Grain to Pixel: A Story of Photography in China
2015.09.06 – 11.30
The term pixel is familiar to all. Less familiar is the word “grain”, used in a pre-digital age to describe the texture of a photograph; variations of grain contribute to a timeless aesthetic beauty that is hard to emulate digitally, even with a zillion pixels. Yet, in swapping grain for pixels photography today has lost none of its power to capture compelling moments in daily life, human physiognomy, still life, nature or the imagination.
The transition from “grain” to “pixel” coincides with a period in which in photography in China emerged as a fully rounded form of expression. “Grain” to “pixel” describes an arc of time stretching back almost one hundred years; a period in which photography entered China as a phenomenon and was transformed. One hundred years through which the evolution of photography mirrors profound social and economical transformation. In a wide-ranging body of images and approaches covering via myriad topics and using manner of formats “Grain to Pixel” presents a nuanced vision of China, society and creativity.
For their help with this exhibition SCôP would like to thank the following: all the photographers who provided works; private collectors who loaned works; photographer historian Xu Jianing; Lorenz Helbling and his staff at ShanghArt Gallery, Shanghai; Steven Harris and his staff at M97 Gallery, Shanghai; Mimi Gradel and her staff at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong; Rong Rong at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing; A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu; Wang Qiuhang; Wu Wei; Zhuang Wenjun; Ofoto Gallery; Ximei Digital Fine Art Print Studio; Art Zhou; West Bund Development Group for its ongoing support; and Amy Gao at Anxin Trust for generously supporting the catalogue.
Wu Yinxian (1900-1994)
A pioneer among Chinese photographers Wu Yinxian joined the Chinese Red Army in Yan’an in 1938. Prior to arriving there he studied at Shanghai Fine Arts Junior College 1919-21 and taught art at the county high school in his hometown 1923-7. In 1930 he began work with photography at Hongdeng Photo Studio in Shanghai before entering the film industry first with Tianyi Film Company (1932-4) and then Mingxing Film Company (1935-7). In Yan’an he became head of the Yan’an Eighth Route Army Film Group but also took many photographs of political meetings often led by Mao Zedong. Wu Yinxian remained head of the film unit until 1946 when he moved to the Northeast Film Studio in Changchun. In 1955 he moved to Beijing as Deputy Dean of the Beijing Film Academy a post he held to 1970. He remained active with film and photography until the mid-1980s.
Lang Jingshan (1892-1995)
Lang Jingshan might be described as one of China’s earliest photojournalists although he is most widely known for making photography appear almost in the tradition of Chinese ink and brush painting as demonstrated in the extraordinary image of the noble mountain lion. In 1980 the New York Photographic Society named Lang Jingshan one of ten greatest photographers of all time.
Sha Fei (1912-1950)
Sha Fei arrived in Shanghai in 1936 to seek out a career as a photographer first enrolling in the Western Painting Department of Shanghai Art Academy. There he met many people in Shanghai’s cultural circles the most famous of which was Lu Xun. Sha Fei’s photograph of the writer with young woodcut artists taken during the Second National Woodcut Exhibition was to be the most famous photograph of Lu Xun in his later years.
Although he himself never joined the Communist Party he answered the call to join the Communist army becoming the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official photographer. In this capacity he was prolific in producing war propaganda especially his chronicle of the Second Sino-Japanese War 1937-45. Sha Fei’s photographs reflect a genuine faith in socialist society and a belief that art could help society better understand itself. After 1945 he helped establish People’s Pictorial and in 1948 became director of North China Pictorial. Also in 1948 Sha Fei was hospitalized suffering from tuberculosis. On December 5 1949 still a patient of the Bethune Hospital in Shijiazhuang in a state of delusion he opened fire on a Japanese surgeon serving the CCP in China and who died as a result. As punishment Sha Fei was executed in March 1950 his name erased from the CCP history of Chinese photography. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1986.
Cai Shangxiong (1919-2014)
Cai Shangxiong joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1939. He studied at Northwest University graduating in 1942 and then joining the People’s Liberation Army’s Fourth Army as a staff photographer in 1950. In 1950 too he joined the staff of China Pictorial where he worked until his retirement. As a photojournalist he covered the northern provinces of Jiangxi and Hebei taking some of the most recognized official images of the period.
Wang Shilong (1930-2013)
Wang Shilong joined the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1948 as a photographer. Having been wounded on an expedition into Tibet and demobilized in 1951 he started working for various newspapers in Henan photographing rural life. In 1956 as a staff photographer for Henan Daily he was on hand to capture scenes as the Great Leap Forward was launched. Wang Shilong focused his lens on the hard work done by local peoples organized into work units and communes as they dug canals engaged in mass agriculture and built roads and massive furnaces for producing pig iron for which he was commended as a model worker. He retired in his native Zhengzhou in 1992 where he died in 2013.
Yin Fukang (1927-)
Yin Fukang joined East China Pictorial as a staff photographer in 1949. In 1950 he was assigned to Shanghai People’s Fine Arts Press as an editor of photography-related publications where he worked until retirement in 1979. He currently serves as Vice-President of Shanghai Photographers Association.
Xiao Zhuang (1933-)
In 1949 Xiao Zhuang joined the Chinese Communist guerrilla force to fight the KMT. In 1950 she enlisted with the 22nd Division of the People’s Liberation Army and studied photography joining Xinhua Daily News as a staff photographer in 1951. In 1970 she was sent down to the rural area of Nantong County in Jiangsu province where she continued to work as a photographer for the local administration. After her political rehabilitation in 1980 she worked for Jiangsu Province People’s Publishing House as an editor and later editor-in-chief. Though she retired in 1994 Xiao Zhuang still photographs for her own pleasure.
Li Zhensheng (1940-)
In late 1963 Li Zhensheng began work as a newspaper photographer for Heilongjiang Daily in the northeast of China where his job was to cover daily news. As a recent graduate (1963) of the photography department of Changchun Film Institute Li Zhensheng had only been working at Heilongjiang Daily Newspaper three years when the Cultural Revolution began. Through his camera he captured extensively the unfolding of the Cultural Revolution in his native province and although Li Zhensheng remained a staff photographer for the next twenty years this would form his most important body of work. In 2003 it was published under the title Red Color News Soldier by Phaidon Press and was cited in 2004 by the Overseas Press Club New York as best documentary collection.
Weng Naiqiang (1936-)
Of Chinese ancestry Weng Naiqiang returned to China from Indonesia in 1951. He entered the high school affiliated with the Central Academy of Art in 1954 and graduated from the academy’s oil painting department in 1963. In 1964 he was assigned to People China magazine where his job was to oversee the photographic illustrations. Rising to become a reporter for the magazine Weng Naiqiang discovered a fine talent for photography and went on to photograph the Cultural Revolution extensively. In 1990 he returned to the faculty of the Central Academy to teach ink painting but continues to work with photography.
Zhang Yaxin (1933-)
Zhang Yaxin is best known for photographing the eight Revolutionary Operas produced by Madam Mao (Jiang Qing). Zhang Yaxin graduated from Changchun Film Institute in 1963 joining Xinhua News Agency as a staff photographer upon graduation. Between 1969 and 1976 he was focused on capturing images from the Revolutionary Operas which were widely distributed in those years. He joined the staff of the People’s Daily in 1978.
Jiang Shaowu (1932-)
Jiang Shaowu is known for his extraordinary coverage of the Cultural Revolution. A loyal communist who joined the Communist resistance force in China’s Northeast aged 15 he describes his career as “using my hand and exchanging a spear (used in the War of Resistance Against Japan) for a camera.” In 1954 he was assigned to Liaoning Daily Newspaper as a staff photographer where he worked until 1984. Jiang Shaowu’s photographic coverage of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution in his native Liaoning is considered peerless but his photographs have seldom been shown or published abroad for reasons that may embarrass his beloved country.
Du Xiuxian (1926-2014)
Du Xiuxian joined the revolutionary forces of the Communists at the base in Yan’an in the late 1930s where he studied photography in the department headed by Wu Yinxian. He later became chief photographer of Xinhua (New China) News Agency and from 1960 was primarily responsible for all coverage of China’s senior leaders. He retired in 1986 and his works have been published widely in China including in 2006 the album Red Lenses by the CCP Publishing House.
Liu Heung Shing (1951-)
Liu Heung Shing returned from Hong Kong to the mainland in 1953 and attended primary school in Fuzhou Fujian province before returning to Hong Kong in 1960. From 1971 to 1975 Liu studied Political Science at Hunter College City University of New York. As an apprentice to photographer Gjon Mili at Life magazine Liu’s first assignment in China in 1976 came at Life’s behest. He subsequently became Time magazine’s first accredited photographer in China in 1979. In 1981 he joined the Associated Press moving from Beijing to postings in Los Angeles, New Delhi, Seoul and Moscow to cover most major events of the last decades of the twentieth century. In 1989 he received Picture of the Year Award for his work on the Tiananmen turmoil and in 1992 shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the collapse of USSR for which he was also awarded Kodak Overseas Press Club Award. Liu Heung Shing is the founder of Shanghai Center of Photography.
