His photographic works are about memory and childhood imagination. They are also about a China of the past reflecting the artist’s view of disappearing social and cultural practices. The works contain themes that could be based on childhood fantasy and play but are left open to interpretation. The ambiguous nature of Huang Xiaoliang’s work allows for the audience to develop their own imaginative narratives from the photographs through his layering of symbols and the compositional grouping of figures within different settings. The artist adds to this quality by including poetic pieces of text that create further intrigue.
Huang Xiaoliang creates his photographic works by constructing a ‘set’ of shadows, silhouettes and cut outs. He often creates the backdrops for the works using paper and inks and projects light or images to create the shadows and figures. Sometimes real objects are used. Silhouetted figures appear against backdrops of landscape with the shadowed patterns of trees or urban settings. The images are richly atmospheric in the black and white of film-based photographic practice with heavy vignetting conveying a sense of time past. The works have a secretive quality, like looking through a darkened window to another world. There is a connection between what is real, the trees and urban objects, and what is animated. The photographs have a childlike freshness to them, they are playful and inquisitive.
As a photographer Huang demonstrates his interest in the basic fundamentals of photography, the play of light and shadow and the latent image of light on film. The photographs are not manipulated and constructed in Photoshop but are created ‘in camera’.
‘I played shadow games in the park during my university days, which gave me some ideas, but the real root of the idea comes from an attempt to display the most basic elements of photography in the simplest way.’
The focus is soft as the forms float in and out of the limited depth-of-field that he constructs in the very deliberate staging of the works. The black and white is a unifying element of the work and enables an easier transition to weave the constituent elements together. The black and white makes reference to a time that is pre-digital.
‘I’ve used a lot of ink and traditional Chinese handmade paper as the base pattern for my images before piling shadows on them,’ Huang says. ‘Although it might look like it, the final works you see aren’t compositions of several photos. The images are composed and created in pre-production, not post-production, and the final works are all formed at the click of the shutter.’
There is a strong link to traditional Chinese puppet theatre in Huang Xiaoliang’s work. Huang would be familiar with the traditions of this art form, perhaps as a small child. Shadow puppetry originated during the Han Dynasty (206-220 AD) and was a popular form of theatre through to fairly recent times. Holidays were marked by the presentation of many shadow plays in the main centres of China. Chinese paper cutting is a folk art that could also be an influence seen in Huang Xiaoliang’s work. It is a craft that is very popular with the modern day tourist visiting China.