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Book / Soul Capture

by Hongqing JIANG  2020/2021


Publisher ‏ : ‎ CINEATOUR (2021)

Language ‏ : ‎ English / Chinese

Translator : TU Shuai

Reviewer : YU Hong / Lee Shee Yik

Paperback ‏ : ‎ 216 pages


My grandmother, Lin Yangdai, was born in the early Republic of China after Emperor Xuantong’s abdication. As far as I can remember, she was often dressed in out-of-fashion clothes, usually in blue or gray, and she always kept her gray hair at shoulder length. She had a rather high hairline, most probably due to the old custom of face threading. Coupled with her unintelligible southern accent, she appeared as an old woman with no sense of reality in my eyes. Fortunately, foot-binding was banned when she was of age. So, in my memory, Grandma was always vigorous and quick.

We had a Seagull 120 twin-lens reflex camera at home when I was young, which I would practice with whenever I had the chance, imagining that I was hunting through the viewfinder. However, when she noticed the camera aiming in her as she was dressing up in the morning, Grandma would always flee away in panic, and her cursing, along with the beaming sunlight reflected by the mirror, lingered long in the air. Therefore, I never succeeded in capturing a decent portrait of her before she passed away. Her face faded away with the deaths of people who knew her, just like those who lived before the invention of the camera.

What a pity!

My elder sister explained that photography was ominous to the older generations. Only those who do funerals would find a painter to "hang" the deceased person on the wall with ink-lead amplification. To them, pictures, especially images so realistic like photos, seemed to possess the power of soul-absorbing magic. Although, theoretically, neither photos nor photography had anything to do with the soul Chinese people believed in.

Had she been alive, it would have been hard for her to understand the secret out-of-body ceremony young girls nowadays practice, with the help of beauty filters, on the front camera every day. It is as common as the devout believers’ before-meals-prayer in the Middle Ages. The moment they turn their faces to the camera, their nervous system would release dopamine, condensing the souls captured by cameras into digital pictures, which will then join the revelry in a larger pool of nerves.

Photography dissociates the existence of human beings, and at the same time, reconstructs the illusion of existence.

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