My Little Dead Dick is no longer!, cries the online photo community. What? To recall the love romance 2.0 that rose to blogger fame: In the Summer of 2006, photographers Madi Ju from China and Patrick Tsai, an American living in Taiwan met online, hooked up in Macau and after a couple of days, arranged to start a new life together as a photographer couple in China. Their photo diary called My Little Dead Dick, also on their Flickr site [restricted access] exhibited flirty moments of love, friendship, and (party) life in burgeoning China. Sadly, they broke up recently and MLDD is now defunct… However, Patrick Tsai just visited Japan and PingMag grabbed him to find out about his new projects.
Written by Selena Hoy
“Pat Pat’s Dream,” Taiwan 2006. Patrick explains: “This is one of my earlier works. My friends and I were at a music festival which had these great balloon clouds. It was one of those moments where you have a spontaneous idea and it turns out better than you imagined.” © Patrick Tsai
Let’s start with your technique: You seem to shoot very Low-fi usually — you don’t haul around a million lenses and filters and you don’t use a digital camera…?
At the very beginning of My Little Dead Dick, I just used a point and shoot camera mostly and sometimes carried my Leica M6 around in my bag wherever I went… but then I saw Madi using a Olympus Mju II. It was the most straightforward and fast camera that I had seen. Open it and click — so I bought one too. Most of our diary was captured with the Mju which I guess is a very intimate camera.
Eventually though, I finally figured out how to use an M6 well and shoot quick with it, so I went through a total Leica otaku phase for my “Modern Times” project. Now Madi and I both like to use Contax G2 which actually takes better photos then the M6, and also has a great flash.
Pretty much all 35mm cameras take photos of relatively the same type of quality and a lot of the times I couldn’t tell the difference between my Mju and my Leica. But there is a difference in the process handling that certain camera. When you hold a manual camera like a Leica, it gives you particular frame of mind about what to take because it is a slow camera. It’s heavy, and it has a lot of history behind it. A snapshot camera is cheap and less domineering, so you don’t feel the same kind of pressure you do with a rangefinder or SLR. Also how you are with your camera effects how your subject reacts to you…
Yes? So, how do you work, is there a methodology that you follow?
It depends on the project, but I like taking photographs when I see the moment or the situation… When it’s the situation, I will get inspired on the spot and create a scenario. For example, we have a photo of a naked guy crawling out of a gigantic hole in the ground on the side of the road: That happened when Madi and I were just walking one day and we saw that empty hole, so I just jumped in and got naked, and asked her to take the picture for me. For the “Modern Times” series, I am just a hunter like any other street photographer.
Ah, tell us more about your “Modern Times” project, please!
“Modern Times” is still an on-going thing, but for the present I am a little bored with it. I’ve been travelling around China for the past six months documenting the chaos of the city and countryside as well as the daily lives of the people, but doing it in a playful way with the same kind of humour which underlies the MLDD photo diary project.
Actually for the first year that I was in China, I really disliked the country. It’s terribly polluted; cars wouldn’t mind killing you if you were in their way. Some of the people are really rude; the government is scary, etc… But after I started working on this project, I had to view things outside of my personal comfort zone. I started to feed off of the absurdity of things and appreciate it in a new context. Also, living abroad for so long, you begin to understand why people act the way they do.
When it comes down to it, I want to show why China is a great place, but portray in a way in which you need an entirely new frame of mind to appreciate it than in the ordinary sense. For example, I’ve seen sky scrapers on fire near my house; a man standing on a freeway overpass wanting to jump on my way to an interview at Starbucks [above]; a dead body in a famous tourist lake on my first day in a city [below]; and people paying money to see tigers eat live chickens and cows. It sounds a little dark the way I am describing it now.
Now, you have been busy recently with commercial work? What has been the challenge with them? Also, you just finished your first big ad campaign…
Well for mags, we mostly get interviewed or have our photo diary featured so there isn’t much work involved… Also we have an on-going working relationship with Vice after we were featured in their annual Photo Issue. Sometimes I write articles or do photo editorials for them under a pseudonym if it might get me in trouble with the government in China…
Shooting my first big ad campaign for Converse and Wieden+Kennedy was fun. I studied filmmaking in college, so it was basically going back to my roots of being a director again which I really enjoy. But I also found out the hard way, that there is a lot of politics involved in a commercial shoot.
Tell us more, please.
I don’t want to sound lame, but the company is really great in a sense because they support young artists. They took a big risk giving me this chance as well as using local Beijing underground bands as models. They could have gotten Ryan McGinley to do it, but they wanted someone more local.
They wanted me to shoot using a digital camera. I had no idea how to use one of those things so they got me two camera assistants and a whole production team to back me up. I just took a shot and if it was too dark, I just handed it to my assistant to adjust it. Also the camera was kind of heavy so he would hold it for me when I wasn’t shooting. But, actually there was a lot more work involved than I am making it sound right now.