Lv Nan (1962-)
Lv Nan has been working in social documentary areas of photography for many years and has been a correspondent for the Magnum Photo Agency since 1994. His subjects range from patients of psychiatric hospitals to Catholicism in China from the lives of people living in Tibet to those caught in the region of the Golden Triangle. His works on Tibet was published under the title Four Seasons in 2007.
Han Lei (1967-)
Han Lei graduated from the Central Academy of Art and Design in 1989 in Beijing. One of life’s nomads his photographs map his travels starting from his hometown Kaifeng and revealing a particular fascination for small town life and social misfits. Han Lei belongs to the first generation of independent photographers to emerge in China in the late 1980s and whose work would have a significant influence upon the use of photography in art and the approaches to image-making for which a camera could be deployed.
Lu Yuanmin (1950-)
Sent down to the rural area for re-education by peasants from 1968 to 1972 Lu worked as a projectionist on a farm before being transferred in 1976 to Shanghai Municipal Engineering Institute to work as scientific photographer. From 1980 he worked in Shanghai Putuo Cultural Center retiring in 2000. He is a member of China Photographers Association executive member of Shanghai Photographers Association and Chairman of Putuo District Photography Association. His work with photography focuses on life in Shanghai which through his lens is a dark melancholy muse.
Li Qiang (1959-)
In his early years Li Qiang taught himself to paint but from 1985 to 1987 at Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts where he majored in photography. From 1992 to 2000 he worked as an editor journalist and commercial portrait photographer in Xi’an Beijing Yinchuan and Yulin before taking up a teaching position at Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts in 2001. Over the past 30 years Li Qiang has created various series including Rural Life in Shaanbei (1981-present), Northern Scenery (1981-present), Distance (1981-present) and Elapse (2001-2008) among others. His series on hometown narrate his life experience deeply conveying both the general picture and myriad details concerning this life.
Peng Xiangjie (1961-)
In 1993 Peng Xiangjie began work as a photographer in the Publicity and Culture Division of Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation. Taking his cue from respected photographer Hou Dengke representative of the “Shaanxi Group” which follows the theme of local place in 1991 Peng had already begun to photograph the lifestyle and traditional rituals of rural Shaanxi province. In winter 1992 he began documenting the wandering circus players resulting in a series titled The Wandering Tent. From the acclaimed documentary series Children who Sell Flowers in the early 1990s to The Wandering Tent in 1992 from The Ground (2004) and Gas Station (2005) to The Land of Tiny People (2013) Peng Xiangjie reveals his passion for photography and his concern for those marginalized in society.
Li Lang (1969-)
Li Lang graduated in 1990 from Shanxi University of Finance & Economics having majored in Economics. In 1992 he borrowed a 6×6 120 film format folding camera to visit Kunming with his friends. This marks his first encounter with photography and with people who would become the subject of his photographic pursuit. His work Yi People at Mount Liangshan received the Mother Jones Medal of Excellence in 1999. The Yi people in his photos live close by Mount Liangshan at the border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Li Lang continues to be inspired by people around him. In 2014 his work Father comprised an intense document of his father in daily life displaying a reverence that is akin to spiritual devotion.
Muge graduated from Sichuan Normal University in 2004. He works as a professional photographer under Muge Studio. His works are widely exhibited. Both Going Home (2009) and Silent Films (2009) are series of black and white photographs of the Three Gorges and places along the Yangtze River. In facing a place he called “home” and yet which was constantly under change due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam he conveys emotions about home and his reflections about the special concept of a constantly changing place.
Rong Rong (1968-)
In the late 1980s Rong Rong wanted to be an oil painter. Following three failed attempts to enter art school he rented a medium format Seagull camera and decided to make photography his career. Moving to Beijing in 1992 Rong Rong began part-time photography studies at the Central Institute of Art and Design 1993-5. His first major subject was the artists in the performance art community with whom he lived as neighbors in Beijing’s East Village. Latterly Rong Rong focuses on his own performance works a number of which are executed together with his wife the Japanese photographer inri. In 2008 also together with inri Rong Rong founded the Three Shadows Photography Art Center Beijing.
