White Noise by Kathy Anne Lim
Reading time: about 6 minutes
About this series
The body of work by photographer Kathy Anne Lim focuses on themes of memory and displacement—contents of which mix absolute certainty and misty ephemerality. Her series White Noise ties in with this topic in a certain way, if you don't know what the white mist in her photographs actually is, you might find the creeping mist mysterious and romantic. In fact it's not, it is fumigating to repel insects in various parts of Singapore.
Currently White Noise is on display in a solo exhibition at Kathmandu Photo Gallery, Bangkok. The exhibition takes place from 4 March until 2022 April 2023. I had the chance to talk with Kathy Anne Lim about her ongoing series.
Can you provide some background or context how you started this collection? How did you come up with the idea and story for the series?
My conceptual documentary projects often start with a considered approach of research, referencing literature and wrestling with the concept; it often takes a duration of time to articulate a complex photographic narrative. But once this has been shaped, and I raise the camera to take a photograph, the shooting process itself is more fluid and serendipitous.
‘White Noise’ initially started as a way to capture and photograph an allegorical metaphor for the displacement I was feeling when I was working in London and thinking back on my hometown of Singapore. The layered imagery of fog signals the driving concept, it is multi-functional, serving as both a distinct aesthetic device, producing painterly images but also drawing attention to the circumstances in which the photographic series blends fact and fiction.
Do you know exactly at what time the fumigation will happen or are you at the place by accident and wait for it?
Initially it took months of planning and organizing to shoot. The weather has to be just right as well to capture the type of image that I require, the light has to be bright with a certain amount of cloud cover. However as the project developed, people would message and let me know in advance of fumigations which were taking place in their own housing estate, this allowed me to branch out and diversify the locations where I was initially photographing. Amidst photographing these fumigations, the very act of photographing became rather fluid, instinctive and reflexive, capturing from the micro to macro scenes of everyday city scenes enveloped by the impermanent clouds of fog made perpetual by the camera.
How long are you already photographing on the series and how many photos does the documentary have in total?
The series has been ongoing for about 5 years and while I have photographed over 500 images, the shortlist has about 80 images in total.
Singapore is a country in the tropics, not different from Thailand, densely populated and there are often diseases caused by mosquitoes and insects. In Thailand one can see sometimes workers that don't wear any protective clothes while fumigating. At our skyscraper opposite, the poison cloud is also regularly sprayed. We had a bee nest on our balcony, unfortunately not a single bee survived the fumigating. Do you think the workers who work day by day with it are aware of it how dangerous it is?
The fumigators whom I worked with, wore personal protective equipment (PPE) and so did I when out photographing fumigations. Hence those involved are quite well protected from the chemical gas. The smell of chemicals was something that I became used to; but the smoke often tears one's eyes which made it difficult for me to photograph in many instances.
In your opinion, what makes a good photograph? How do you decide when something you create meets or exceeds your expectations?
Time, light and composition are the three simple ingredients required for creating an image. Which is ironically the thing I enjoy about photography the most but also the most difficult – often as all of these elements have to come together in unison, to create a moment of pause. What holds me to the medium is this slippage between autobiography and fiction. Time is suspended within this visual space, I like the strangeness and wonder of that.
How do you describe your photography to someone who’s not familiar with it?
Within my images, I try to capture a moment of pause between reality and imagination, like the silence between two musical notes.
Who are some of the inspirations that fuel your work?
My inspirations are drawn from a funny cocktail of impressionist paintings, literature and music.
What are you working on now? And where is your photography going?
I am currently working on my first photo publication ‘White Noise’ with Do Not Design. We have experimented at length to include ideas of permeation through the design of the physical publication. Should you be interested in supporting the series, the book can be pre-ordered here on Indiegogo.
I am also working on a long term series on shorelines photographed in Singapore during solstices, as an allegorical study on the changing effects on landscape due to rising sea levels. I hope to be able to continue exploring the recurring themes of memory, temporality and displacement.
Kathy Anne Lim is a photographer and visual artist with roots along the eastern shores of Singapore. She studied Visual Communication at Temasek Polytechnic Singapore and Photography (BA Hons) at London College of Communication, University of Arts London. Her work has been exhibited and published in Singapore, North America, United Kingdom and Italy.
Photographer: Kathy Anne Lim
Photos copyright Kathy Anne Lim
DRAWLIGHTS | 1/1 – one post/one photographer, weekly. Off-chain and on-chain. By Peter Nitsch, lens-based artist, a member of Jenny Metaverse and lifetime Member of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand.