In a world where anyone can snap, save and share photographs instantaneously, a new book by Bridgehampton photographer Philippe Cheng invites a slower approach. 

In “Still: The East End Photographs,” published by Jovis with a release date of October 27, 2015, Cheng has compiled some 100 images shot over the last 14 years around the East End, spanning Shinnecock Canal to Montauk. The photographs, taken in all four seasons, range from abstract detail shots of grass and flowering branches to stretching beaches and wide landscapes.

A notable effect throughout all the images is a pronounced blurring. This is a distinct difference from the wedding, portrait and fashion photography many have come to associate with Cheng and reflects a creative push in his abstract fine art  photography.

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"Untitled, 2002." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2002." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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In a recent telephone interview, the native New Yorker recalled a project from more than 30 years ago, wherein he focused the camera in a way to make the images purposefully blurred. Upon moving to The Hamptons in 2001, he revisited the technique in capturing his environment.

Cheng described the resulting abstract images as “impressionistic and not in a way that defines exactly where you are but hopefully defines a place where you feel.”

Making use of "the blur" better allowed his photos to evoke a mood, something he prioritizes in any shoot, said Cheng.

“Whether I photograph a wedding or make a portrait or a fashion shoot, for me it has to do with the emotional content,” he said. “For me, that’s my driving creative force.”

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"Untitled, 2002." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2002." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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 "Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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The photographer suggested that the blur challenges viewers’ urge to identify what they’re seeing, noting that some find the works too abstract. From his perspective, what really matters is what the vague forms and colors mean to different people.

“It presents an opportunity for mystery. In the lives we have now, which are so based in knowing everything, we all have this deep impulse to know and we have the tools to know almost everything at almost any given moment,” Cheng said, citing Google searches on smartphones as an example. “In some ways, the tool of blurring allows for me to get back to a place of mystery.”

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"Untitled, 2003." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2003." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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"Untitled, 2010." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2010." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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The inspiration for the book title “Still” sprang from a personal place:  an E.E. Cummings poem. The text for the book includes poetry by Cummings along with essays by curator Elisabeth Biondi, landscape architect Edwina von Gal, and textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen. The book also includes an interview with Cheng by Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan.

The inherent feeling of space in Cumming's poems is comparable to Cheng's sense of some of the more open landscapes of the East End. “In a lot of ways, Cumming's very physical way of writing a poem is just like a landscape,” he said. 

Cheng experienced some of these spaces while driving between commerical work and encountering meadows, small ponds or other ecosystems nestled away from main roads while making the images for the book or for other projects. 

“You’ll never know what you’re finding when you turn a corner,” he said.

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"Untitled, 2005." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2005." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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The photographer said that in his experience it is the mix of many bodies of water that is the source of the East End’s unique light. “Still” reveals seasonal differences in the quality of that light: in the winter, for example, a field might at first appear brown and monochromatic, but upon looking closely, shades of yellow or blue emerge.

Cheng also acknowledged that his work often references environmental changes on the East End, particularly in the wake of the current building boom.

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"Untitled, 2005." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2005." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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"Untitled, 2006." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2006." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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“You no longer have that sense of openness that people are drawn to,” Cheng said of certain spots. The artist did not intend to highlight the issue, but said he hopes the photographs remind people of the beauty of unspoiled landscape.

One of the photographs from the book, an untitled 48 by 48-inch C-print from 2005, was added to the Parrish Art Museum’s collection this year, as a gift from Kirk August Radke.

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"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2011." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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"Untitled, 2008." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2008." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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When asked how he has evolved as a photographer over the years, Cheng said that despite technological advances making photography more common, he has a deeper belief in the power of making a great picture. He compared his approach in “Still” to creating a family portrait, which is more likely to be cherished and displayed for generations than a smart phone snapshot.

“I feel like my job,” he said, “is often to remind people to slow down.”

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"Untitled, 2010." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

"Untitled, 2010." Photograph by and courtesy Philippe Cheng.

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BASIC FACTS: “Still: The East End Photographs” by photographer Philippe Cheng is published by JOVIS Verlag GmbH, 2015, 128 pages, hardcover. The publication date is October 27, 2015. For images and details on the book, click here. To see Philippe Cheng's photography series, visit www.philippechengphotography.com. For his wedding and event photography, click here. Philippe Cheng is based in The Hamptons.

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Copyright 2015 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

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