Zheng Guogu (1970-)
Zheng Guogu began working with photography in the mid-1990s using a camera to capture the play-acted antics of youth in his native Yangjiang. These images captured the changing consciousness of a new generation born in the age of opening and reform. The experience of surging materialism and its twin phenomenon consumerism was further explored in a major work entitled Ten Thousand Customers produced between 1997 and 2005. Here Zheng Guogu took a cue from Andy Warhol’s concept of an easily reproduced multiple artworks. To achieve this he took the most ordinary of snapshots of his own making and of found images and printed the images in strips like postage stamps in rows across a page. The Life of Girls in Yangjiang (1997) is one of the earliest examples of his approach and the handmade feel of many artists work with photography at this time.
Jiang Jian (1953-)
Life provided Jiang Jian with diverse experience: from being a “sent-down youth” he has worked as an electrician a violinist and a photographer. Since 1985 he has held exhibitions at multiple galleries museums and photography events in the United States Australia and Europe. His representative works are found in the series Scenes/Place 1995 Masters (2000) Orphan Archives (2006) and The Fortifier (2011). Jiang Jian’s documentation of the living conditions of farmers and families in rural region of Henan province won him the Creation Award at the Sixth China Photography Awards.
Hai Bo (1962-)
Hai Bo began working with photography in 1999. He had graduated from Fine Art Academy of Jilin in 1984 where he studied printmaking before leaving his native Changchun to pursue further studies in the printmaking department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing from 1987 to 1989. The first series of photographs focused on group portraits. They (1999-2000) presented a thematic contrast of “then” and “now”; “then” represented by a black and white photograph from the 1960s or 1970s; “now” a sharply focused color portrait of the same people in the present with gaps where some people had passed on. In juxtaposing two eras in familiar snapshot style the diptychs provide a profound summary of change. More recently Hai Bo has returned to the theme of landscape producing a series of haunting melancholy vistas of the rural area surrounding his hometown.
Wang Jinsong (1963-)
Wang Jinsong graduated from the Chinese painting department of Zhejiang Academy of Art (today China Academy of Art) in 1987. Assigned a teaching position in Beijing Institute of Education Beijing he moved to the capital and there began his influential career as a contemporary artist. In the mid-1990s Wang Jinsong was one of the new artists who kick-started the use of photography in fine art where the camera both proved that events had been enacted (History Lesson 1996) or that social phenomenon had been witnessed (Chai 1999) but also were proactive in illustrating the effects of social change such as the 100-portrait work Standard Family (1996) and here the 20-piece Parents (1998). Wang Jinsong’s forays into photography remain legacies of China’s contemporary art history.
Zhuang Hui (1963-)
Zhuang Hui has produced a number of works based on photography. Between 1995-6 the series One and Thirty was executed in parallel with a series of large group portraits executed from 1996 to 1998; the goal of both series was to explore the stock categories of common people in a socialist society such as workers peasants soldiers and students. Zhuang Hui’s presence in each photograph serves as a contrast to the adjacent figure and highlights the speed of change in urban versus rural areas. Zhuang Hui always travels with a camera; examples from the series Ten Years (1993-2002) capture instances of his life often on the road but that also say much about his life as an artist and of the situations he experienced of China under change from the 20th to the 21st century.
Song Chao (1979-)
As a contemporary portrait photographer Song Chao is best known for his images of coalminers. Having grown up around mines in Shandong Song Chao also worked at a mining company from 1997 to 2001. In 2001 he met a professional photographer Hei Ming who was photographing a mining area. This inspired Song Chao to photograph his own home environment. This resulted in series such as Miners (2002) Migrant Workers (2011) and Left Behind (2012). The portraits of the miners fully express Song Chao’s knowledge of and respect for the miners and their own spirit. In 2009 he graduated from the department of photography at Beijing Film Academy. His portrait photographs have since been published in the New York Times and Time Magazine.
Luo Dan (1968-)
Documentary photographer Luo Dan began his career with studies at Sichuan Institute of Fine Art graduating in 1992 and from 1997 when he worked as a photojournalist. Since 2005 he has free-lanced and focused on his own projects most of which center on journeys that have taken him across China. First in 2006 he travelled the length of Route 318 from its beginning in Shanghai all the way to the west of China where Route 318 ends at the border with Nepal. Two years later in 2008 he embarked upon a similar journey from the northern border with Russia all the way down to Guangzhou in the south. In 2010 for his third major series Simple Songs he travelled deep into remote mountain areas of the Nu River in Yunnan to photograph the small communities of people who illustrate how much life in the region has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
Wang Ningde (1972-)
The series Some Days for which Wang Ningde is most widely recognized is suffused with the aura of China of the 1970s and 1980s. The format for compositions in the series is an artificial construct. The figures in each photograph are placed in a different situation and environs engaged in different activities but they are all pictured as if sleeping before the camera their gaze turned inward as if lost to silent dramas projected on their mind’s eye as they appear to dream. Wang Ningde sees this series as a process of eradicating each of his own memories painful or beautiful. Wang Ningde graduated from Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in 1995 and his works have been widely exhibited.
