Friday, 26 October 2012


Their faces lined and weary, their clothing altered by ever-changing fashions--the people who ride buses everyday are hardly the stuff of photographs. But the pictures Tom Wood has taken during 20 years of travel on Liverpool's buses are much more than documents of mass transit in England. Rather, they transport viewers and riders alike on an odyssey in which the unspectacular becomes interesting. Seen only through the windows of a bus, the streets, buildings, parks, traffic, and pedestrians of Liverpool are recreated from a human and accessible perspective. The bus itself becomes a predominantly visual space, a metal box with vast areas of glass, a viewfinder that creates an inherent narrative as it moves though a city transformed into pictorial space.

Thursday, 25 October 2012


Timothy Taylor Gallery has just shown America by Car, never heard of this gallery.  Silke told me.  I quite like this latest project by Lee Friedlander done in 1995-2009, amazing he is still active, and making good works!

Press Release from Timothy Taylor Gallery:
America By Car charts numerous journeys made by the photographer during the last decade across most of the fifty US states. Shot entirely from the interiors of rental cars, typically from the driverʼs seat, Friedlander makes use of side and rearview mirrors, windscreens, and side windows as framing devices for a total of 192 images.

In America By Car, Friedlander uses the quintessential icons of US culture - cars and the open road - to explore contemporary America, revisiting in the process many of the places and strategies that he has incorporated into his practice throughout his career.

Presented in the square-crop format that characterizes Friedlanderʼs more recent work, these images complicate and invigorate the most bereft of rural scenes. His desire to collapse and flatten out the three dimensional world parallels the means of cubist painting and recalls the collaging techniques of pop art. 

Also from the intro at Witney Museum of American Art
Driving across most of the country’s fifty states in an ordinary rental car, master photographer Lee Friedlander (b. 1934) applied the brilliantly simple conceit of deploying the sideview mirror, rearview mirror, the windshield, and the side windows as picture frames within which to record reflections of this country’s eccentricities and obsessions at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Friedlander’s method allows for fascinating effects in foreshortening, and wonderfully telling juxtapositions in which steering wheels, dashboards, and leatherette bump up against roadside bars, motels, churches, monuments, suspension bridges, essential American landscapes, and often Friedlander’s own image. Presented in the square crop format that has dominated his work in recent series, and taken over the past decade, the images in America by Car are among Friedlander’s finest, full of virtuoso freshness and clarity, while also revisiting themes from older bodies of work.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Silke Lange gave me a tutorial with quite a few references to pick up.  Missing Star is one of them.  It is a movie.  It is about Labourer Vincenzo travels from Italy to China in search of a machine with a deficiency that was produced in the now defunct establishment at which Vincenzo worked for years. I saw the trailer, most of which set in a small China town with not that kind of modern urbanscape like big cities in China.  Seems interesting, will check it out.  She also mentioned what is behind Made in Germany.  It was actually initiated by English during the war discouraging people from buying German products, but as time goes by it becomes a symbol for quality.  So I looked it up and found:

The label was originally introduced in Britain by the Merchandise Marks Act 1887, to mark foreign produce more obviously, as British society considered foreign produce to be inferior to domestic produce, and tried to get buyers to adhere to the concept of 'buying British.'

In 1894, the German Reichstag's commission already reported that after suffering slight losses, German manufacturers soon found the label to be of good use since they could distinguish themselves better from the British manufacturers. This led to more and more manufacturers voluntarily applying the label, and not even World War I, in which marks were mandatory in Britain in order to boycott products from countries of the Central Powers, could dent the growing popularity of the mark.

The term Made in Germany was soon associated with product reliability, quality and even perfection.
My portraiture project’s working title is Made in China, probably today, it stands for inferior quality and mass production.  It is an idea to dig out the background and context behind “Made in China”.  

Silke also asked me to check out Layla Curtis.


I would like to conceal the face and let it disappear into the “red”.  The red not only is the tangible colour red, but also the metaphor for Chinese institutional ideology.  It is also the red which westerners project their what in their mind learning from the media on China especially China government every day.  Living in London, sometimes I feel the western media took a very prejudiced approach in reporting everything about China, everything in red.  Whenever there is a portrait, the issue identity get present.  Face no doubt is the surface of the identity.  I deliberately conceal the face to raise questions.  Who are they?  What do they look like?  Why do they pose like that facing the red?  I can’t tell how they look, so difficult to know their identity.  The composition is the identity photography used in passport and other institutional archives.  We can see their clothes, with traces and information of the social-cultural and personal background.  Then the rest of space, leaves the viewer to engage and think.  For a westerner, do I bother what they look, how they live, even if they produce products for me?  For a Chinese, we all live in this super governed society, I am too, faceless in front of the red like the sitter.  There could be very political readings, especially how personal identity disappearing in the government apparatus.  Related issues including human rights, working conditions, institutional norm and gaze, surveillance, power....

