Speakeasy with ...Chung "Fanky" Chak

Chak's The Boxes Project pictures the common stereotypes

Hong Kong native Chung "Fanky" Chak makes digital photo collages on a massive scale. The square 40-by-40-inch prints focus on urban environments from Hong Kong to New York, Tokyo to Montreal to examine visual stereotypes and expectations. Chak's show, on view at Eyedrum through Feb. 21, includes a participatory collage made from photos by Atlantans.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm 43, an associate professor in graphic design, trained as a designer, picked up photography in the last five to six years, grew up in Hong Kong, now reside in New Jersey. I'm more interested in conceptual photo work, particularly symbolism and visual metaphor.

When and why did you start working on the The Boxes Project?

Started working on it in 2005, working on it on and off. Currently, I already have about 30 photomontages done for this series (20 are included at Eyedrum). I started working in 60-inch-by-60-inch and recently rescaled to 40-by-40 due to production cost.

In Christmas 2004, when I was sitting next to my window in a high-rise in Hong Kong, I saw all the windows in other buildings displayed the same face on their TV screens. (People have big windows and big TV screens there, and there's only two channels to choose from.) It's a really surreal visual experience. Then I thought, "How much do these people really share in common beside what the TV told them?" (Since I grew up in Hong Kong, I know neighbors don't like talking to each other.)

When I came back to the States, I started to take pictures of windows. I didn't have any concrete ideas about what to do, except I knew it's about windows, and tell the idea of "what experience people really share within a community." Later, that extended to "distance between people," "inside vs. outside" of private space, "inside vs. outside" of an individual, and "inside vs. outside" of a community.

I call the project "Boxes," referring to the living spaces that we have.

Can you explain the process for creating these large works?

I initially started with scanning, but I found it too inefficient so I bought a digital camera. All the collage is done in Photoshop. Some only takes only a day to build, but some images I reworked on them over the two to three years until they look perfect to me. The file size in Photoshop is so big that I need to scan the image part by part.

I've read that you intend for this work to "help break down stereotypes, particularly about the inhabitants of urban environments." Can you elaborate on that?

No, I shouldn't say "break down" stereotypes, but it's to illustrate what the common stereotypes we have about a community, and let the audience to decide whether the stereotype is true or not. For example, I was always fascinated with Japanese culture when I was a kid, I thought Japanese was like THIS AND THAT through the media, so when I went to Japan to take pictures for this project, I automatically searched for THIS AND THAT elements that would fit into my perception. Then if you know Japan better than I, you might say the stereotypes I represented from pictures is right or wrong. So the audience would participate with their own judgment.

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