Li Nan (1961-)
Under the series title Identity Li Nan documented a wide range of people of this age with different identities. Through the means he deploys photographing groups of people rather than individuals he projects a sense of what identity means to those living within a mass society. In these images the subjects are actors acting themselves as well as the photographer’s concept in scenes using body language and facial expressions that require meticulous arrangement.
Zhang Xiao (1981-)
Zhang Xiao graduated from the department of Architecture Design at Yantai University in 2005. From 2005 to 2009 he worked as a photographer for Chongqing Morning Post. Inspired by the American photographer Diane Arbus while working at Chongqing Morning Post Zhang Xiao took photos of random scenes that he encountered daily. These eventually resulted in a collection titled Them (2009). In 2009 he began a new series titled Coastline featuring more than twenty cities in China along the eastern seaboard. In 2009 he won the Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award and in 2010 the Three Shadows Photography Award.
Wang Qingsong (1966-)
Wang Qingsong graduated from the oil painting department of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1991 and in 1993 moved to the Yuanming Yuan artist village at the Old Summer Palace. There Wang Qingsong’s paintings experimented with an attitude of ridicule and self-mockery leading to what became known as Gaudy Art. In moving on to photography Wang Qingsong grafted symbols of culture onto scenes of modern social reality. Since that time Wang Qingsong continues to use ever more complex sets to project his observations on contemporary life and its complexities often involving a large cast of actors. He is today a representative figure of Chinese conceptual photography.
Zhang Wei (1977-)
Zhang Wei graduated from the photography department of Beijing Film Academy. His works attach great importance to the quality of humanity emphasized in his extraordinary “fake” portraits. In the series Temporary Performers (2007-10) Zhang Wei used his computer to invent virtual characters by appropriating features from portraits of other people and reconstructing them afresh. This was followed by the series Artificial Theater (2012-13) in which he replicates political and entertainment celebrities. Zhang Wei has received a number of awards including Global Times 2010 International Fashion Award and has participated in many domestic and international group exhibitions.
Li Jiahao (1984-)
Li Jiahao graduated from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2008. He worked for several commercial photographers and fashion photography studios in Guangzhou before becoming photography editor for the online magazine nono. The series Home Sea was completed at the beginning of 2008 and was developed as his graduation project. The girls who appear in the photographs are selected to evoke Li Jiahao’s nostalgia for his childhood. The series of portrait photographs is striking in its humanity as expressed though the gaze of the children.
Sun Yanchu (1978-)
Sun Yanchu works for a newspaper in Zhengzhou but his photographs have little to do with reporting daily news. The portfolio he presented in 2009 at Three Shadows Art Photography Centre was part of a series titled Obsessed. Sun Yanchu is not obsessed with one single topic person or place but with a state of mind. He takes a camera everywhere everyday capturing simple elements of reality as they are experienced and often out of the corner of the eye without conscious thought. More recently Sun Yanchu has been experimenting with contemporary tools of technology to produce a series of miniature hand-colored photographs that appear to be a throw-back to mid-20th century portrayals of women between movie stills and advertising but which due to the handling of the content as a photographic object are very much of these times.
Zhu Qian (1980-)
Zhu Qian began his photographic career in 2000. Since then he has been an in-house photographer at the publishing house Modern Media. In 2006 he received a Special Award at the Epson Color Imaging Contest after which his images were exhibited in Tokyo. Zhu Qian’s photographs have particular focus on daily life and street life in Shanghai which he observes with a whimsical direct and curiously matter-of-fact eye which makes the aura very much of its time. In 2007 Zhu Qian was appointed image advisor to Adidas’ ‘Originals Classic and Clean’ advertisements.