Verbal explanation is always limit the engagement.  I am afraid that my above thoughts limit my further engagement and it would be rather over simplification to explain my works in this way especially to viewers.  I would like to listen to others how they feel about my works.  As always, I would like to create a signifier clicking open a vast space with great potential to engage with the viewers, an ambiguous signifier...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I would like to decide the composition presentation of the project.  Photography is about showing and concealing, present and absence.  I’d like to conceal my sitter’s face, which would be core idea of the project.  It gives a little suspense and mystery hence pose viewers some questions hopefully.  Based on this idea, I developed three compositions.  The back side passport one seems have the most votes from me.  However the front face-cropped one is also very intriguing.  The passport identity photo composition itself can evoke the ‘institutional’ questions, while the composition of the face-cropped one does not, even though somehow I quite like it.  The bigger background of red is also very interesting, especially I think if I can make the red space much bigger and sitter smaller, to create a red sublimation.  I am not sure which one I should choose.  I need to play around more.  At the same time, I ask myself, what else compositions I can create?  I have a shot when the sitter closes his eyes, I shot in the front.  I quite like that one as well...

Monday, 22 October 2012


Ideally I should use a large format.  This will give me lots of leeway to decide how big I can print and which context I can use this project for.  I have not planned the size of the final presentation yet.  Blowing life size big is cool, but what is the purpose and what is the sense to blow this big?  I simply have no idea what I should try to convey hence how big the final print is.  On the other hand 5 x 4 is cumbersome and it is a long way to carry such an equipment to China and it will be time consuming to plan 56 portraiture taken.  Maybe I don’t need 56 portraiture.  There are many things for me to think and decide.

Other issues.  I need lighting on location.  It will make the image sharp and exposure time short.  it will make the bumpy red background even if the lighting is from the front and stronger than the natural light from the top.  A reflection umbrella is a must as I want an even light, subtle with no dramatic effect.

I need to plan my final frame.  Is it a passport photo composition or something else?  I have to decide so that I can make perfect composition not to crop later to sacrifice pixels and save time.

I shouldn’t use auto mode.  I will take a light meter and use manual exposure to control the light so there is no mess around in exposure time due to the colour of the hair and clothes.  

I also need to give sitter very detailed instruction, stand in a fixed position not too near the background and not to far this way the image will not show the texture of the background which weakens the image.  At the same time, fixed position will make shooting easier.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


I remember I was happy and had quite a sense of achievement after the “blitz” shooting.   Then I realised the countless problems accompanied.
  1. I used natural light and the shooting time is around lunch time.  The light source is from the top, as the red background is uneven, I can clearly see the bumpy surface.
  2. I used auto focus and auto exposure in the aperture priority mode.  Focus is not a problem, however exposure was a great problem.  The focus is normally the hair, and it is dark hair.  Hence there are quite a lot frames over exposed ending up with a washing out red background.  Probably I used the multi points light meter, so the extent of over exposure is quite different, and I clearly see the uneven colour saturation if the images are juxtaposed side by side. 
  3. I cropped the image to passport composition, as I want to use this “institutional” language as a signifier with wide open space.  As my composition is all different, cropping to the precise level is not an easy job, what’s more, due to the pixel loss in cropping, some cropped images are soft, as I cropped too much due to my no control of the original composition.  
  4. I remember one of the problem was the size of the background paper.  Due to its constrained size, I have to step back or forth, to make sure the sitter is within the red background, as I did not appoint a foot print position.

In general, these are all caused by no planning.  I should have considered all these points and plan in a meticulous way.  Now I not only wasted my time and effort but also my sitters.  There are 56 people plus others helping me make this happen.  Project like this requires great pre-thinking and planning to be effective and efficient.  I can’t imagine that I had done numerous projects but still worked in this ameuter way...

Saturday, 20 October 2012


It is a factory of more than 400 workers and all products go to North America.  My connection enables me to organise this shooting. I prepared a red background paper, which is non-woven material bought from Taobao, No.1 cyber shop in China.  It is 1.5 x 2 meters.  Having people stand in front of it, I feel the size might be a little smaller.  I am not picky on lighting.  The space is of a great glass ceiling, so the lighting is extremely well not harsh too.  I planned not to use any artificial light.  I have no idea what frame I should use.  My plan is to shoot at the quickest speed possible not to let the sitter feel any awkward.  I understand the camera is a apparatus playing a game of power.  I don’t want to empower myself and de-power my sitter at all.  So the idea is to shoot the people in the frame and crop later if necessary.  I am sure I will crop in a very Dusseldorf way later.   Camera on tripod, quick instruction, I finished shooting in a little more than 1 hour.  I kept all the names of the workers, where they come from and other key data.

Friday, 19 October 2012


So I plan to shoot the three projects at the same time, and conceptualize them at the same time.

I will go to a factory in China and select 56 workers and ask them to be my sitter.  I choose the number 56 as there are 56 nationalities in China.  I choose a factory, as “made in China” is a household phenomenon in every countries as products made in China is everywhere, therefore workers are kind of the origin of this.  I will use a red cloth as the background... The working title would be “Made in China”.

