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Portrait of an artist - 62 noted artists in fact

THE essence of an artist, like the essence of his or her subjects, can be elusive, enigmatic and very difficult to capture.

That reality didn't stop amateur photographer Dong Ming, an art lover, from aiming his lens at 62 distinguished artists in an effort to get beyond the public persona and shed light on their inner being.

The result is a unique black-and-white photo album of portraits, the culmination of 10 years of work. The photos are perceptive, not posed.

"I'm proud of the album because it represents the first complete photographic archive of these artists," says Dong, who is in his 40s.

The list includes Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-chun and Cheng Shifa, all heavyweight names in China's modern art history.

The artists were mostly pictured in their studios, without their public facades. They seem more natural, relaxed and approachable.

It's hard to imagine why these masters would agree to be photographed by an unknown photographer.

"Yes, at first it was really hard," Dong recalls. "But my former day job at the Bank of China brought me in contact with a wide range of people and enabled me to enter the world of artists."

For example, through the connections of a friend in Paris, Dong was introduced to Zao and Chu.

"But that doesn't mean all I do is to take pictures in their studio," he said. "I don't use photos in which the artist looks nervous or awkward."

Before taking a picture, Dong researched the artist's work, concepts, biography and hobbies.

"After reading about them, I can approach them with more understanding. Talking with artists never bores me and I always find a spark and honesty. We share a passion for art," Dong explains.

As he snaps pictures, Dong chats with the artists to relax them.

When he went to Zao's studio in Paris, Dong was surprised to find that the master himself did all the framing and moved the pictures about by himself, though he is in his 80s.

"When I offered to help, the master declined, saying that as a professional artist he was accustomed to doing everything himself. I was impressed by his dedication," he recalls.

To complete his enormous undertaking, Dong quit his position at the bank and devoted himself to the project. Painting and photography had fascinated him since he was a child, and the portrait project enabled him to follow what he called his "childhood dream."

"Although loss of income was a financial burden, I felt happier because I was free to do what I wanted to do," he says.

All the photographs are in black and white, "as only black and white can mirror the theme of eternity," Dong says.

Capturing a special aspect of 62 artists, each with their special temperament and character, demanded great effort, patience and subtlety.

"It is easy to take one good portrait, but very difficult to shoot all the artists and capture something unique," he says. "Sometimes the detail is critical. I attempted to capture every small detail in the movements of the eyes and the hands."

Dong takes his pictures at telling moments.

"My advantage lies in my true admiration for these artists. I respect their spirit and their art, and it is my honor to record them visually, permanently in my camera."

Now Dong is considering another daunting project.

"I want to shoot famous Chinese cultural celebrities at home and abroad," he says. "The scope is much wider and I am waiting for a face-to-face talk with these idols."


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