|JBT©20170622111: Lineup of organisers and guest exhibitors at the Opening Ceremony Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center in Futian|
Themed "Postures of City," the First Shenzhen International Photography Exhibition (SZIPE) organised by the Shenzhen Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the China Photographers Association, is intended to become an annual four-day day event.
JBT©20170622143 Exhibition in Hall 6 of the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center in Futian District, Shenzhen.
The international (foreign) contingent
|JBT©20170622089: Guest exhibitor Brian Griffin (UK) with student volunteer translator Alvin at the opening of SZIPE|
|JBT©20170622330 Yann Layma, Lafont International Hotel, Shenzhen, June 2017|
|Tom Hutchins (1921-2007).|
This self-portrait was made in the office of a northern Chinese
coal mine before he descended to photograph the workers deep at the coal face
Preparing for the Opening Ceremony
|JBT©20170622011 A state of the art ID system for portraits and signatures used to register participants |
before the opening ceremony
|JBT©20170622124 Su Yuezhou, a senior editor of the Chinese Photographers Association English-language web |
blog, PhotoInter, tries to take a phone call amid the noisy excitement of the opening of the First Shenzhen
International Photography Exhibition
|JBT©20170622037 Brian Griffin photographed in the front row with organisers of the First Shenzhen International Photography Festival|
|JBT©20170622 More front row dignitaries from the First Shenzhen International Photography Festival Exhibition|
Notes on the main Exhibition
Critically, the missing all-important benchmark for me was the absence of a display clearly aiming to show the unique differences between individualised hand-crafted prints made by the photographers themselves (usually defined as original prints, or vintage prints). Instead, there was a relative sameness about everybody's work, as if each print had been made by a robot. There are considerable practical and economic advantage to the widespread approach in China to have all prints, for exhibitions like this made by staff printers from digital files provided by the photographer. The result, however successful, is that all-important subtleties are missing from this homogenisation, and the very differences celebrated about the different approaches of the great photographers are lost in transition. To improve their own photography, photographers must have access to the actual prints made by the masters of the medium. Art museums, auction houses, and commercial fairs like Photo Shanghai know that. Only the personally-made or personally-supervised prints showing their unique beauty and "itness" fully express the intentions of their makers.
As a foreigner who has spent 50 years educating New Zealanders about these issues, I think this is a major issue facing all of China's vibrant photography festivals and the growing number of important exhibitions aiming to further art appreciation in photography. I think the study of original prints is vital for lifting the experiential and intellectual appreciation of fine photography in China. This is, after all, virtually taken for granted in many other countries worldwide where photographic education has reached the highest levels. In short, significant photographs deserve more professional presentation to promote not only their historical value but also their art historical, academic, educational value and affects their subsequent commercial value.
My hasty impression of the exhibition, however, was firstly that the design could have been improved if the excessive gaps between the images had been reduced, and secondly there was not a vintage gelatin silver print on display from the analogue/darkroom era. On the other hand, there were quite a few outstanding, and relatively large-scale digital prints that did the more recent photographs justice and challenged the impression that practically every print was made by the same machine.
To put my observations in perspective, I must admit that I have been forced to come to grips with these issues in regard to the presentation of Tom Hutchins photographs of China, simply because so few of his original prints have survived (largely due to his own negligence). If our exhibition had consisted of surviving vintage prints from his Canton visit, only a single, exceedingly rare and valuable print could have been presented. And it is because of this that we have been forced to present digital copies from a set of 600 prints made from his negatives under his supervision in the mid to late 1990s. As faithful to his vision as they were, the more recent prints, which were made on different paper thirty years later, were not the same as the few surviving Agfa Brovira gelatin silver prints from the early 1960s, which have their own distinct rich tonal range and quality.
I know there are sound reasons of speed, economy and convenience for the widespread practice of exhibiting locally made exhibition prints from digital files supplied by the photographers. Just as there are good reasons for framing but not hiding the photographs behind protective and reflective glass or perspex. Another key advantage of outsourced digital printing is that it saves the necessary shipping and insurance costs of freighting unique and fragile original prints.
I do not advocate abandoning the quick digital reprinting methods used. Rather, I would suggest that the most useful, and educationally valuable system would be to include at least one or two exhibitions to showcase examples of the very best prints that photographers make of their images, from any era, as a shining example of what can be achieved in this unique medium distinguished by its democratic ability to create multiple originals.
As we were reminded by the Shenzhen printing of our digital files of Tom Hutchins' first China photographs, there are several key problems with having to rely on a distant printer to interpret the digital files from which the exhibition prints were made. In our case, despite providing careful instructions and some sample prints, the technical variables got in the way and Tom's images were printed too dark and looked even duller because they were displayed on the shaded side of the display wall. (To combat this particular problem, one's cellphone's flashlight is as valuable a tool as a handy magnifying glass.)
Tom Hutchins' few surviving prints from the early 1960s simply do not represent his finest work, so I must use digital copies of late prints, and digital prints made from copies of his negatives to represent his vision and intentions. He had specific instructions for remaking key images; "crop here", "increase contrast", "retain shadow detail", etc etc., for the images printed when he was alive. The feelings expressed, as well as the optical quality of his prints, were both important. But, as mentioned above, it is virtually impossible to make new digital prints that exactly replicate the deep rich tones and luminous whites that distinguish the best of his few surviving prints.
