A Real Imitation.

Photographs by Tommy Kha. Text by Jon Feinstein.
Aint-Bad Editions, Savannah, USA, 2016. 80 pp., color illustrations, 7¾x9¾".



Publisher's Description

"Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Tommy Kha felt a pervasive alienation from his surroundings and was often mistaken for a tourist or ‘foreigner.’ Gesturing to his eyes, strangers would inquire about his ethnicity. As he approached adolescence, these inquiries evolved into questions concerning his sexuality, adding a new layer to his perceived outsider status. These experiences followed him even to graduate school at Yale University, where declining to give a stranger a cigarette outside a bar was met with the impertinent invitation for Kha, a native Memphian of Chinese descent, to 'go back to Japan.' Though these hurtful experiences had become commonplace, Kha remained unscathed; he’d been hearing these types of things his whole life. Discussing his recent series A Real Imitation and how he remains unable to broach the subject of his sexuality with his mother, grandmother, and most of his family, Kha says, 'I think subconsciously, I made these pictures as a response to feeling forced to hide. So I’m trading guises and trying to reflect that. I think this is how the project will end—when they find out.'

Through A Real Imitation, Kha uses a discordant mix of performance, self- portraiture, and iconic pictures of the Memphis landscape to understand and underscore his uncanny and complex experience of feeling like an outsider at home and in his own skin. Obsessed with photography’s ability to reveal and conceal, Kha’s work pushes its function (as Diane Arbus once described it) as a purveyor of secrets. Straying from loud or heavy-handed depictions of cultural identity, he illustrates his alienation with a constellation of visual poems that quietly capture a disruption between his projected likenesses and how he sees himself." — Jon Feinstein


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