Proof Of Existence: Q&A With Photographer Brendan George Ko About His Father, Family And China
Creating art from my journeys.
What did you learn about your father from the trip?
My father had wanted to do this trip to China for years. At first it sounded far-fetch: gathering a family of five that live in separate cities across the globe for a trip to China. My father isn’t very vocal, rather he is reserved and vague about his past. I have learned more about his past and who he was through others than from him. Half-way through the trip and on an overnight train to Shanghai my family had an intervention with my father. For the first time I heard him tell his story of growing up in China, how his life was turned upside down during Mao’s China, and how he made his escape to Hong Kong. This trip for him took longer than just a few years to see happen, as he watched China transform over the decades and finally become open enough to finally return.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I wanted to know more about my family. I’m always curious about the history of things, people, and places. That trip to China triggered a shift in my practice and I started working extensively in documentary. I found a position of creating art from my journeys, and that I can learn more about others, especially my own family by making work from it.
Tell me about “Sunrise in Yangshou”, that’s looks like a great moment.
There was something about Yangshou: a quiet little town situated in the finger mountains of Guilin. I only know of that place for the three days I was there for, and how it seemed perfect. It was just after middle of our trip and we had just escaped the bustle of Shanghai. We spent our days there biking through rice fields and the mountains, speaking with the family we were staying with, and taking in the sites. It was small enough of a place that it was manageable, I didn’t feel like I’d get lost if I ventured too far. There was magic there and when I look at that image that’s what I see, I am biased by a memory at how wonderful that place is and how special that moment was.
What were your impressions before and after arrival in China?
I was afraid of China. Not at its people nor culture, but its government. Seeing China with my own eyes, I saw a lot of class division, inflated infrastructure, and a hyper Capitalist state. But the people that I met, the families we stayed with, and the relatives I met for the first time were some of the most kind people I had ever met. It has made me realize how close I am to my Chinese side, how they were always so selfless to others, and that family is always comes first.