14am

The modern ubiquity of photography, and of the public sharing of photographs, makes this an interesting time for the medium as fine art. We’re all used to looking at lots of other people’s photos; it’s hard to sell something so widespread as being special enough to have value; and there’s a lot of clutter to cut through.

However, the exhibition “Millennial Vintage”, at Kong Art Space in Hong Kong’s SoHo neighbourhood from December 17 to 19, stands a good chance of cutting through it. A group show of work by six young photographers, presented by Budapest-born, London-based curator Tiziana des Pallieres, it showcases a bold, gritty, lo-fi, provocative, often erotically charged style of photographic art, paradoxically old-school in its aesthetic – hence the show’s title.

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The photographers, who appear under the banner of des Pallieres’ agency-collective Artizians, share a distinctly pre-digital approach to their work, including an interest in a return to analogue photography, and a 1970s and ’80s aesthetic in style and subject matter (“pastel-dreamy late-’70s California,” as des Pallieres describes it).

They are Denmark-born, Hong Kong-based Nicoline Aagesen; Casper Lundemann from Denmark; Victoria Lemus from the US; Sergio del Amo from Spain; Hong-Kong based Filipino Mherck Dela Cruz; and Italian Errico Fabio Russo.

We’ve clearly caught the wave of something new – females in contemporary art taking back the expression of female bodies. Nicoline is a total game-changer
Tiziana des Pallieres

Aagesen had a pivotal role in the birth of the project. “It all started when I brought a mixed-media show to Hong Kong in 2016, and met Nicoline,” says des Pallieres. “I needed a kick-ass photographer in Hong Kong, someone who’s very avant garde, and everyone pointed to Nicoline – she is very rock’n’roll in spirit, and she is not usually an event photographer.

“I formed Artizians around that time. I’ve always collected photography myself, but probably didn’t have the inspiration to go for it full-on. Meeting her really inspired me to make it a photography-based agency that was sexy but not sexist. There’s real substance behind this, and I thought there was enough material for an exhibition here.”

It took about five months to come up with the current line-up of artists, with Aagesen suggesting potential photographers and des Pallieres making the final decision; the current list of six, she says, was whittled down from at least 150 possibles; she is now being approached by a lot of photographers.

“I’m getting emails that I wish I could show one day, because some of them are really shocking, full of avant-garde ideas.”

At the moment, she says, Aagesen, who has caused quite a stir with her in-your-face, sexualised images, is “by far my wildest photographer. We’ve clearly caught the wave of something new – females in contemporary art taking back the expression of female bodies. Nicoline is a total game-changer.”

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Aagesen’s work takes the soft-porn aesthetic that has become prevalent in fashion photography and flips it with a female gaze on both male and female subjects.

Her work has gone from being compared to that of Terry Richardson, currently mired in allegations of sexual misconduct, to being contrasted with it: the surface aesthetic might be similar but the intention behind it is empowering rather than exploitative.

Aagesen wasn’t a photographer before she moved to Hong Kong, and says her style emerged as a consequence of arriving as a model and finding that none of the fashion shoots were anything like what she wanted to be doing aesthetically. “I just wanted to do something in my own style – something a bit more gritty,” she says. “I like it very raw and primitive.”

It also means that she only works commercially “with brands who have a mission I agree with. I’m not a supporter of the fashion industry.”

She recently returned to Hong Kong after working on formerly Hong Kong-based artist Simon Birch’s 14th Factory show in Los Angeles, a monumental collection of installations, performances, paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, photography and music housed in a 150,000 sq ft former industrial building.

“It was amazing, the best time of my life, to be surrounded by art like that,” she says. She is hoping to work with Birch on a London leg of the exhibition in June 2018.

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Aagesen was also featured in Artizians’ first exhibition in May, in the distinctly non-gritty surroundings of London’s Mayfair district, an unexpected location given the nature of Aagesen’s work, with a guest list of established art-world people and collectors to match. Des Pallieres says: “I created a contrast between the type of photography she does and the location and guests. It was in Mayfair, where people are more used to antiques and galleries like the Gagosian; the people my artists hang with would be more east London.”

“It was pretty posh,” says Aagesen. “Usually my exhibitions feel a bit more dirty, but this was very proper. It was really nice to have help to do everything, so I could just focus on the art. But people were pretty shocked, and I didn’t even think it was my most shocking work.”

Des Pallieres spent two months on the production of that show, printing and mounting the photos. “One of the reasons I did that was the difficulty of trying to turn photography into fine art. When everyone has a camera in their phone, it becomes something regarded as immediately accessible. In life, scarcity creates value. Digital has become so available, and film photography has gained value. As a child it used to be so frustrating to wait for film to be developed, but now I enjoy it.”

After Hong Kong, she plans to take the exhibition to Beijing, where she admits that the erotic charge might need to be dialled down slightly.

“I find it very exciting to bring photography to China, with all the censorship, and with the very different aesthetic tastes there,” she says. “But I’ll have to choose the selection very carefully.”