I will jump into a car and ride a few hours in a city, on a motorway, and in both suburban and rural area.  I will take photos from the moving car capturing everything around me in a continuous and fragmented way.  I am not sure what I can document, but at least the surface of tension in this fast changing nation.  “Transformation” is my initial working title.

I will fly around China in the sky above China.  I will make images in flight of the diminishing line between the lower sky and universal space.  I will take images in extensive trips above and around China at different times.  Even though each era has its own Zeitgeist, there should be something common something universal in the past, today and tomorrow.  China has developed thousands of years, history must have a mark on the current Zeitgeist. I will explore thousands years of history and study how history impact current Zeitgeist in China.  The sky above China serves a metaphor and it gives a indefinite space for conceptual engaging.  Working title “Shidai Jingshen, Five Thousands of Years” (Shidai Jingshen is the Chinese word for Zeitgeist).

Thursday, 18 October 2012


I have seen many projects on San Xia Dams but Yang Yi’s Uprooted engages me the most.  His statement as below:

"Near the end of 2005, camera in tow, I endeavored to return to my hometown. In the summer of 2006, I traveled by boat to the Three Gorges Dam, photographing fragments of these riverside places. Each time I returned to the place, I felt it was a race against time. They were destroying the old town so fast, leaving the atmosphere of death and decomposition everywhere.

"I don't intend to dwell on the meaning to be found in my photography. What is important for me is that I came from that town. It is about all that we have in common there: our accent, our spicy coriander, the nod we give each other, a friendly signal to say hello when we pass one another on the street, these streets that we have traveled alongside our ancestors, that have herded us along together... this series was created for all of that. It will be my personal memoir."

Uprooted is a photographic series based on Yang Yi's personal story. It envisions the last moments of the village where he was born, which is now entirely engulfed by water from the Three Gorges Dam. The Dam, along the Yangtze River in the Hubei province of China, is the world's largest engineering and construction site. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


The husband and wife team of Shao Yinong and Muchen in the series entitled, Assembly Halls have traveled to the 23 different provinces in Mainland China and photographed in truth and simplicity the very profound leftovers of the cultural revolution, which spanned between 1966 until 1976 .  The assembly halls are all different, some are old barns, some renovated into restaurants, and still others into sewing factories.  The empty halls devoid of life reek with a ghost-like atmosphere of the past at once nostalgically beautiful and at the same time simmering with the historical intensity of one of  China’s most turbulent periods. The halls ring with emptiness and it is in this emptiness that your mind is free to wonder and contemplate the collective memory of  a nation’s gathering grounds where billions of people were indoctrinated, judged, and humiliated publicly but at the same time a place that later symbolized ceremonial gatherings such as graduations.  Although the rooms are vacant there is a feeling that the crowds have either just left or are just about to arrive. 

For the artists, the Assembly Halls, represent both a personal and collective memory of their youth as they both lived through the years of the cultural revolution as children, regardless of the fact that Shao Yinong, born in 1961, was caught more in the intensity than Muchen, born in 1970.  In the past they also created works inspired by personal themes such as, “Family Register,” a photographic family tree of their own family, and “Childhood Memories,” a pictorial journey of places they remember as children. However, in the Assembly Hall series they were able to withdraw themselves from their direct experience and they succeed in creating a series of work that allows the viewers space to create their own narratives.

In describing the Assembly Halls, they are all taken in the same way from the back of the room looking at the front of the stage from the center of the hall all at the same level taken with only natural light or ceiling light. They are empty. A wide angle camera is used.  The time of day is different in the different halls. Small towns vs. big towns. Farms vs. urban environments.  Red is evident throughout the series.  From the cameraman’s eye there is a repeated series of rectangles broadening the images from the outer walls to the frame of the supporting beams leading eventually to the stage drawing your eye into the center of the room. The rectangles are further supported by a triangular rooftop reminiscent of a Chinese peasant hat. The geometry gives depth to the photographs. Additionally the balance and strength of the images are pulled together by pairs of objects that further give strength and solidity to the space and their purpose. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012




   《失眠症》系列取材于城市中最常见的精神通病。近年来我发现身边有越来越多的朋友都有失眠的病症,而失眠所带给人的那种精神与肉体的折磨是很难用语言来形 容的。夜晚对失眠者来说是一个充满矛盾的时间,脱离了白天城市的纷繁,本该是属于自己的休息时间,但越到深夜,心里的那份压抑也蠢蠢欲动的涌上心头。加之 当今都市也在用各种办法让夜晚变得如白天一样喧闹,这种环境的黑白倒置更让我们的身体变得无以是从。《失眠症》系列就是在意图呈现隐藏在都市人心中的那份 隐痛。白天轻松,入夜却萦绕心头的那份压抑、不安、忧伤的隐痛,这种隐痛也凸显出了小人物个体与高速暴走都市之间强烈的对比与矛盾。根据进一步了解,随着 失眠症患者越来越多,本该属于个人问题的失眠症,却逐渐演变成了一个社会问题。究其原因,这与当下的城市问题、经济发展、社会环境不无关系,而当这些问题 和矛盾转化到每个城市人个体上时,又被每个人自身的性格、情感、经历转化成了无数个带有个人特质和体验的独特表象。在每一张《失眠症》的作品中都有不同的 个人体验,我希望通过不同的个人体验与典型都市空间的组合呈现出化学性效果。


To me, the city is a giant vessel for emotions, which is loaded with numerous aspirations, indignations, surprises and misgivings from millions of people. All these unidentified emotions are staged one after another in some unknown cornors of the city. My works are intended to the audience what are supposed or not supposed to take place there in a more dramatic way in order to trigger deep thoughts and profound discussions.

