Nguan grew up in Singapore and graduated with a degree in Film and Video Production from Northwestern University in Illinois. His first monograph, Shibuya, was named in PDN Annual as one of the best photo books of 2010, and his work has been featured in publications such as Arkitip, It’s Nice That, and the Vice Photo Issue.
In Nguan’s second monograph entitled How Loneliness Goes, soft light and a muted palette coat moments of rare solace in one of the most crowded countries in the world. We are hit with the word loneliness before even opening the cover, and as the pages go by we start to question if the subjects are the lonely ones, or if maybe it’s the artist. Or maybe it’s all of us. The work unfolds slowly and becomes a nod to all those who feel alone in a crowded room, who live on busy streets, and get a little more lost with every face they see.
But this monograph isn’t only about loneliness. It’s also about Singapore. Nguan has stated that whenever he hears his country being described as beautiful nowadays, the words “it’s so clean” inevitably follow, as if the country “owes all of its allure to an inordinate amount of soap.” He was influenced by a piece on Singapore written by William Gibson called Disneyland with the Death Penalty, which describes the country as “a bland dystopia where the ghosts are gone and ‘nothing is falling apart’.” From then on, Nguan has created his photographs as a response to that statement, and it shows in the sallow colors of his photographs: washed clean, but left with a dull film from hard water. Nguan stated that he wanted his palette to be reminiscent of colored pencils, to show a “naïve and tender tone on the surface meant to belie the grimmer themes beneath”. Just like Singapore.
Then, it all comes to close with a breathtaking image of a cracked flowerpot bound in thick cords, hugging tightly around the ceramic that’s bursting from the weight of what’s growing inside. Flip the page and we’re left with the following:
“How Loneliness Goes is about those of us who abide in the city. My wish is for this book to wander in my stead, exist as a testament to existence, and credibly proffer the possibility of beauty as a balm for everyday sorrow.”
Never have I gotten such severe goose bumps at the end of a photo book before. Never have I seen an artist tie up in such a refined, elegant way the essence of the purpose that they wish their work to serve.
Review by Taylor Kigar
Title : “How Loneliness Goes”, 2013
Size : 10” x 10.5” inches
Publisher : Self Published
Page Count : 55 Pages
Edition : 220 copies, signed