Kurt Tong (Hong Kong) was shortlisted for his work Is Life Worth Living?, forming part of a much larger project entitled ‘Dear Franklin’, an elaborate visual narrative that is both a doomed love story and a ghost story.
Have you always been interested in Chinese history and mythology? If so, why?
I was sent to a boarding school in the UK at 13, and then I spent my 20s working around the world. It wasn’t until I became a father that I wanted to reconnect with my Chinese Heritage, so that I could be better prepared to teach my daughter about being Chinese. It started with my own family history, and then I worked on a project about Joss paper; my interest in Chinese history and mythology quickly snowballed from there. It was interesting to see how dominating they are in our lives, even if we don’t know it.
Can you tell us more about ‘Dear Franklin’ and how ‘Is Life Worth Living?’ fits into the larger project?
‘Dear Franklin’ is a 336 page book, an elaborate visual narrative that is both a doomed love story and a ghost story. Between a man who rose from poor beginnings to become part of Shanghai’s social elite in the 1930s and Dongyu, the daughter of a high-ranking Chinese general. The lovers were kept apart during WW2, and we follow their lives through their correspondence. The work explores cultural identity, war, colonialism, forced migration, social mobility and Taoism through multilayered narratives that use found images, texts and documents alongside my own photographs of interiors, objects and landscapes.
Pages of ‘Is Life Worth Living’ act as the anchor points, the protagonist’s self-reflections during challenging moments.