Yang Yong (1975-)
In the mid-1990s having graduated from the photography department of Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang Yang Yong relocated from his native Sichuan to Shenzhen. During the next several years he would spend most of his creative energy producing the series Cruel Diary of Youth (1997-2001). As per the title the project deployed photography in a diary-like approach to documenting the lives of many different young women all recent immigrants to the city. These girls are shown in various activities in the course of each day as they make dubious attempts at new lives for themselves in Shenzhen. Cruel Diary of Youth represents an early series study of youth culture in China caught in the first wave of materialism and optimism.
Yang Fudong (1971-)
Yang Fudong is one of the most influential artists at work in China today. Known primarily for his work with video installation and filmmaking Yang Fudong continues to use photography as both a means of recording the process of his filmmaking accenting the perfection of particular scenes and points in the narrative and as an independent vehicle of expression.
Chen Man (1980-)
Chen Man holds a BA in photography from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Since graduating in 2005 she has worked as a commercial photographer a career path ignited two years prior to graduating when she produced a series of inventive covers (2003-7) for the Shanghai-based magazine Vision. Since 2005 she has produced campaigns for brands such as Adidas Nike and Motorola while her shoots for magazines such as Vogue Elle and L’Officiel have made her one of China’s most in-demand photographers. Her distinct brand of high-polish whimsy and fantastical kitsch is an exuberant and pioneering exception makes her as much a creative icon of her generation as she is herself a maker of icons.
Zhang Haier (1957-)
Zhang Haier is a successful commercial photographer represented by the Vu agency in Paris but his best known work grew out of his parallel interest reflected the immediate environs and a subculture of cross-dressers swingers and creatures of the dark which he created between 1989 and 2004. Zhang Haier also photographed a number of leading creative artists writers actors and film directors images also distinct for their focus on personal reality. His portraits are tightly framed in a way that accentuates the subject’s gaze often directed straight at the camera lens. Zhang Haier is one of China’s most distinctive observers of an invisible seam of urban life.
Chi Lei (Chili) (1981-)
Chili is a photographer designer rock singer director magazine founder and editor-in-chief. He has worked as an art director for several leading visual magazines including Not Only Music Maximal Rock and Roll Wind Another Book Magazine the youth culture magazine 0086 and the environmental protection publication Greenness. He now devotes his artistic energies to the bi-monthly cult magazine O’zine born of his own creative vision. Chili specializes in an interactive application of photography and painting combining the weird strange and iconic super-realism style of photography with an unconventional approach to pop culture.
Di Jinjun (1978-)
After graduating from the photography department of Beijing Film Academy in 2003 Di Jinjun continued his education at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. His first job after graduating was as senior photographer for Modern Media’s Life magazine. He now works as photographer and photo editor at Beijing News. In 2008 he started to learn the early 19th century technique of wet plate collodion photography inspired by photos of youth from a hundred years ago. His series Youth (2008-10) is a dialogue between now and then a preview also of the upcoming century. Di Jinjun has received a number of awards including China’s Top 20 Contemporary New Photographers of 2013 and 2014 photographer of the year at the USA International Photography Awards.
Feng Hai (1971-)
A member of the World Chinese Photography Association Feng Hai gained a masters degree in photography in 2000 from the first Griffith University Visual Arts Master Program to be hosted by the Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing in collaboration with Queensland College of Arts. He immediately became known for his innovative work with in fashion photography that combined international style with Chinese elements. A book on Feng Hai’s photography titled Perceptual Photography: Feng Hai Photography Works was published in 2000.
Maleonn is one of the most influential conceptual photographers to have emerged in China in recent years. He graduated from the Fine Art College of Shanghai University in 1995 with a degree in graphic design and started his career as a short film director before focusing on photography fulltime in 2004. Maleonn’s combination of drawing and installation art with photography has won him critical acclaim. Through use of models props and scene setting Maleonn creates bizarre yet beautiful worlds captured in photographic works that make a play of dramatic tension. Recently this has led to a project involving puppet theatre. He is the first Chinese photographer to win first place at the Monochrome Awards International Black & White Photography Contest.
Zhang Dali (1963-)
Zhang Dali began using photography in the mid-1990s as a means of documenting his street art. He followed this with an investigation via photography into the skills of China’s darkroom technicians in the first decades of new China and in service of the nation’s new ideology in the exhaustive project titled A Second History (2003-8). In recent years beginning in 2009 Zhang Dali has been exploring cyanotypes the distinct blue-toned photographic process that is better described as a photogram. Zhang Dali titles this body of work World’s Shadows.