The “Insomnia” Series are based on one of the most common psychological diseases in cities. In recent years, more and more friends of mine are haunted by insomnia, which has caused them enormous pains both in the spiritual and physical sense. Sometimes, it is really challenging to find a certain language to give expressions to these pains. To those suffering from insomnia, nights indicate conflicts. At night, they can retreat from the triviality and complications in the city at daytime. However, in deep night, the depression looming in the heart starts to take its toll. Besides, the cities tend to be as rustling at night as in daytime by all the means. This inversion of day and night threatens to confuse us in a physical way. This series is meant to capture the pains surging beneath our skins every day. Though we are at ease in the daytime, we are still pained by the depressions, uncertainties, and mischiefs at night. These pains have testified the evident contrasts and conflicts between the tiny individuals and cities which are undergoing rapid development and transformation. According to the statistics, more and more urban dwellers are troubled by insomnia. The insomnia, which used to be a personal problem, has evolved into a social issue. Take a close look, and we will find that this issue is closely related with the urban issues, economic development and social development. Once these issues and conflicts are found on individual urban dwellers, they have been transformed into distinctive varieties as influenced by the individual’s personal property, emotion, and experience. Behind every piece of the “Insomnia” Series can be identified varied personal experience. it is hoped that a chemical effect might be achieved by combining different personal experiences and typical urban space.
The city has alienated us in an invisible way. However, it is hoped that these photos will help to capture these alienations and trigger more serious thoughts, which had been neglected by regular and repetitive life. However, active thinking, which has been put aside due to rapid social development, is what we are truly longing for.

Monday, 15 October 2012


Weng Fen belongs to a generation of Chinese photographers whose principal subject is a China in the throes of physical, social, economic, and political change. His "Sitting on the Wall" series focuses on the elevated urbanism of cities such as Hai-kou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. Many of these photographs feature schoolgirls with their backs to the camera, perched on a wall or precipice, staring at the landscape-adolescent figures on the threshold of personal transition looking out onto a landscape and a culture at a similarly transformational moment.

The transitional phases and changes in China since its opening up in the 1980's, both physically and emotionally, have been the source of inspiration for Weng Peijun (Weng Fen) and his work. In his earlier series 'Sitting on the Wall' and 'Bird's Eye View', Weng's epic images focus on the upraising of urbanism in cities such as Haikou, Shanghai and Shenzhen. His subjects start out as outsiders looking into this overwhelming transformation with anticipation, fear and curiosity to being in the centre of it all. Weng then follows and evolves inwardly, shifting his attention from physical changes to emotional and spiritual transformations, from urban cities to rural countries, exploring the possibility of finding an otherworldly utopia, a place that may have existed all along in our hearts and minds, in our memories and those innocent times, which results in the acclaimed 'Staring at The Sea' series.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


ETeh's photo essay, The Vanishing: Altered Landscapes and Displaced Lives on the Yangtze River, travels 700 kilometres from Chongqing in the west to Sandouping in the east, focussing on the lives of those effected by the dam and the landscape that will eventually be submerged forever.   It documents the virtual ghost towns, inhabited by a handful of families left temporarily destitute by local corruption and an inadequate resettlement programme. Teh follows some of the ever-growing floating population of 150 million, many of whom migrate to the cities of the Eastern seaboard in search of a brighter future and the prospect of higher paid work in the factories.  It shows the exodus from old towns and cities to new accommodation specially constructed as part of the worlds most ambitious resettlement programme.

The Vanishing: Altered Landscapes and Displaced Lives on the Yangtze River also highlights the gradual, dramatic transformation of these once vibrant places into broken communities, uncertain what the future holds as the last vestiges of river life are played out along the historical Three Gorges.

He also has some other projects on social landscape of China.  I find it kind of cliche, but on the other hand, what can I made out of a camera on China social landscape?

Saturday, 13 October 2012


Evolving from a series of road trips along the Mississippi River, Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi captures America's iconic yet oft-neglected "third coast." Soth's richly descriptive, large-format color photographs present an eclectic mix of individuals, landscapes, and interiors. Sensuous in detail and raw in subject, Sleeping by the Mississippi elicits a consistent mood of loneliness, longing, and reverie. "In the book's 46 ruthlessly edited pictures," writes Anne Wilkes Tucker, "Soth alludes to illness, procreation, race, crime, learning, art, music, death, religion, redemption, politics, and cheap sex." Like Robert Frank's classic The Americans, Sleeping by the Mississippi merges a documentary style with a poetic sensibility. The Mississippi is less the subject of the book than its organizing structure. Not bound by a rigid concept or ideology, the series is created out of a quintessentially American spirit of wanderlust.

