Chinese Photography Overview – About Us: Young Photography in China, a book with more than 200 images by 40 different Chinese photographers, was just released by the Munich-based Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung. The book, which was released immediately after an exhibition of the same name, not only demonstrates how large the Chinese modern photography community has become, but it also highlights the variety of Chinese photography, which is still mostly unknown to Western audiences.
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The beginnings of Chinese Contemporary Photography
Just after the Cultural Revolution, as China’s Reform and Opening up programs began to change the country, contemporary Chinese photography began to emerge. Many other contemporary art forms in China began to emerge around this time. Photography was primarily used as a propaganda weapon throughout the Mao regime. Photographers who emerged in the latter half of the 1970s and early 1980s were among the pioneers of using visual technology as a medium for creative expression. The phrase “unofficial photography” first appeared at this point.
New Wave Photography (1980s)
What is now referred to as “New Wave Photography” in the 1980s sprang quickly from unofficial photography. Young Chinese photographers began creating documentary-style photography after being greatly influenced by Western thought and techniques and motivated by a desire for social change and aesthetic independence. Many of these projects got their start with a clear political agenda in mind. For example, some photographers looked at the ills of modern society, like poverty. Some even went so far as to praise China prior to communism. A large portion of this activity was motivated by the need to find the truth away from the state-run media that had so heavily influenced people’s daily lives during the Mao era.
Experimental Photography (1990s – 2000s)
Like-minded photographers and multi-media artists formed the Beijing East Village, where they began exchanging ideas and working on joint projects. As a result, performance, installation, and multimedia art frequently overlapped or even blended with Chinese photography. For instance, many artists routinely documented their work with photography, occasionally even redefining themselves as artists.
Zhang Huan (born 1966) is a good illustration of this. Along with fellow photographer RongRong (b. 1968), he was also one of the most influential figures in the young photographer community.
Nostalgia as a Recurring Theme
One of the most common and everlasting topics in photography is nostalgia. The media was developed as a way to preserve memories. As a result, nostalgia is present in practically all photographic works. It continues to be a prominent recurring motif in contemporary Chinese photography.
What Characterizes Chinese Photography Today?
More than ever, the diversity of the medium’s applications and the range of issues depicted in the work define Chinese photography. Young photographers are still taking pictures of China’s dramatic transformations. These works, however, are unified by one thing: the need to share one’s own personal experiences and the profound concern regarding identity. Whether in calm, black-and-white aesthetics, as can be seen in Yang Fudong or Gao Mingxi’s works, or the dramatic presentations in color by Ren Hang or Luo Yang. The works in question are ultimately not about gazing outwards towards “the other,” but rather inside – not about them, read more articles “ABOUT US.”