Taca graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2003 and moved to New York in 2004. In 2007 he completed studies in photography at Rochester Institute of Technology. Inspired by the Bronze Age anthology Book of Odes in 2010 he began the photographic project titled Odes. This began with a year-long study of the Book of Odes as Taca planned a route of places mentioned in the book every one of which he then visited. The 108 photographs in the series Odes form a visual connection with the structure of poetry expressing a sense of literature as related to a remote and disappearing world.
Kan Xuan (1972-)
Kan Xuan is a contemporary artist known for her work with video and performance. In her work with photography Kan Xuan uses new technology to tackle an age-old subject; landscape and history. Between 2013 and 2014 for a project titled Millet Mounds she spent months travelling across China to explore all remaining traces of the myriad emperors’ tombs. Using an iPhone the greater portion of the images was done as straight shots but some were dramatically manipulated to capture the aura of the place or to enhance the drama of the land and its contours and contrasts as Kan Xuan experienced them. The technological capability of this smart phone enabled her to inject these fragments of reality with an ambiguous blend of directness and fantasy.
Chen Wei (1980-)
Chen Wei belongs to a young generation of conceptual artist photographers whose images combine traditional elements from still-lifes and painterly constructs like portraiture but which are reinvented as physical spaces with distinctly contemporary auras and photographed as illusory references to objects to daily life and to ideas about meaning. Indeed early works were specifically conceived with the aim of reflecting the artist’s scepticism towards pictorial meaning and narratives that are in the tradition of art invented to speak of reality.
Birdhead is the Shanghai-based duo – Ji Weiyu [b.1980; Shanghai] and Song Tao [b.1979; Shanghai]. Their work with photography documents their world which they do in a style appropriate to the times and to the artists’ own generation. Birdhead’s approach is consciously random guided by concept and unconcerned with an easily conveyed pictorial narrative. There is a deep human aspect to the emotional timbre of the works and at the same time a conscious distance from the subject which allows us to look without feeling the least bit voyeuristic. This is exemplified in this single frame taken in the tongue-in-check fashion of a surveillance camera. For their ongoing role in recording the aura of this period Birdhead will be remembered far into the future.
Xing Danwen (1967-)
Xing Danwen was born into a family of engineers in the ancient capital of Xi’an. She graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1992 but is a self-taught photographer with experience as a photojournalist which she consolidated during a three-year stay in New York 1998-2001 as a student of the School of Visual Arts. Prior to New York her photographic work was formulated within China’s burgeoning avant-garde art scene where her sensibilities converged in the series of documentary images of artists who are representative of the emerging art scene in China in the early to mid 1990s. Following her return from New York Urban Fiction (2004-present) is a fine example of her vision and the skill brought to achieving it.
Luo Yongjin (1960-)
Known best for his studies of architecture and the aura of place a project that has occupied Luo Yongjin for almost two decades he began his career with an important body of portraits that documented China’s emerging creative class from the late 1980s onwards. His work with architecture began in the late 1990s and in photographing rural homes in the region around Lanzhou and the west of China. Luo Yongjin followed similar developments in Guangdong and Zhejiang mapping the evolving tastes of the era through its regional manifestations. This is further illustrated in the series of iconic architectural structures that he photographed section by section in his adopted city of Shanghai.
Lin Ran (1958-)
Lin Ran began taking photographs in 1980s. His chosen format is the old-fashioned now almost obsolete large format camera with its big negatives that achieve extraordinary detail. Each scene is captured solidly enduringly with an air of immutability and without a single person present to confront eternity with mortality. Lin Ran achieves this by travelling far away from dense urban conurbations. Lin Ran’s vistas are desolate yet mysterious beckoning yet haunting desert plains wide and flat empty yet full of detail.
Sichuanese photographer Adou prefers analogue to digital photography. He travels across Chinese provinces with the aim of seeking out introspection and to find a new vision of reality. The series titled Samalada (2006) offers temporal visions of his native place through travels in hinterland provinces such as Gansu Mongolia and Qinghai among others. The photographs play with the textural effects of desert lands via traces of liquid caused by the chemicals used to develop the film. All combine to create a distinctive mystical and timeless atmosphere.
Hong Lei (1960-)
Hong Lei began working with photography in the mid-1990s with a directly expressive approach to manipulating various mechanics of the craft and drawing directly onto negatives and creating photographic assemblages that resembled the tradition of flower and bird painting. This made him one of the most influential artists to use photography at that time. Hong Lei was also one of the first to experiment with the digital mechanics of the earliest versions of Photoshop evidenced in his fantastic landscapes like the triptych I Dreamt that Aliens Landed in a Zhejiang Scroll Painting (2005). His works represent a rounded body of literary allegory pertaining to the experience of daily life in China today.