His work is always an inspiration. There is a smoke, creeping over me, slowly and quietly whenever I open the book and read.  He has a special way of edit.  Especially in his “From Here to There” Walker Art Centre show, which I can only have some look in the catalogue.  Although it is sophisticated and hard to grasp and judge, there is a deadpan American spirit in most of his works.  The Loneliest Man in Missouri, a photographic essay with short, diaristic texts capturing the banality and ennui of middle America's suburban fringes, with their corporate office parks, strip clubs and chain restaurants. 

Friday, 12 October 2012


In 1972 a then twenty-four year old Stephen Shore began a series of road trips across the United States, setting out to photograph the country that he had not previously had much direct exposure to, having seldom left the city of New York where he had been raised. Prone to the lures of nostalgia and custom as a photographer taking such a trip might otherwise be, Shore had been galvanized for this highly self-conscious investigation of the American vernacular by having spent several of his teenage years hanging around no less a cultural initiator than Andy Warhol’s Factory. In time—quite specfically in retrospect, it should be noted—the culled results of several trips made between 1972 and 1974 became a discursive series that Shore called American Surfaces.

By way of simple description, it consisted of hundreds of color photographs depicting a wide variety of subject matter, including but by no means restricted to signs, people, portraits (as differentiated from mere photographs of people), buildings, toilets, food, refrigerators (occasionally empty), interiors, cars, and several dogs. There was structure, but no apparent order, and content, though it refused hierarchy. Rather than messing with the intensive handwork of a darkroom, Shore had dropped the original film off for development at regular retail stores, much in the way one might with pictures from vacation. He then mounted the first exhibition of the series by simply taping the small machine-made prints he got back from the stores onto the walls of a gallery in a large grid. He had borrowed one of Minimalism’s more rigorously established visual forms, though something else was clearly afoot.

What Shore had in fact precipitated was a bottleneck of historical photographic practices. He melded the medium’s capacity for seemingly infinite factuality to his own age’s preoccupation with the detritus of Pop art and culture. He crashed photography’s hallowed black and white preciousness with throwaway prints of subject matter that many considered unworthy of monumentalizing, much less wasting film on. If this wasn’t the exact birth of the snapshot aesthetic, it was certainly one of its earliest and most salient appropriations within a formalized artistic context, and its critics, then as now, continue to be appalled. It was a benchmark.

Influential upon future generations yet symptomatic of its own time, the material is likewise deeply referential to its forebears: its eclectic span is a rebus in the Rauschenberg sense, and a roadmap, both literally and metaphorically. There are frequent nods to Eugene Atget and Walker Evans, as well as Warhol and Ed Ruscha, but Shore’s contemporaries are also included. The presence of Bernd and Hilla Becher is felt throughout, and in a wry mode of disclosure, Shore concludes the new book version of the series with a portrait of William Eggleston that makes plain the wider allegiance to that photographer that arises in so many other images. To see the whole however is to know that it is definitively a work by Stephen Shore, imbued as it is with his particular sensitivity. As a spectacularization of the banal, it reads like Pop, but is too clearly warm-blooded to be limited by that label. 
By geographically and chronologically charting the photographer’s original footsteps, the book becomes a supra-documentary, re-centering its focus with each new form of the work, making the larger undertaking its own best subject. Shore has referred to both this and the expanded re-issue of another of his books as the equivalent of “director’s cuts”, but that single metaphor shortchanges the larger implications at hand. To begin with, this reincarnation of American Surfaces as a kind of meta-work might be read as positioning the book questionably within an educational or service function, rather than as a sui generis aesthetic form. Considering at least part of its origin within a conceptual milieu, this becomes doubly problematic. What such a book might benefit from as a historically corrective omnibus version becomes its liability as a less potent incarnation of original art. This is not a fault of this edition specifically however, so much as the larger trend towards photography book re-issues, as one might consider the case to be with the latest edition of Walker Evans’ Many Are Called, among others.
Alternately, to say that the new edition amounts to revisionism on Shore’s part is to beg a point pre-empted by the nature of the project from its beginning, which had always been somewhat ad hoc in form. With the admitted benefit of hindsight, one can suggest that none of the constituent parts that now make up the American Surfaces phenomenology rightly ought to be considered outside of the others. It has at this point become a motile and fluid architecture for photographic meaning: simultaneously conceptual, documentary, formalist, art historical and (paradoxically for a photographic series) atemporal. In its most radical orientation, the project breaks through the conventions and limitations of photographic practice not by attempting to perfect its documentation of life, but by positioning its execution, in all of its fractious non-linearity, as an exercise in life.

