Just announced as the winner of the 2019 Mack First Book Award, Ming channels his well-travelled life experiences into his latest work
Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 19 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 750 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Every weekend throughout May, BJP-online is sharing profiles of the 19 photographers, originally published in the magazine. Discover more here.
Jerome Ming has travelled the world. He was born in London, grew up in Zambia and Malawi, then returned to study fine art at what is now Nottingham Trent University. Returning to London, after spending some years working as an artist primarily making sculptural installations, Ming completed a postgraduate diploma in photojournalism at the London Institute. “Moving to photojournalism was me thinking about a way I could continue, to some extent, to work visually – not artistically but visually,” he explains. “At the time there was more chance of making a living as a photographer than as an artist.”
For the next 20 years, Ming covered stories all over Asia, living in Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and China. This constant relocation is just one aspect that has influenced his practice today, along with his creative instinct, which he began to reconnect with in 2001 when living in China. His most recent work, Oobanken, draws on these experiences. The result of the MFA he completed at the University of Hartford in the US, where there was an emphasis on photobooks, it appears to represent a new direction for the peripatetic artist, but he insists that’s not the case. “I’m always living in a different environment, but the consistency is that I’m the one making the work, and I’m making it with a certain idea and central themes,” he says. “Although my work might not look similar, I’m still feeding off the same premise in a way, which often tends to be a little about this dislocation.”
Oobanken, which has just won the Mack First Book Award, was completed in 2014, when Ming was living on a compound in Yangon, Myanmar. Named after the coucals, the solitary birds with a distinctive call, which accompanied him day-to-day, it is a “fiction, but feeding off something very real and a real situation,” he says. Manifested through black-and-white images of self-made structures, dramatic stages and collections of what could be props, the project connects Ming’s life experiences – “the narrative comes from a kind of autobiography, and also the current status”. There are aspects of theatre (“I very much saw the labour and the act of making as a performance, so I touch on that aspect too”) and texture (“It’s important that many of the objects in the images you see I made, and the idea that they were constructed in a rudimentary way – to make them tactile”). He is also influenced by the sculptor Constantin Brâncuși. “I understand Brâncuși photographed his own sculptures in a particular way, because that’s how he wanted the viewer to see them in context of the surroundings they were photographed and in terms of sculpture,” he explains.
“It’s been a long process to get to Oobanken. It wasn’t so easy to find oneself again and not to make the compromise to make work,” he says. “If one was to look at where the work was coming from, there is a thread that arrives at certain points. The work that I was doing 30 years ago is connected to this. For me, it’s really important there is this underlying consistency in my work, even though it may appear to have a disconnect.”
Oobanken by Jerome Ming is published by MACK. It is the winner of the publisher’s First Book Award, a prize set up in 2012 to support emerging and unpublished photographers.