Fortunately, other exhibitors fared better with handsome and serviceable prints reflecting, in the main, their individual intentions. Yann Layma, whose superb work was presented opposite Hutchins' historical images of Guangzhou, was happy with the printing of his work, as was Brian Griffin. Nevertheless, the real impact of Griffin's innovative pioneering work comes with seeing his smaller, crisper and more distinctive vintage silver prints from the 1970s. When I raised this issue with him he told me that he could, in fact, have exhibited some of his original prints instead of digital enlargements. But they are worth a lot of money these days and would have to be archivally framed and insured against damage or loss. (The new Chinese audience has yet to be educated about preventing damage to exhibition prints by not touching them, and leaving unwanted scratches, smudges and fingerprints that mark the print's delicate surface.)
Being able to see and study original prints is vital for a photographer's progress because it is not just the optical information within the frame that defines meaning, but also the subtleties of the print. It was, for example, quite shocking to see Diane Arbus's original photographs for the first time in the 1970s. One was confronted, through her tough, staring gaze, with her stark representations of a Jewish giant towering over his parents in their home; or an angry boy with a toy grenade; or an Elizabeth Taylor lookalike with her family and handicapped son on a New York street. She seemed to be laughing at them on first look, but what became evident from her warm-toned unglazed glossy prints was that her attitude to her subject matter was actually accepting and empathetic. Who and how she photographed people was very unusual at the time and ultimately, through increased exposure to previously avoided outsiders led to a growing acceptance of difference (the "other") as a more familiar component of mainstream society.
To aim high and improve one's work a young photographer must be exposed to a wide range of original prints, so they truly know the difference between a photograph by Edward Weston, or Paul Strand or Dorothea Lange, or Bill Brandt or Joseph Sudek or Olivia Parker, David Vestal or Henri Cartier-Bresson, Harry Callahan, Maggie Taylor or Paul Caponigro. Or in a Chinese context, the difference between a print by Rong Rong and inri, or Taca Sui, or Lu Guang or Wang Ningde or Mo Yi or Zhang Kechun or Yang Yongliang or Wei Bi is vital to their success. The differences can be subtle or huge, and they all make all the difference for learning what is the best choice of print for one's own work to best express not just what was seen but what the photographer felt about the subject: that wide range from love to hate, from exquisite romantic delicacy to brutal honesty or criticism.
Personally, I was delighted to see the work of the senior practitioners listed above, not just for the strength of their vision but because I can add them to my list of possible exhibitions of Chinese photography that I hope to be able to create and promote overseas. Likewise, it was wonderful to see the work of new photographers with their fresh use of the medium leading to pictures that may not be unique or perfect but are full of life and the promise of better work to come. This was only my second visit to Shenzhen but through this exhibition, I came away with a broader appreciation of the attractions and reality of this remarkable modern city.
|Brian Griffin's lecture with work displayed on an outstanding high definition digital back screen typical of the modern facilities of the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center in Futian District|
A portfolio of images from ZIPE: the First Shenzhen International Photography Exhibition, China 21 June 2017
Brian Griffin (UK)
|Brian Griffin's cover picture from his seminal book, Power, published in the UK |
|Brian Griffin: photograph from his Work series from the 1970s|
|Brian Griffin: photograph from his Work series from the 1970s|
|Brian Griffin: photograph from his Power series from the 1970s|
Yann Layma (France)
|Yann Layma: Top of the Diwang building at 430-meter altitude, Shenzhen, December 1995.|
|Yann Layma: A crowd looking at a fashion show in front of a department store, Shenzhen, December 1995|
|JBT©20170622238: Aa woman recognises herself in Yann Layma's December 1995 photograph showing|
the small mall where she bought her apartment in Shenzhen
|Yann Layma: a billionaire comes out of luckiness statues in his luxury palace.Shenzhen, December 1995|
'First Impressions: The Canton (Guangzhou) photographs of Tom Hutchins, 1956'
|JBT©20170622229 'First Impressions: The Canton (Guangzhou) photographs of Tom Hutchins, 1956' co-curated by Su Yuezhou and John B Turner for the First Shenzhen International Photography Exhibition, 2017|
|JBT©20170622189 Vistors study some of the first photographs the New Zealand photojournalist Tom Hutchins |
made in China 61 years ago
|Su Yuezhou (JBT©20170622168): John Turner comparing the tonal quality of the exhibition print with|
the reproduction in his book, Tom Hutchins: Seen in China 1956 (20016)
|JBT©20170622166 Jiang Jian, the distinguished photographer, casting his expert eye over the printing quality of Tom Hutchins' photographs from Canton in 1956 for Su Yuezhou, co-curator of the exhibition|
Tongshen Zhang (China?)
|JBT©20170622245 Tongshen Zhang, Finland Stories, SZIPE|
|JBT©20170622249 Tongshen Zhang, Finland Stories, SZIPE|
Liu Yingli (China?)