 -Unquote from Gil Banks

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Lewis Baltz documents the changing American landscape of the 1970s in his series New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California. The project’s 51 pictures depict structural details, walls at mid-distance, offices, and parking lots of industrial parks. Contrast and geometry are important in these pictures, but what marks them as uniform is Baltz’s attention to surface texture and lifeless subject matter. Often displayed in a grid format, it is important to Baltz that his pictures be seen collectively as a group or series. The series format suits his desire that no one image be taken as more true or significant than another, encouraging the viewer to consider not just the pictures but everything outside of the frame as well, emphasizing the monotony of the man-made environment. The pictures themselves resist any single point of focus, framed as they are to present the scene as a whole without bringing attention to any particular element within. Shot with a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera (usually at eye level), and stopped down for maximum depth of field, Baltz chooses his materials for maximum clarity and precision. Indeed, he takes care to title his pieces with specific information on each site’s location, so that viewers could return to the same exact place.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


I like most of Robert Adams works.  They seem (actually are) mundane but poetically beautiful.  I was inspired by many of his works, especially his “Summer Nights”.  Robert Adams revisits the classic collection of nocturnal landscapes that he began making in the mid-1970s near his former home in Longmont, Colorado.  Illuminated by moonlight and streetlamp, the houses, roads, sidewalks, and fields in Summer Nights, Walking retain the wonder and stillness of the original edition, while adopting the artists intention of a dreamy fluidity, befitting his nighttime perambulations. The extraordinary care taken with the new reproductions also registers his attention to the subtleties of the night, and conveys his appeal to look again at places we might have dismissed as uninteresting. Adams observes, What attracted me to the subjects at a new hour was the discovery then of a neglected peace. By virtue of the subtlety and stillness that infuses this classic body of work, Summer Nights, Walking offers a reason to feel, once more, a regard for the quotidian American landscape.  He also writes very beautiful proses in most of his photo books.  Planning to buy one, but which?  Summer Night is priced of 350 pounds now...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Joel Sternfeld’s classic view of America, a fireman shops for a pumpkin while a house burns in the background; a group of motorcyclists stop at the side of the road to take in a stunning, placid view of Bear Lake, Utah; the hi-tech world headquarters of the Manville Corporation sits in picturesque Colorado, obscured by a defiant boulder; a lone basketball net stands in the desert near Lake Powell in Arizona; and a cookie-cutter suburban housing settlement rests squarely amongst rolling hills in Pendleton, Oregon.  Originally published in 1987, Sternfeld’s American Prospects is a search for the truth of a country not just as it exists in a particular era but as it is in its every-evolving essence. It is a sad poem, yes, but also a funny and generous one, one that recognizes endurance, poignant beauty and determination within its sometimes tense, often ironic juxtapositions of man and nature, technology and ruin. 

There is a bazar element in his works.  Something unusual or surreal can always been found.  This is one of the books that I viewed before my photography studies.  I always find something new every time I look again.  The more I research the more social landscape works I found interesting.  I plan to list up most of the inspiring ones.

Monday, 8 October 2012


While generalisation breeds stereotype and prejudice and makes lots of details devoid, it does give a general feel of the subjects.  Without generalisation, we would learn things in a much slower way.  The second we get something we will surely miss something else.  That because of the flip side of generalisation we should scrap this method is not constructive.  I shouldn’t be afraid of generalisation and prejudice this methodology.  On the contrary, I should understand its benefit and limit and overcome the flip side.  Therefore despite the thought I go multi layers of level in this project, I somehow feel I am gravitated to do a project called “The Chinese” to generalise or superficially grasp the zeitgeist of the Chinese.  On the other side, what I am afraid of is that I am already an insider, a normal Chinese, who might have so much de ja vu taken for granted and hence can not be sensitive enough to get the gist of the zeitgeist.  I shouldn’t worry too much and I think I just should go for it - go to a place and give myself sometime and do something.  I should have an unique eye - living in the west more than a decade should make me a somehow outsider which should offer me better sensitive eye sight if I visit China.  Every time I go to China I do spot lots of interesting things, even though I stay there for a couple of weeks, these eye-popping things disappear.  I think I think too much already.  I need to expand my horizon to see and research more.  I need to go ahead with my idea with actions.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


I have been engaging with the project during last night when sleeping or dreaming...

We generalise the perception of the world trying to learn.  The learning process is a process of generalisation so that everything can be explained in a simple and concise way.  I live in Europe and so lots of people ask question such as how’s the weather like in China.  They think they can know of China in a generalised way.  They never been to China, and maybe do not know much about it.  The consider this vast land a single entity.  This is fair as we live in a world where everything is divided by the political border.  To the rest of the world, this land is called China with a uniformed political system.  However, the world is more complex than this.  There are 56 nationalities in China, thousands of miles from east to west and north to south...  We have borders inside our mind, shaped by the ‘knowledge’ we learn, ‘generalisation’ we form, and we act and think within this border.  For an outsider, of course this is the good starting point to learn the anything alien.  However, if we want to learn in depth, from an insider point of view, this border has to be scrapped and a range has to be opened.  Therefore, for an outsider, it is perfectly ok to start a project called “The Chinese”, but for me, as an outsider/insider, I am not keen to use or make such a single, general or super epic project.  The Zeitgeist China will of course not be a trilogy, and it will be a limitless series on different aspects, like there are different kinds of weather in the vast land in China, any time.  Trilogy will be this years starting point for me.  

