PING PONG: A WITTY VISUAL GAME

Street photography is experiencing a Golden Age in which a multitude of photographers go out every day, ready to rapidly capture life’s pulse in images that with almost no rest, start to roam around social media, only to disappear like a summer storm. Even when it’s not easy for some to endure more than the few hours of glory that social media grants, sometimes we find ourselves with works that emerge from that sea of images determined to survive. This is the case with Ping Pong, the project that Spanish photographer Miguel Marina has been working on over the past few years and through which he offers his peculiar view of daily life happening in different cities around the world, with a special focus on Hong Kong, where he lives. His photographs create a dialogue between each other through visual pairing, composing witty and clever diptychs that are the best testimony to Miguel’s progress and commitment as a photographer.

Susan Sontang referred to how difficult she found it to consider the existence of style in photography, even denying the possibility of its existence. Along the same line, Umberto Eco pointed out the presence of style relativism in the modern world, in which there would be no styles, but sensitivity; given that a style can be adopted and left behind by any photographer, depending on their mood and interest. Yet, on some occasions, we’re able to recognize a genuine signature in a series of images that relate to each other through an original view. It’s in this way that, facing the images that configure Ping Pong, we can clearly see a well-trained eye for street scenes, and an awareness of the relationship between the elements to frame them through the viewfinder. A daring – and sometimes wild – look that is interested in the raw humanity of its characters. Remembering Sergio Larraín, we could highlight the implacable curiosity of a “Hunter of Miracles”.

The photographs that make up this work could be considered descendants of Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment; not only for presenting unique and fleeting moments captured precisely and accurately, but also for being sincere and honest situations found in everyday life. We are before frames that include men and women captured spontaneously while they go about their business, creating a testimony to the graceful moment the photographer experienced when he shot the photo. But to that humanism of photographers such as Cartier-Bresson or Willy Ronis, Miguel adds a sense of humor and clever wittiness that remind us of the irreverent snapshots of Elliot Erwitt or Matt Stuart; photographers gifted with a mischievous irony, capable of putting a smile on our face with their visual winks. Ping Pong also offers images with a poetic tone, reflecting the solitude of the men or women who live in the big cities. Beautiful urban images, capable of awakening our imagination with their ambiguity: Who are they? How do they feel? What do they do?

Miguel displays different visual strategies in this work, to catch the audience’s interest and that serve to construct images in which sometimes monochromaticity has to be applied in order to preserve the consistency between form and content. But these resources are applied in a conservative and intelligent manner, and always at the service of an idea. In this way, reflections, shadows, blurred objects, trepidation, rhythm, trimmed forms and figures, contrast or similarities alternate in his images, without saturating the viewer with a boring repetition.

Without leaving behind the ingenious interaction between many of the characters and the visual background, similarities and contrast may be the resources that best characterize Miguel’s style. The mastery with which he uses parallelism between the framed elements is evident in many of his images; let’s think of that photo where a group of men are seated, reading their newspapers in a very similar posture; something that suggests a certain uniformity of the Chinese society. Analogies that we don’t find only within an image, but also between images that have been paired with a careful and ingenious editing process. In this way, a lady picking her nose reminds us of the pig’s snout we see in the paired photo, and our eyes go from one side to the other, like that nervous ball that jumps over the net on that tennis table.

His clever use of contrast is also something that needs to be underlined; a resource whose importance has been emphasized by Professor of Bauhaus Johannes Itten and his capacity of awakening the spectator’s interest in the relationships between visual elements. An observer can enjoy searching and finding those disparities, especially when they’re not too evident and require some intellectual effort. Let’s consider, for example, of the image taken inside a Hong Kong train, in which a well-dressed Western man stands tall among a group of Asian people with more informal and “connecting” postures and attires. We might well interpret this scene as a veiled reference to cultural differences between an individualistic and narcissistic West, and a more collective East, yet also undergoing a cultural transformation that puts it in a highly vulnerable situation before new technologies. A cultural clash that manifests with a special rawness in Hong Kong. More than just the fun visual game that Ping Pong proposes, it also offers good storytelling of an anthropological cut, where Asian society is the main character.

Alfredo Oliva Delgado

Doctor in Psychology Associate Professor of Developmental Phychology at the University of Seville in Spain

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