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Tangled limbs and twisted bodies. 'Submission' by Mark Gong

By Matthew Oxley | 4 years 8 months ago

Mark Gong, shortlisted in the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards for his series SUbmission, was born in Beijing and grew up in the US. 

He was brought over due to his poor performance in the rigid asian education system. He discovered photography and the freedom it allowed following this time. He won his first big award and landed the prestigious photo internship at The Washington Post. Two decades later, he says he “is putting off growing up in favor of traveling and photography.”

Mark's images have appeared in Vogue, Elle, GQ, Numero, The New York Times, Washington Post and many others.  He is the grand prize winner of the Surface Avant Guardian and an alumni of the Eddie Adams Workshop. When he has the time, he can be found surfing, riding motorcycles and shooting personal work.  



Hi Mark - firstly, why photography? What does the medium mean to you?

Photography allows me to work through my thoughts or concepts without the limits of words. Being a first generation immigrant it is far easier and expressive to show rather than say. Words often leave little room for interpretation while photography creates its own truth and people project their own feelings onto the photos. The emotional connection that can happen when seeing a photograph is what draws me to it.

Tell us about the most memorable photograph you’ve taken

The most memorable photo I've taken was always the photo that drew me to the profession. I was backpacking through Morocco fifteen years ago and came upon a child in the narrow streets of the medina. On the child's head was a heavy stack of pink leather from the nearby tannery. Instinctively I snapped a photo on my point and shoot and knew I had something special. I couldn't make out if it was a boy or girl since it happened so fast, but with one eye peering through the bundle there was a magical moment. Up to that point, I've never taken a photo that's stopped me in my tracks and felt I found a diamond. I guess you can say this moment made me fall in love with photography and I've never looked back.     


Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration comes from being open to new experiences, people and ideas. It simply doesn't happen trying it by brute force. Often my best ideas emerge in the periods between shooting and traveling. In a quiet place where you can process your recent encounters and reflect on your environment, those ideas slowly start to emerge. Then it is in the process of conceptualizing, shooting, and sometimes failing where those ideas mature. This process repeated over and over again inspires me to improve and be honest with my work.


Tell us about your series 'Submission'

I came upon this project while on a self assigned photography trip in Sydney. Financially, I was finally in a good place after struggling for over a decade to make this photography thing pay the bills. However this came at the cost of personal work and I was in a creative rut. At the advice of my agent, I took a long trip to clear my mind and focus on personal projects with no attachment to clients or editors.  

Very early on this trip, I became friends with members of the fitness community of Bondi Beach. In this very tight and active community, I was introduced to the NoGi wrestling members that practiced near the beach. What started as a casual photo session quickly turn into something much more. Their tangled limbs and appendages looked like sailors' knots, tightened and bound but also quickly unravelled. The complexity of these holds and locks were not something I’d seen before in wrestling. Sometimes you don't know where one person's arm ends and the other's begin, then in a moment, bodies twist and a new equally complex hold or lock is created. Trying to capture this energy and skill took many visits and the helpful assistance of the wrestlers and coach.   


What's next for you?

The balance between art and commerce is always an important one in our field. Ideally, I continue to pursue my commercial work while finding the necessary time and energy to pursue a long term project. This time, I am planning a portrait series much closer to my current base allowing me access and the ability to follow up more easily.