Before the Mystery Ends

May – August 2023

stArt.dt (Wake Downtown)

Photography by Tsing Liu (’23)


As a continuation of my contemplation on desire and desolation, longing and loneliness, I found myself photographing a stranger’s most intimate, private space. Even in the absence of the dweller, I felt connected to the presence of his possessions and traces – the bedsheet coiled, the footprint left on the shower rug, the empty hangers in the closet, the Biscotti crumbs spread over the counter, the drawers left open, the avocado seeds and books stacked on top of each other… By documenting the existing objects as still lifes, rearranging them when necessary, and waiting for the sunlight to hit the right spot, I tried to recreate his presence – him sleeping, dining, showering, pondering, reading, and undressing – as a consolation to my solitary presence in this apartment. 


Scarcity of sunlight during the darkest winter lends clarity to my thoughts; I gathered the courage to share my journal entries juxtaposed with digital images. My background in client-based photography laid the technical foundation for responding fast to the constantly changing ambient light and the interior environment. Working in an unplanned way, being open to accidents and aware of opportunities is essentially a form of acceptance of the powerlessness of humans. I decided to inhabit this mental space as I photographed.


There is a large degree of intersection between still life and portraiture, especially the balance of posed or rearranged vs. candid shots. The former being the photographer’s intervention in an attempt to compose a good photo or express artistically, while the latter clarifying the state of being of the subject/object, though we may argue that the presence of an observer almost inevitably changes the scene. 


In some cases, the photographer is the witness and interpreter of changes as opposed to the one possessing the power of causing them. When I stepped into the same door again months later, I surprisingly found the still life objects re-arranged and the pothos plants, due to a careless mind, dying from the freezing temperature. Left feeling nostalgic and powerless, I wonder how the plot line unfolds next time I stand on the creaking wooden floor without knowing when the moment would come…

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