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Nature: A Subjective Place

2016.09.07 – 11.27



In autumn 2015, SCoP’s featured exhibition explored the human subject as a “figure of speech”. This autumn, it is the turn of nature as, through photographs, we explore pictorial ways of representing, structuring and symbolizing nature, be that as physical or metaphorical figure of speech, or simply as elemental landscapes. We take you on a trip into the natural world accompanied by the visions of the great 20th century American photographer Harry Callahan, and our own twenty-first century photography artists Lin Ran, Ni Youyu, Luo Yongjin, Shi Guowei, Shen Xuezhe and Wu Shankun from China.

The idea of “nature”, as a concept and value system, is a constructed one. Through several thousand years of human time, nature has been god, spirit, market garden and scientific study; a source of nurture, danger, succor, solace and provisions. We have harnessed its bounties, shaped its contours and manipulated its productivity. We brought it close, made it approachable and transparent, and simultaneously divested it of its mystique so that we no longer see it as it is. In most pictures the elements that once inspired awe are sanitized by their distance from reality and speak only of a romantic, spiritual ideal. As a result, today we face a multitude of problems, embodied in global warming and genetic manipulation.

But in taking nature as a subject, this exhibition looks at our romantic love of the natural world, the nostalgia that the beauty and power of the land inspires, and its function as bedrock and barometer of human society. The selection of works brought together here speaks most directly to those of us who look at landscapes with a quiet sigh of awe, who feel uplifted at the sight of trees rustling in a breeze or the weight of a magnificent bough illuminated against the skyline, a dense carpet of foliage that rolls away into the distance to land at the foot of a stoic mountain face or the flow of water past a river bank. Seeing is a learned skill. It requires a process. In order for anything to be appreciated or seen, it had first to be framed and presented. In the manner that, as Diane Arbus once claimed “There were things no one else could see unless I photographed them.” What we hope to demonstrate here is how when real nature collides with the precision and clarity of an artist’s vision, when photography engages with human experience, photographs have the power to astonish visually, emotionally and intellectually, and foster greater awareness of the role we play in shaping the natural world.

Nature: A Subjective Place” presents over 70 extraordinarily accomplished photographic works created using a host of styles and techniques, traditions and approaches. From the unusual and innovative works of Harry Callahan (1912-99) seen here in rare examples dating from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s, we have new and large-scale projects from Luo Yongjin and Wu Shankun; a series of elegant assemblages from artist Ni Youyu; magnificent portraits of landscapes from Shen Xuezhe and Lin Ran; and a group of exquisitely crafted color compositions from Shi Guowei.


We would like to thank Charles Jin for his generous loan of Harry Callahan works; Lise Li at Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai; Pan Baohui and Qu Kejie at Magician Space, Beijing; Na Risong for his loan of Lin Ran’s works.



Harry Callahan (1912-1999)
Harry Callahan began his career as a self-taught photographer.Callahan’s subjects include his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara nature and light studies architecture and landscapes and scenes from his travels.

Lin Ran (1958-)
Lin Ran began taking photographs in 1980s. His reputation has been built upon his research and practice using classic photography techniques and materials.

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 the London College of Communication in 2014.  Wu Shankun’s photography is focused on the relationship between people and life viewed through a prism of the virtual.

Ni Youyu (1984-)
Ni Youyu graduated from Shanghai University with a degree in Chinese Painting in 2007. Today he is recognized as a leading figure of the post-1980 generation. In a largely conceptual body of work Ni habitually turns ordinary and trivial things into works of art.

Luo Yongjin (1960)
Luo Yongjin is one of the most exhibited and widely-known of China’s contemporary photographers. It is Luo’s work with architecture that began in the late 1990s that are today most characteristic of his style and focus.

Shen Xuezhe (1973-)
Shen Xuezhe photographs his native region China’s north-eastern province of Jilin lovingly with subtlety. His landscapes are lush layered beautifully framed and perfectly pictured; in many ways perfectly ordinary but seen in a remarkable way.

Shi Guowei (1977-)
Shi Guowei graduated with a BA in photography from the Academy of Arts & Design Tsinghua University in 2002 and an MA in photography from Fachhochschule Dortmund Germany in 2006. Working with traditional black and white photographic processes Shi Guowei deploys the craft of hand-coloring in a most painterly yet invisible fashion.

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