Saturday, 6 October 2012


So far, I have visually researched the following:

Bruno Barbey’s  The Italian
Robert Frank’s The American
Liu Zheng’s The Chinese
Boris Mikhailov’s Case History
Simon Robert’s We English
Nadav Kander’s Yangtzi, the Long River

Carrying a camera, walk around a country, snap or make images to capture the national’s essence, that has been one of my ideal projects.  I long for one day I can be carefree traveling all around China doing this.  On the other hand, whatever the camera shoots, the image is bound to be something about the nation, as the camera just takes one fragmented scene from the reality in the country.   Taking a few images and give it a grand name using the country’s name, to me, it is a little too much a generalization.  Sometimes it is ok to do this, as I found Frank’s “The American” is the perfect project with a perfect name; however most of other projects with such a name, I am quite not sure and uneasy to appreciate.   The name would be too broad.  Yes, the project might evoke many layers of meanings and readings, but I personally prefer something with a more specified area.  

Street photography and snapshot probably is not my thing, as I had too many experiences shoot and miss. I like to have more time to think and compose, working with no rush.  However on the other hand, I probably would like to challenge myself on this.  

I am still quite persuaded of my original plan.  A grand name as a general title (Zeitgeist, China) but with subtitles to elaborate different layers of aspects.  Of course, the trilogy idea of three projects probably are not enough, but it certainly a starting point.  

My next research area is to dig out the projects and works more specific to a country or nation’s Zeitgeist.

Friday, 5 October 2012


Simon Roberts travelled across England in a motorhome between 2007 and 2008 for this portfolio of large-format tableaux photographs of the English at leisure. We English builds on his first major body of work, Motherland (2005), with the same themes of identity, memory and belonging resonating throughout. Photographing ordinary people engaged in diverse pastimes, Roberts aims to show a populace with a profound attachment to its local environment and homeland. He explores the notion that nationhood – that what it means to be English – is to be found on the surface of contemporary life, encapsulated by banal pastimes and everyday leisure activities. The resulting images are an intentionally lyrical rendering of a pastoral England, where Roberts finds beauty in the mundane and in the exploration of the relationship between people and place, and of our connections to the landscapes around us.

“We English, the title of Roberts’s engrossing exhibition of large-scale color photographs (and the related book) might lead you to expect gently satiric social studies in the style of Martin Parr. But the focus of the work is primarily landscape, and several of the images are broad, handsome vistas with only a few people scattered about the terrain. Even the photographs that include larger groups were taken from a distance – a perspective that echoes classical painting, although the subjects are decidedly contemporary.” Vince Aletti, The New Yorker, 2009

There are less tense in these more landscape rather than more social portraiture style project with the nation’s name at the title.  

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Nadav Kander made several voyages along the course of China’s Yangtze River, travelling up-stream from mouth to source over a period of three years. Using the river as a metaphor for constant change Kander attempted at every stage of the journey, to relate and reflect the consequences of the incomprehensible and seemingly unnatural development in modern-day China.

The journey begins at the coastal estuary, where thousands of ships leave and enter each day, and moves past renowned suicide bridges, coal mines and the largest dam in the world – The Three Gorges Dam. Further inland we encounter Chongqing - the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet.

Kander never photographed further than twenty miles from the river itself. In the shadow of epic construction projects we see workers, fishermen, swimmers and even a man washing his motorbike in the river. Dense architecture gives way to mountains in the upper reaches towards the river’s Tibetan source - a sparsely populated area where the stream is mostly broken ice and just ankle deep.

The river is embedded in the consciousness of the Chinese, even those separated from it by thousands of miles. It plays a pivotal role in both the spiritual and physical life of the nation.  Common man however, appears to have little say in China’s progression and this smallness of the individual is alluded to in Kander’s work.

The photographs are dominated by immense architectural structures where humans are shown as small in their environment. Figures are dwarfed by landscapes of half completed bridges and colossal Western-style apartment blocks that are rapidly replacing traditional Chinese low-rise buildings and houseboats.

Kander responded intuitively to a feeling that China is severing its roots – the resulting landscapes and documentary-inflected fictions weigh the human and environmental cost of China’s often brutal, dehumanizing shift from state-controlled communism to state-sanctioned capitalism.

Nadav Kander said: “The photographs are an emotional response to what I saw. I gave them simple titles so that viewers are encouraged to respond subjectively before seeking the facts “  Kander’s China is a country both at the beginning of a new era and at odds with itself, and one that inspired him to create works of sublime, soulful works. 

The above is from the press release of Flower Gallery London’s show.   While there are lots of facts in the commentary based on the photographic project,  there are some politically charged comments at the same time.  It is hard to avoid political, cultural and social factor in any photographic work, well, almost.  I don’t know how Nadav Kander took his position when he made this project.  Visually I quite love them even though the subjects in the images are not new, the traces of life in the dilapidated buildings, the ruins against the nature, the diminishing horizon in the fogged surroundings... In general I like this project especially visually.  

