In Ordinary Time by Jin-Ru Ong
I have been aware of Jin's photography for a few years now after stumbling across her work in various internet forums. My interest was sufficiently stimulated to go to her online gallery at artemisworks.co.uk where I was able to browse an eclectic series of styles, genres and techniques in Jin's images ranging from colour landscapes to mono street and architecture. I'd always considered her mono landscapes to be the strongest in her repertoire so I was very surprised to see Jin had compiled a book of street photography. I offered to write a review of the book for Filmwasters.com not only because it would make an interesting addition to the site, but also because I was intrigued to see how Jin's street photography would work in this format.
In Ordinary Time is a hard-cover book presented in a landscape format with a minimal yet confident design for the dust-cover and a strong defining image which entices the reader to delve inside and discover more. There is an introduction written by photographer RJ Lam (more on this later) before 35 photographs from London and other European cities are presented in 2 parts.
Jin's street photographs offer snippets of everyday life and occurrences around the streets of European cities. Despite all being taken in recent times, many have a feeling of being at any time in the past 80 years. The picture called "Galleries St-Hubert, Brussels 2007" is a perfect example of this - an elderly couple walk in front of an ice cream bar while the lady stares into the lens with an enquiring look. This picture could have been taken yesterday, 10 or even 60 years ago.
The book does a great job of showcasing Jin's competence of seeing and shooting street scenes. There is an over-riding sense of loneliness in the pictures; a man eating an ice cream alone while all around him are busy doing their own things; two coffee drinkers sit near, but clearly not together in an empty cafe; a girl sits looking bored outside a coffee shop while her partner stares intently into the screen of his laptop computer. Many of the pictures feature lone people's backs - showing their perspective whilst describing a feeling of separation from what they see. These aren't pictures that make you smile, but they are no less engaging for being this way. Instead, they leave the viewer considering the unanswered questions that are raised regarding the circumstances of the subjects. I find this an intriguing aspect to Jin's work.
I have two minor complaints regarding the book (and they are VERY minor).I don't understand the thinking behind splitting the collection into 2 parts as I'm not sure they make 2 separate cohesive groups. I wonder if a part 1 based solely on London and part 2 on European cities would have worked better? But then again, this may not suit what Jin was intending to convey.
I would also like to comment on the introduction by RJ Lam. I'm very sorry Jin, but I read the first 2 paragraphs and couldn't continue. I found it to be verbose and a touch pretentious. I'm not sure a heavy analysis of the book using Barthes's notions of Studium and Punctum is needed. The pictures in the book are strong enough on their own to engage the viewer without the dissection offered by Lam. This is just a personal reaction though, and others will doubtlessly enjoy the way Lam describes Jin's work.
All in all, In Ordinary Time is a well presented collection of work that has changed my mind about where Jin's strengths in photography lie. Presented in a book, Jin's street pictures make sense to me. It proves Jin to have the rare skill of being able to make accomplished, engaging and successful photographs no matter what the genre or technique she chooses to employ. This book is a worthy addition to any collection.
Details of how to buy In Ordinary Time are available from Jin's website: www.artemisworks.co.uk