Chinese photography

After the Cultural Revolution in china there was economical and social damage. Many people were persecuted in the violence that took place across the country. Many historical monuments were destroyed. In 1969 Mao officially declared the end of the Cultural Revolution, but it was active until the death of Lin Biao in 1971. The Party assigned chief responsibility to Mao, but also laid significant blame on Lin Biao and the Gang of Four for causing its worst excesses. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the art scenario in the china changed drastically, this gave birth to contemporary Chinese art.

Contemporary art includes painting, performance, film and photography. Until recently, art exhibitions were less controversial as compare to the contemporary and performance art. Most of the contemporary artist in particular faced the threat of arrest in the early 1990s by Chinese government.  In this era until now contemporary Chinese photography has played very important role.

Being a design student in my foundation years I explored different art movements. As I was reading about them I realized these are only consisting of western art. The art scenario in the eastern world is completely disconnected with them, though there were different art styles and experiments took place. After studying art history I realized I am not aware about the Asian / eastern art scenario. Therefore I think this essay is very important for me in which I am looking at art by different Chinese photographers.

The exhibition of contemporary Chinese photography explores the different elements of Chinese revolution, such as economic growth, cultural heritage, contemporary culture and importance of history. It has different and contemporary photography aesthetics. There are selected six photographers who distinctly portray these elements through their photographs. London-based Nathaniel Gaskell, the curator of the show in New Delhi, says, the exhibition shows that Chinese photography in the 21st century can be defined by its multiplicity of approaches to the medium in hand, whilst holding up a perhaps inescapable mirror to the current cultural condition of the country. The six photographers in this exhibition were chosen because they either individually or collectively embody this idea.

Here is the information about Chinese photographers which are chosen for the exhibition at Tasveer art gallery.

Chu Chu:


Chu Chu’s series of photographs called ‘it’s not it. Tools’ includes photographs of daily tools taken from interesting angles. He has printed these images as big as human height. When these images are front of you in a large size you tend to look at them in little differently. Here hammer doest remain hammer, its huge scale makes this experience meditative.

Liu Yue

Liu was born in Shanghai and then finished his graduation from the Department of Oil Painting at the College of Fine Arts, University of Shanghai.

I love his work mountain blossom, so simple yet so creative, floating between words quilt, flower and Chinese landscape.  He plays with metaphors cleverly in his work. Quilt is an important aspect in modern human society, everyone needs it. In the beginning of Chinese reform, after 80s, quilts were revealing many aspects of society at that time. The quilt was very an important aspect in the society, though it wasn’t very colorful and interesting as it is. People back then had many restrictions compare to current society.

Flower is also very symbolic and anyone can relate to it. Chinese landscape plays important part in the photograph. It has long history behind it; hence it is symbolic to the spiritual art and religion in china. The mountains are prominent symbol to which people of all ages express themselves through the landscape and hence can relate to it very easily. This series is like a classic poem; each and every person can relate and interpret it differently.

Luo Yongjin

Luo Yongjin’s birthplace is Beijing. After graduating as a BA (English) student from PLA University of foreign, he studied in the department of oil painting of the Zhejiang Academy of fine arts, after that he worked at freelance photographer and cameraman for China Central TV in Beijing. In the year 2000 he was appointed as the Professor of Photography at the Shanghai Institute of Design in the China Academy of Fine Arts.

Architecture is an important element in human society, it plays prominent role in human evolution. Basic need of shelter and protection which led human to explore architecture and in the period of time it’s has become a symbolic element in human mind and society. It is a medium through which you can express your culture. Therefore it is an essential element in human civilization. After the economic growth and urbanization, many Asian countries inclined towards the western way of modern architecture and the traditional architecture started vanishing. Especially in china, in the process of modernization the look of rural and urban architecture has changed drastically. In this process the regional landscape undergoes such a vast change that it is disturbing. Although we don’t like this change so much which unsettles us, we are trying to adapt it and make it part of our lifestyle.

Luo’s photographs have the notion of preservation. China has rich architectural history, in its recent history there have been lot of changes. In his work ‘fort houses and new residence’ he is trying to show the certain loss of china’s historical architecture in the 21st century. His photographs are simple and perfectly composed, yet as he is placing new residency and old fort in the same plot, it is unsettling and thought evoking, which makes us question the modern architecture and its forms. Nowadays, traditional architecture is vanishing, government is demolishing old building and modernizing the city. Through his photographs Luo Yongjin is trying to preserve these old monuments and helps us understand this issue.

Yang Yongliang:

Yang is a young artist from china. He was born in 1998, in Jianding, Shanghai. He studied Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy as youth under the professor Yang of Hongkong in the Chinese University. Then he completed his course on visual communication from shanghai institute of design. He has done lot of work in painting, photography and installations.

After studying traditional Chinese art and calligraphy, Yang Yongliang has unique way to approach photography. He has recreated Chinese Shanshui painting with using digital medium. His photographs are combinations of traditional Chinese paintings and new digital art. When you see these photographs it looks like Chinese painting with modern buildings, but as you go close to the image you are able to see the details of individual photographs.

Also when you are looking closely at his work, it is amazing the way he depicts all details hidden in the city landscape. In tradition Chinese paintings there are green trees, Chinese buildings, horses and donkeys but in his work they are replaced by chaotic electric poles, skyscrapers, shiny cars. As he juxtaposes different modern city elements and depicts them in the traditional way, a modern city scene becomes the most important factor.

He has able to achieve visual unity and harmony in his work which includes great amount of details.  To create this kind of work one requires lot of patience. His patience and skill makes this work unique and shows his amazing sense and control on the overall photograph and composition. Visual elements in his work like cars, high rises, light boxes, roads etc are actual photographs taken by him. He has successfully managed to transfer these realistic objects into traditional Chinese art. His work is poetic and the way he places all elements makes you go through the details he has created in his landscapes. His work raises lot of questions on modern lifestyle, globalization and traditions. It’s shocking the way these elements are placed in front of you so boldly, yet it is so beautiful and harmonious. His work definitely explores different ways of contemporary photography and I am sure it will help other artist to take inspiration to extract different elements from their traditional art from whichever region they are form and incorporate it in the contemporary art.

Yan Xinfa:

In 1974 Yang Xinfa began taking photographs. In last 30 years he has done fabulous amount of work. There are very few photographers like Xinfa, who has dedicated their work to particular purpose and have pursued it throughout their life. In past 30 years he has been roaming around the villages in central china and documenting them to preserve these ancient villages. Through his images we get this sense of tranquility and steadiness. According to Xinfa these villages represent Chinese history and tradition, which are vanishing with the time. These portraits of Chinese villages are really important and going to help preserve the scene of rural china for a long time.

Ma Kang:

Ma Kang has a different approach towards photography. He doubts whether we can call photography as ‘recording the real’. He has taken his photographs in very unconventional way; they are blurred, shaky and hard to understand the details. He has so called anti photography approach. Yet he has unique style which makes his work interesting and special.

Through Ma Kang’s photographs we see these different historical land marks which certainly make comment about history and contemporary world. He makes comment about history being half true and half false. With the Cultural Revolution and other changes in the country there is still uncertainty about the history. Ma Kang images are helpful to understand this uncertainty and evolution of history in a very shaky way.

Delhi – 20 August – 30 August 2011

Kolkata – 22 September – 01 October 2011

Bangalore – 13 December – 04 January 2012

Mumbai – 10 February – 18 February 2012

Ahmadabad – 06 April – 14 April 2012


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