Yao Lu (1967-)
Yao Lu graduated from the printmaking department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1991. In 2000 he joined the Griffith University Visual Arts Master Program hosted by the Central Academy of Fine Arts in collaboration with Queensland College of Arts. He is now the chair and associate professor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts’ photography department. In his works Yao Lu appropriates the style of Song Dynasty paintings converting real objects into surreal aesthetic subjects. Yao Lu’s series titled Chinese Landscapes uses advanced digital technology to assemble piles of green dust netting that is used everywhere to cover construction materials and trash together with ancient pavilions and boats to create scenes that look like carefully designed landscape paintings.
Yang Yongliang (1980-)
Yang Yongliang majored in visual communication at China Academy of Art graduating in 1999. In 2005 he began experiments involving various media including photography painting video and installation that exploit connections between traditional and contemporary art between ancient oriental aesthetics and literati beliefs and modern language and digital techniques. Having studied traditional Chinese art and culture since childhood these influences can be seen in the traditional aesthetics deployed in his work. Yang Yongliang’s work has been widely exhibited and is in numerous public collections. He is also a nominee for the prestigious Prix Pictet in 2015.
Huang Xiaoliang (1985-)
Huang Xiaoliang graduated from Qingdao University in 2009. In his work with photography the major theme is memory and nostalgia. The series A New Expectation or Miracle (2009) expresses an air of yearning for the past through scenes associated with childhood innocence. Huang Xiaoliang creates these images using projections of light and scenes to produce shadow like a puppet theatre. His handling of scale between small objects made large and vice-versa is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Geng Jianyi (1962-)
Geng Jianyi graduated from the Oil Painting Department of China National Academy in 1985 but from that point on painting formed a small part of his oeuvre. He began work with photography in 1990 and continues to use the medium for his expression always finding new means to redeploy its tools and techniques. In the late 1990s he began experiments focused on the materials of photography from the chemicals used to develop photographs to the paper upon which they are printed. This involved a Dada-form of automatic drawing as well drawing done using developer directly onto photographic paper in the darkroom. Geng Jianyi’s work represents some of the most innovative contributions to photography in art in China to date.
Jiang Zhi (1971-)
Jiang Zhi graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1995 and immediately became widely known for his work with video at a time when the medium was in its infancy in China. He began working with photography in 1997 producing works that have a strong narrative or literary content. Beginning in 2011 in echoes of a homage both to Western art history and to the tradition of poetry and flower painting in China Jiang Zhi embarked on a series of photographs titled Love Letters; artful minimalist floral arrangements in the manner of a Dutch still-life where each of the beautiful blooms is in the process of being consumed by fire. Jiang Zhi’s Love Letters indicate the obsessive nature of love further affirmed by the extraordinary care that the artist brought to composing them.
Jiang Pengyi (1977-)
Jiang Pengyi’s first experience with photography was in the form of an old Seagull single-lens reflex camera when he was in middle school. It was a life-shaping experience. Jiang Pengyi graduated from Beijing Academy of Art and Design in 1999 followed by further education at China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. For Jiang Pengyi light is a clandestine fascination that encourages him to continue experimenting. Through this process of exploring his works have evolved from concrete to abstract getting ever closer to the essence of light itself. In the project in the Polaroid series (2014) he uses Polaroid film stock to capture and present us with pure light.
Feng Yan (1963-)
Feng Yan was born into an artistic family in the ancient capital of Xi’an. He graduated from the photography department of Beijing Film Academy in 1989 and lived in New York for many years before returning to China in 2001. Feng Yan chose photography as a medium of expression for its inherent objectivity. Through various series he has engaged in visual fields of minimalism abstraction and realism playing with themes of materialism objectivism tradition and authority in dialogue. Psychedelic Bamboo (2011) is an example of an entirely abstract work meticulously created by photographing light in his studio.
Wu Shankun (1989-)
Wu Shankun graduated with a BA in media and communication from Beijing Normal University in 2012 and an MA in photography from London College of Communication in 2014. He has published a number of essays on photography in China’s Photo World Magazine. Wu Shankun’s photography focuses on virtuality and the relationship between people and life. His photographs simulate social patterns formed in this pixelated world today. His series of digital works titled A Letter From Afar was nominated for the Seventh Three Shadows Photography Award in 2015.