Let’s get to MLDD, please: Now that it’s dissolved, what do you have planned for the near future?
“Modern Times” will last till the end of 2008, but I’ve been looking over the photographs and realized that they feel a bit cold. Now I have been just taking snapshots again of friends and my personal life which I avoided for a while. If you noticed, our photo diary project ended about seven months ago but we are still getting interviewed about it now. I guess that’s when I finally gotten tired of exposing myself to people and also when Madi and I started to have some problems. At that time, I thought we already had an ending for the story which was our first year anniversary together. However, now, because of the break up and the drama that has been going on between us this past month, I am thinking it would be better to add another entry to end our project.
For the near future, I am still in creative planning, but I know for sure that I don’t want to do another long-term project anymore. It’s too demanding and it’s easy to get tired of. For now I kind want to do something more casual and schizophrenic, but still focus on using the internet as a forum to show art. During the Hyeres Festival in Southern France last month, I had a great time. However I realized that my work doesn’t really fit in the high art scene. The Internet is a much more exciting place and a little less stiff!
Also from the diary. © MLDD
Also since Madi kicked me out of the apartment the day before I flew to Japan, I need to figure out if I still want to live in China as well as finding a place to stay… I am seriously considering moving to Japan. The photos I have been taking so far in Tokyo have been my best work in a long time.
Oh, sad to hear that. Now, that is why you came to Tokyo?
Um, I guess there are two ways I could answer that. The safe correct reply or the honest one that will probably cause me a lot of trouble? I’ll do the latter because its more interesting.
As I said, last month, my partner Madi Ju and I attended the Hyeres Festival. It’s a photography competition where they chose ten young photographers from around the world. I met another short listed photographer from Japan there named Ume Kayo, whose work I was a fan of beforehand. At that time, things weren’t going so well with my partner. I was already thinking of breaking up but we had too many obligations for MLDD to do…
Kayo and I became good friends and it was hard not to “like” her. But of course nothing did happen or could happen because I was still with Madi. It was then and there I knew it was time to break up. I had to know if I had a chance with Kayo so that’s why I came on this trip to Japan. But first, I had to return back to China after Hyeres to shoot my the campaign for Converse, which is coming out around the time of the Olympics, as well as actually breaking up with my partner. The day we broke up was the day of the big earthquake in China. It seemed kind of like a sign…
And what will happen to My Little Dead Dick…?
Well it’s the name of our photo diary project as well as our studio. I wish I could still use the name, but because it was a bad break up, I don’t think that’s possible. Our website is already shut down without my approval. Anyway, Madi just finished her own website and I’m going to wait until my new idea and concept develops more before I do my own.
Now, back to Tokyo…
The city is great. I’ve been exposed to so much more exciting art in the past week than I have seen in my past two years in China. Tokyo is feeding my brain.
Also on this trip, I was also able to meet a lot of my heroes: Eye and Yoshimi from the Voredoms [formerly known as part of the Boredoms)], Jim O’Rourke, Afrirampo, and Ume Kayo. Now I just need to meet Beat Takeshi and Araki.
What do you think of the state of photo in Japan?
There are so many great photographers in Japan, but photography here seems to fall into two different categories, I think. One is kind of raw and sexual along the lines of Araki, while the other half is something more beautiful, clean, and cute like Rinko Kawauchi and the other artists that Little More [we featured here] and Foil publishing company have been putting out. Don’t get me wrong, I like them both, but I think that’s why Japan has been the hardest country for My Little Dead Dick to get popular in.
One major thing though, I think Japan needs to break out of its isolated bubble. There are a lot of artists content with being popular in Japan, but they should try to get known in the West especially if they want to survive. The West is in love with Japanese culture, but we only know the few Japanese artists who have gone international like Murakami, Araki, Boredoms, Rinko Kawauchi. It’s so easy now to get yourself heard because of the Internet! Everyone should make their sites bilingual.
For example, last year in Osaka, I stayed with my old friend from the band Afrirampo. She told me she just gotten married to a photographer. I didn’t expect much, but when I finally met Shinryo Saeki, her husband, he showed me his work in a homemade photo album. Here I was in the living room of my friend with a young photographic genius! I asked him if he had a website or anything, but he didn’t even own a computer or have an email address. The same story goes with Ume Kayo who doesn’t know how to use one. What are these kids doing?! They have to break out of their comfort level and take a step outside and let themselves be known.
Patrick. The beginning of their love diary… © MLDD
… shall be the end for us here. © MLDD
Hm, we do get your point. Let’s leave it with that for now. Thanks Patrick! We look forward to seeing you around Tokyo once you move here!