Pictura Gallery

Shao-Feng Hsu | Night Swimming

September 21, 2023

The premise of Shao-Feng Hsu’s project Night Swimming is simple, and yet, I haven’t seen anything like it before. To treat his asthma as a child, Hsu learned how to swim and perform submerged breathing exercises to strengthen his lungs. This practice became the foundation for his photographic work. Hsu’s images are created by holding his breath underwater and releasing bubbles of air upwards. He then uses a flash to expose the imprint of his exhale onto light sensitive photographic paper floating above him.

A photogram is made when an object comes in contact with photographic paper; it is a record of a single moment in time. Using this technique, Hsu creates images that capture the preciousness of a single breath. Even though an exhale is an automatic, mundane function, done everyday without thought, it is also a remarkable and intimate thing- a momentary imprint of a soul.

An umbilical cord delivers a mother’s breath to the child in her womb. During a kiss, the moment of an inhale or exhale is held between two mouths. While my grandfather was in hospice, I remember becoming fixated on monitoring his breath. After so much else of him had already left, his voice, his hunger, his sight, the gentle movement of his hands, it felt like a way of seeing him. As his pulls for air became fewer and the pauses between them became longer, I found myself unable to focus on anything else until I heard his next inhale. The idea that I might hear his last breath, that I might share the last act that held us in the same realm meant everything to me. The idea that I might miss it devastated me.

Hsu’s project is built of simple concentric circles, and yet, I see a gathering of earthly spirits within his images. I see the calligraphic stroke of the circular zen form, esnō, I see an eye staring back at me. I see the profundity of a planet whirling in its orbit and the whimsy of a soggy cheerio losing its form. His images gather me into the small dome of a petri dish where a microscopic organism floats by. And at the same time, I experience immense vastness as I witness a star exploding into dust.

- Mia

See more of Shao-Feng’s work here

03 Night Swimming March 2022 2022
10 Night Swimming August 2023 2023
04 Night Swimming March 2022 2022
02 Night Swimming February 2022 2022
06 Night Swimming October 2022 2022
07 Night Swimming August 2023 2023
09 Night Swimming August 2023 2023
12 Night Swimming Installation 2022