Ke Peng: 2015 LENSCRATCH Student Prize Honorable Mention
Ke Peng‘s photographs of China diverge from the expected explorations of other countries. As she examines aspects of home and what this exactly means, we are in turn granted intimate access to her familiar world as if it was our own. Peng illustrates Hunan in a quaint way, saturating the viewer with lush color, all while sharing quiet narratives that are loaded with eccentric character.
Ke Peng (b. 1992, Changsha, China) lives and works in both Shenzhen, China and Rhode Island. The urge, burden and limitation of being in a specific space, as well as actively looking, are very important to her. She spends a considerable amount of time observing people, space… and cute animals. She is also very fond of milk, jackfruit and canelé. She recently graduated from Rhode Island School of Design.
To reconnect with the first place I have been in the world, where everything seems suspended, and nothing will ever change, I made photographs that depict, reflect and evoke the sensual reality of this place and my feelings for it. I make photographs also because I always have difficulties understanding things that are quite different from me, but I feel strongly that I have to. The urge, burden and limitation of being in a specific place, as well as active looking is very important to me. I am hoping to construct an imagery geographical place by claiming my own version of stereotypical cultural elements, such as plastic, mass-produced objects and political statues. Growing up in Shenzhen, a city just as young as me, whose population grew from 30,000 to 15,000,000 in the past 30 years, I have been surrounded by everlasting movements and changes. I look into the new and the old in the modern China and think a lot about how these two distinct but seemingly connected cities and experiences influenced millions of others and myself.
The first home I remember was on the ground floor of a tenement building, divided in two. In each half, there were four rooms: for eating, sleeping, cooking, and washing. Some rooms were smaller. If grandma was showering, I had to wait to brush my teeth.
We were a family of five, not counting the two ducklings, so I figured there weren’t enough rooms for each of us to claim unless we counted the balcony. Sometimes I would rank my family members in my mind, and first and second place would go to grandma and dad.
Not much sun got into the rooms, so the walls were gray. Maybe that is why I still like overcast days. On summer evenings, I looked forward to the Coca-Cola grandma brought back after working as a kindergarten physician outside the city. When she came home, we sat on wooden stools eating watermelon and watching tv. Next to us was the only couch that we had. It was on that soft and dark brown couch — or on my grandma’s lap, to be precise — that I first learned how to blow a bubble with bubble gum. At night, grandma, mom and I slept in the same bed in the sleeping room, while grandpa and dad slept out on the balcony.
I don’t remember what was on tv, and there weren’t any pictures on the walls, but what I do remember is the nail on the wall near the cooking room. There used to be a black plastic bag hanging on that nail, filled with grasshoppers. Grandpa and I had collected them in the park for our ducklings, where lotus blanketed the pond, hiding the fish and shrimp swimming underneath.
Grandma and grandpa taught me to be punctual. And so I have many memories of waiting. Most of the time, it was at the break of dawn outside of kindergarten, and most of the time, it was ordinary.
My best friend in kindergarten lived in an apartment complex. My dad worked for the construction company that built it. One weekend she invited me to play with her. Grandpa and I got up early as usual. Before we reached her home, we encountered an empty tennis field surrounded by a circle of white high-rise apartment buildings. That day was also a cloudy day.
We took the elevator up, and her parents greeted us at the door. They said she was still asleep in her room. The interior of her home was bright, and everything was in white. The curtains waved gently in front of a clear window. The ceiling was layered, with blue light glowing from between and fine carving along the edges. My dad would know these if I asked him. A few glasses and a vase of flowers rested on a wooden tea table between three couches. It was the first time I became aware that, not every child’s home looked like mine.
I slowly walked to the door of her room. Behind the white door was my best friend. I opened it, and she was lying on her bed, facing me in a calm sleep. Her room was pink, and her bed was full of toys — a deer, a bear, a Barbie. There were many colorful stickers and posters on the wall.
I couldn’t wait to play with her, so I called her softly. Then she woke up.
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