|JBT©20170622252 Liu Yingli: from 'City rhyme of Bangladesh' series|
|JBT©20170622255 Liu Yingli: from 'City rhyme of Bangladesh' series|
|JBT©20170622256 Liu Yingli: from 'City rhyme of Bangladesh' series|
Zhu Xianmin (China)
|JBT©20170622262: Zhu Xianmin|
|JBT©20170622263 Zhu Xianmin|
|JBT©20170622266 Zhu Xianmin|
|JBT©20170622271: Zhu Xianmin|
Chen Jin (China?)
|JBT©20170622286: Chen Jin|
|JBT©20170622288: Chen Jin|
|JBT©20170622294: Chen Jin|
|JBT©20170622295: Chen Jin|
A small selection of other photographs of interest
JBT©20170622303: Chen Jianhuai: 'MAORI', from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section
of the exhibition. This title has got me very confused because the Maori are the native Polynesian people
of New Zealand, and this adorned mannequin seems to be from Asia and perhaps India?
|JBT©20170622305 Su Weiching: Workers, from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section|
of the exhibition. This simple and charming pair of images reminds one of the importance of the photographer
moving around in a situation to capture the most revealing points of view. Clearly also the photographer is
celebrating the fine physical form of these men
|JBT©20170622306: Su Weiching: The backbones, from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section|
of the exhibition
|JBT©20170622307: :Liu Zhiyong: Cross Road, from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section of the|
exhibition. Content, and form are the essential ingredients of a picture, and the more abstract the shapes the
more is left to our imagination. One could spend a whole lifetime photographing such a street crossing to capture
the most beautiful and varied pictures
|JBT©20170622308: He Jianhue: Little Teacher, from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section|
of the exhibition. The magic of light, colour, tone and scale speaks for itself. Photographers have to learn to trust their audience to figure out meanings without the corny, overly directive titles
|JBT©20170622312: Xu Jun: Childhood Memory, from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section|
of the exhibition. This remarkable and intriguing picture is a more sophisticated example of trompe l'oeil
(fooling the eye) than 'Street snapshot' shown earlier. The scene depicted has all of the atmosphere of
an historical picture from the mid-1940s, or a movie set, perhaps, which indeed it might well be?
JBT©20170622313: Zhai Xiaolin: Jealousy, from the Vision of Photography and City Gesture section
of the exhibition. Another intriguing, emotional picture with a corny spoilsport title that can't be trusted
|JBT©20170622301: A sample of the useful wall labels in the exhibition: for Gu Guisheng's 'Faces of Miners' image|
I am not sure if a catalogue of the First Shenzhen International Photography Exhibition will be published, but the neat illustrated wall labels proved indispensable for recording who made what photograph because they were bilingual, The absence of dates on most of the works, however, was disappointing for anybody interested in the history of the medium. For critics and scholars keeping records on the development of photography in China, it would be invaluable to have the whole documentation of the exhibitions available for viewing on the internet.
The following news items are attached courtesy of the English language Shenzhen Daily newspaper, and also the Chinese paper Renwentiandi. I look forward to seeing critical reviews from the Chinese photographic press that will reinforce the important contribution this event has already made, and suggest how it could become one of China's star events on the art calendar.
|JBT©20170623347: Item from the Shenzhen Daily of 23-25 June 2017|
|JBT©20170623350: Item from the Shenzhen Daily of 23-25 June 2017|
|JBT©20170623353: Item from the Shenzhen Daily of 23-25 June 2017|
|JBT©20170623355: Item from the Shenzhen Daily of 23-25 June 2017|
|JBT©20170623355: Item from Renwentiandi, Shenzhen,23 June 2017|
|JBT©20170622282: A security guard learning something about photography from the |
First Shenzhen International Photography Exhibition, 33 June 2017
Please note that the copyright of all images resides with their owners. Apologies are tendered for the low quality of the hurried cell phone images I made for a personal recollection of this important event. Special thanks are owed to the Shenzhen Federation of Literary and Art Circles, and the China Photographers Association for their vision and hard work.
One of the issues of being a foreigner in China is similar to how New Zealanders who have worked overseas tend to be called upon by the press because they are presumed to have more wisdom, or whatever when informed locals could likely give the best critique of any local situation. But the foreigner and the blue eyes and white hair stands out in the Chinese crowd, just as Chinese people stood out in New Zealand a couple of generations ago. Always I try to pull the discussion back to the content of what I'm doing, and this time the Shenzhen reporter, Lei Kaibin, accepted that my role was to give them Tom's view of the world, as much as that is ever possible, not talk about myself. Be that as it may, I have to live with being a belated poster boy and friendly alien. What I do not see or hear about is critical reviews by Chinese writers of exhibitions such as this. Most items are more like brief PR notices rather than meaty critiques. In this, I suspect, with the notable exceptions of Peter F. Ireland and John Hurrell and a few less prolific commentators in New Zealand, China and my home country may be on par and China's huge pool of potential art critics remain latent, like exposed film waiting to be processed.
I will be reviewing two more Chinese exhibitions and one so-called "International" photography "festival", so will post this without the painful process of correcting every typographical and design lapse with Blogger's clumsy tools.