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Interview with Kurt Tong, winner of Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now competition

by Julie Bassett. 10 Nov 2009

Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now competition awards the best self-published photographic books, throwing up some real gems

Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now competition awards the best self-published photographic books, throwing up some real gems. Kurt Tong is a photographer who exhibited great skill in this competition, not only being named the winner in the Editorial category for his book People’s Park, but he also got a runner-up spot with In Case It Rains In Heaven and an honourable mention for Farewell in Labrador, both in the same category.

We caught up with the UK photographer to see how he feels about his achievements.

Kurt Tong

How did it feel to be named the Editorial Category winner in the Photography.Book.Now competition?
I was really happy. I think having been chosen as a winner by the judges really confirms I am on the right track

And then to find out about another book being runner-up, and a third title receiving an honourable mention! You must have been very excited.
Having the other two books recognised too has given me lots of confidence for my next project. I am really pleased, especially with one of the books being so different from the other two.
In Case It Rains In Heaven getting third was the best surprise for me. The idea for that project came to me when I was stuck in traffic back at the beginning of June. I was so convinced that it would work, I flew out to Hong Kong with no guarantee from any magazines before the end of June to shoot it. I only finished shooting the project a couple of weeks before the deadline date and only made the book to take to Rhubarb Festival in order to show the editors and curators there.

How many books have you self-published through Blurb?
The three books I have entered into the competition.

Would you recommend it to other photographers and artists?
Definitely, I think Blurb offers great control over the design and colour match. The quality of the books they produce is amazing considering the cost. There are of course other printers, but they charge two, three, sometimes even five times what Blurb does.

What’s the best thing about self-publishing?
Making a book really helps me re-edit a project. Sequencing the images for a book also helps me to see the project differently. A book is also a great way to show people the projects as a whole and they are cheap enough to leave a copy with someone who maybe interested in taking it further. Not every project works as a book and doing the design also weeds out the projects that don’t work.

How did you get into photography?
I was actually trained as a health visitor at The University of Liverpool when I went to college. I have been into photography since I was a young teenager, but I got into it again seriously when I was working for various NGOs in India. I was getting enough work so I gave it a shot and became a full-time photographer. After a few years, I found myself almost on autopilot when I was shooting and I wanted to expand my knowledge of photography beyond what I was familiar with. So I did an MA in documentary photography at the London College of Communications in 2006. For personal projects, I mainly shoot with a large-format camera as I just love the process and working methods involved in making images with this format.

Can you give us a bit of background to the People’s Park project?
Looking through my family photographs, apart from the customary family portraits in front of Christmas trees and behind birthday cakes, most of the photos of my brother, sisters and me were taken during our daytrips out at various parks. I vividly recall these parks. The penguin bins, the bumper cars, the trains and the ice cream stalls are so clear in my mind; these are the little snippets that make up my childhood.
Inspired by my family snapshots, the photographs in this project explores recreational spaces found in China. In 1958, at the beginning of The Great Leap Forward, when private ownership was banned, many existing parks were renovated and new parks were built all across China, many were renamed People’s Parks. Over the years, they became main focal points of cities, where families have outings and couples meet.
China is changing at a staggering pace. The economic miracle means that the Chinese are enjoying a much more affluent lifestyle. Shopping and the Internet have replaced bumper cars and Ferris wheels. With disuse, many of the People’s Parks have fallen into disarray. Millions of older Chinese grew up with these parks and have memories of time spent in them. Just like the parks, their memories are slowly fading away with time.
I originally wanted to document the parks that I grew up playing in, but quickly realised that they have long been built over. I wanted to capture similar spaces in China before they too disappear.

People's Park

See more of Kurt’s work at www.kurttong.co.uk, or visit www.blurb.com/bookstore/pbn-winners-09 to view the rest of the competition’s winners.

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