Behind the Slides, our ongoing feature, is where we meet with an artist who presented at a recent PechaKucha event and find out the deeper story beneath the images he or she chooses to portray.
Ni Rong is a Rockport-based photographer. Born and raised in China, her series In America-Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter is a personal project that Rong began in 2012 to investigate her Asian-American identity through self-portraiture.
The project stemmed from years of searching for an emotional home and a sense of belonging. This work has taken her on a rich and spiritual journey, and made her a stronger person as well as an artist.
Note: The slides appear in the right column. Click on the photos to match them with the actual slide notes (in italics). Beneath the slide notes will be the deeper story.
Home in Maine
I am truly honored to be here to share with you my project called In America. I started photographing this series in 2012. It was not intended as an art project; rather, it was something that I had to do for me, to explore my Asian identity.
This photo was taken in front of our home in Rockport. It depicted how I have truly arrived at my home in Maine, both literally and emotionally, both in a tangible and an intangible way. Our home is not only beautiful and inviting, but also strong and filled with history. There isn’t any background that would be more appropriate than our own home, to express how I felt that I have arrived at home: the east and west, all in a perfect harmony, filled with love and peace.
So in some ways, where we are from has become part of who we are. By arriving in a totally different country and cultural environment, I have gained an identity. I was not conscious of this before, because everyone surrounding me was Chinese.
I grew up in Beijing with red lanterns everywhere, around home, and on the streets. At the New Year’s night, my father would light up a lantern with a candle inside and hand it over to me with a stick. It is one of the few toys from childhood that I had the most memories of. I cannot think of anything else to represent my Chinese identity better than red lanterns. These lanterns not only tell you who I am, but they also whisper to you how I feel from inside. No face needed, the lanterns will tell you all.
Despite of being thousands of miles away, home in Beijing has always felt so close to heart. Every letter with the familiar postage brought love and memories. My home has always been in Beijing, and Beijing has always been home.
This photo was taken inside of our home in Rockport, with my husband Dorsey’s desk, his favorite desk lamp, and a painting by our friend, Connie Hayes. It encapsulates all the important things in life, love and friendship. The photo was taken early in the morning with the sunrays flooded the house. I felt in the center of the brightest light existed what was the remains of my mother, whom I lost the year before this photo was taken. She was the symbol of home and love for me in Beijing.
Symbol of the Past
Returning back to the States, I found myself drawn to anything that reminded me of China. Memories of the past have never faded. To the contrary, with age, it’s grown like a seed inside of me. Even though it was almost 40 years ago.
When I spotted this snow-covered cornfield while driving on the snowy road in Jefferson, the scene instantly transferred me to the countryside in China where I worked for three years after high school. This powerful connection made me stop the car and I walked into the cornfield. It represented the China that I knew, before it transformed into today’s China that I have a hard time to recognizing and connecting with. Yes, I left the countryside 35 years ago, but in a way I never really left. The memory stayed alive and fresh in my mind; that’s where I began learning about life and all its challenges, and it has been a very important part of who I was, and where I came from.
I started to explore. Nature became my backdrops. By being with nature, it helped me let go. I felt cleansing, and liberating. The renewed energy made me feel strong and in balance.
My husband introduced to Monhegan Island many years ago. I learned from my islander friends that they set up bonfire on construction debris on the Fish Beach when the wind blows off the island. This amazing pile of debris symbolized to me the constructions and reconstructions that we all go through at different stages of our lives. I also sensed the healing power that it offered to me through rebuild. It was magical from this magical island. This power carried me through storms in life, and made me a stronger person.
Life is a Journey
Life is a journey; and this project started me on a spiritual one. It carried me much further than examining cross-cultural identity. Not only I arrived at a true home, I felt transformation.
It took me five years to finally start photographing the project ever since I had the idea for it. During those years, I dreamed of the images that I would shoot. This image was one of those that have lived in my head for years. To me, the boat symbolized life’s journey; the umbrella suggested the protection and support that we all depend on; and the heavy fog implied the uncertainty and unpredictability in life, which we all face. It reflected sense longing, and the determination of moving forward with confidence and hope.
Power of Nature
I also felt that I have grown as a person as well as an artist. The nature in Maine gave me strength and wisdom, as the people in Maine, provided me with love, support and courage. I would like to finish with a verse “When in Maine.”
I took this photo in our front yard by Rockport Harbor. To me, the birch trees and rugosa stems formed a tapestry that displayed the true beauty of Maine in its purist form; in the meantime, it suggested all the implied challenges and difficulties in the uphill journey that we all face in life. It took me three days to photograph this image, running back and forth with 12 seconds on the timer in the snowy field with -20F temperature. The image symbolized my belief that we cannot run away from difficulties and challenges in life; rather, we should embrace it. That’s how we grow and mature and become stronger each step of the way. Life is a series of challenges, and life is a celebration. This image expressed just that.
Here is my finishing verse I wrote it for the solo exhibit at the Ralston Gallery in 2015:
When in Maine, I am complete;
My feet on the ground, my spirit high.
Maine opens my world wide;
Connects with my heart deeply.
Nurtures my soul with its rain;
Matures me with four seasons.
Maine is love. Maine is home.
For more information about the artist and upcoming exhibitions visit: nirongphoto.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org