Amiko Li, Maiden Voyage

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Imageless Studio (here). Hardcover, with 37 color reproductions. Includes an essay by Tim Davis. In an edition of 300 copies, each signed and numbered. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Amiko Li is a young visual artist who did his undergraduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and now lives in New York and is pursuing his MFA at Rutgers. He left his native China at the age of eighteen to study in the United States and he goes back home every year, this constant movement between two countries and cultures, and the related search for belonging in both places, informing and inspiring his work as an artist.

Li’s recent photobook Maiden Voyage takes the form of a visual diary made over the past several years, the images exploring the world around him and human connections within it. His intimate photographs of friends, family, and strangers, as well as his self-portraits, are mixed with occasional passing observations, the rhythms of the two bringing forward an incisive set of melancholic emotions. These are pictures consistently filled with quiet separation and interruption, the recurring dislocation and displacement seen again and again in different forms. While Li’s photographs reveal few details about people they depict, the pictures capture the nuances of reserved interaction – his portraits are precise and exactingly composed, the people in his photographs somewhat shy and careful, perhaps mirroring Li’s own personality.

The book opens with a photograph of a young man (the photographer himself) – sitting against a brick wall with his head slightly turned to the left, he seems deep in his thoughts. Doubled shadows add an element of mystery to the image, as though Li is wrestling with two ghostly halves of himself or perhaps a split personality. The shadows also obscure a figure of a woman who appears at the very right side of the frame, almost invisible at first sight, nearby but still altogether separate.

In another photograph, Li leans over, interrupting a portrait of a woman in the background. His body takes most of the upper right frame of the image as he looks straight at the camera, yet his face is out of focus. He has inserted himself, but the connection remains elusive. This interruption motif is repeated in a picture where red blossoms get in the way of another paired portrait, Li’s face blocked by the blurred red forms. The visual theme feels richly evocative of a young man struggling with displacement.

Darkness is also used as an obscuring force. A sunny beach is covered by the slashing angle of a black shadow, and an up close portrait of a young woman recedes into deep shadow, both images anchored by an encroaching sense of searching disruption. Other aspects of Li’s emotional landscape are given visual representation in successive images – the missed opportunities of fallen fruits smashed on the brick pavement, the loneliness of an ornately empty lobby, the awkward distance between Li and another man, the implied anxiety of swimming in the sea near the rocky shore. These images fill out a range of introspective emotional tones, mixing heaviness with moments of lighter and more delicate visual surprise.

In terms of design, Maiden Voyage is a simple book, without elaborate design or production elements. A rather small tipped-in image appears on the red cloth cover, and most of the spreads have just one photograph and a generous amount of white space.

Seen together, Li’s images come together as a poetic tale of shared vulnerability. As Tim Davis writes in his afterword, the book “is the self-portrayal of a seer”. Enigmatic and melancholic, these photographs are acutely observant, asking us to see the edges of elusive human connection, where we interact but somehow fail to fully engage, leaving behind an afterimage of emptiness. Put together in the visual narrative of a photobook, they present a layered and complex portrait of personal development, where delicate gestures reach out with tentative grace.

Collector’s POV: Amiko Li does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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