The Chinese Photobook, at Aperture Gallery, New York City
I went to see this today. The curators did an incredible work of compiling (or creating) a history of the use of photography publications throughout the 20th century in China. The entire exhibition is a study of the uses of visual culture, particularly for political purposes. Probably due to my own personal interest in history and the construction of States, I was particularly impressed with the section on the use of images as propaganda of the Manchukuo state during the Japanese occupation of Norther China in the 1930s (mostly Photobooks published by Japanese newspapers) and the latter communist propaganda before and after the Cultural Revolution (an attempt to visually create the new Chinese state).
There is also a section on how photobooks published independently in the last couple of decades present a parallel visual voice to that of the Chinese state. It seems to me that visually some of the themes are rather similar to Japanese photobooks of the same era. From the late 1990s on, where there was a particular focus on the point of view of youth everyday life (think about the work of Hiromix in Japan around mid-1990s and how one can see an interest in Lin Zhipeng’s work), but of course in the context of the still prevalent restrictions of publishing in China at that time the message of Chinese independently-published photography becomes very different and even politically charged.
I very much admire what the Aperture Foundation has done with this exhibition. Especially because in the West, unlike the knowledge we have of Japanese photography (and the importance of Japanese photographers like Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe and/or Araki amongst others), there’s very little information about Chinese photobooks, their history and their importance in creating a visual culture for 20th century China. As a sociologist and as someone who has direct involvement in the fields of photography, history and the world of design this is one of the few occasions when I thought a lot of my own interest areas intersected in one single exhibition.
Go see this in NYC before it’s gone (April 2). A subsequent book about the exhibition will be published in mid-April, but always going to the Aperture Gallery is a pleasure. I might get the book, I hope it will be as good as another extraordinary book published by the Aperture Foundation in 2009: Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s by Ryuichi Kaneko and Ivan Vartanian.
Check out the website for the exhibition: http://www.aperture.org/exhibition/chinese-photobook/