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

MP/VISUAL RESEARCH - Boris Mikhailov

"It is a disgraceful world, populated by some creatures that were once humans, but now these living beings are degraded, ghastly, appalling." This is how Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov explains the places in the Soviet Union, he walks through the late 90s in order to pursue his work. In 1999 he released the haunting images of a once glorious nation in his book "Case History". Boris Mikhailov, born in 1938 in Kharkov, Ukraine lives and works in the Ukraine and in Berlin. Case History documents Mikhailov’s perception of social disintegration ensuing from the break-up of the Soviet Union – both in terms of social structures and the resulting human condition. Case History documents the social oppression, the devastating poverty, the harshness and helplessness of everyday life for the homeless

I found Boris Mikhailov’s works interesting, not that I like them, actually some of the images I find disturbing, but it does give me the space to engage which is part of his aesthetics.  Sometimes, I really dislike something but at the same time I get quite intrigued in a way.  This feel let me to explore more of what behind the works.  His works are like this.  He took a Russian Zeitgeist project named “Case History” documenting what was around in 90’s of Soviet time.  Again, of course, that is his view of the time.  He has lots of other projects documenting the society and the culture.  Many in a quite queer and amusing way.

Case History documents the social oppression, the devastating poverty, the harshness and helplessness of everyday life for the homeless.  These particular images first portray the working class of the Cold War era and then the poverty-stricken public, proving that both Perestroika and Glasnost left the people of the Ukraine with much less than they promised.  When used for documentation purposes, the photograph exposes a host of fissures within society, portraying the condition of the immediate environment while simultaneously gauging it in a single snapshot.

He Commented:   “I think that the phenomenon I am telling the world about is post-communist and post-Soviet in its essence and that it belongs especially to this world, to the Slavic universe.”  “I am trying to find the unique in that manifold reality itself. Maybe that is exactly what people like, first of all.” “I am not trying to take pictures of sensational things, but rather of those things which are in excess.”  

“Many people tell me that they have noticed such guys only after seeing my photos. Before, they didn’t have eyes for them. I could not say that I am a "chronographer" above all, because I am selecting, even sniffing situations for a long time. They say about me, that I proceed like a cat hiding, watching. I am waiting for the best moment to push the button of the camera.”  “I tried to capture the feeling of their helplessness, of their social oppression; I once witnessed a scene whereby a strong young man caviled at a poor guy passing by and kicked him hard. I even thought I had heard the poor man’s bones break. Nobody noticed it, either those nearby, or the militia man patrolling close by. I felt guilty, as I often feel guilty of things I see and take pictures of.”  “This series of photos is a cycle called "Case History", that I might equally call the "clinical file of a disease". It took shape round 1997-1998. A big city, such as Harkov, offered me a great deal of raw material. And I did not miss it, I did not ignore it.”  

“What happened on the ruins of the ex-Soviet Empire is still unique. Motivations are different. These guys’ shabbiness is the mirror of the ruin and disappointment of a much larger number of people, most of whom no longer feel safe and wealthy as in the Soviet era; many people’s ideals are gone forever, others have simply gone mad! I have taken pictures of them and I have enjoyed it, and maybe the whole world has a better understanding of the post-communist dramas through these sequences taken directly after nature.”  “I took the pictures displaying naked people with their things in hands like people going to gas chambers.”  “"BOMJI". It is a term made of capital letters, recently coined. It literally refers to those people without a stable residence, practically living in the streets, wherever they can stretch their bones.”  “It is a disgraceful world, populated by some creatures that were once humans, but now these living beings are degraded, ghastly, appalling. This "fauna" is specific especially to the period of quasi-general diffidence, specific for most of the post-communist world.”  

“I suddenly felt that many people were going to die at that place. And the bomzhes had to die in the first rank, like heroes – as if their lives protected the others’ lives.”  “Now they are becoming the bomzhes with their own class psychology and “clan” features. For me it was very important that I took their photos when they were still like “normal” people. I made a book about the people who got into trouble but didn’t manage to harden so far.”  “First, these were the people who had recently lost their homes. According to their position they were already the bomzhes (“bomzh” = the homeless without any social support), according to outlook they were simply the people who got into trouble.”    

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Robert Frank’s The Americans was first published on May 15, 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris. It featured 83 of Frank’s photographs taken in America in 1955 and 1956, accompanied by writings in French about American political and social history selected by Alain Bosquet. The first English edition of The Americans was published in 1959 by Grove Press in New York. It presented the same photographs as the Delpire edition, however a text by Jack Kerouac replaced the French writings. The book begins with Kerouac’s introduction, followed by Frank’s photographs in the same sequence as the Delpire edition. On the left-hand pages are short captions from Frank, which describe the location. Armed with a camera and a fresh cache of film and bankrolled by a Guggenheim Foundation grant, Robert Frank crisscrossed the United States during 1955 and 1956. The photographs he brought back form a portrait of the country at the time and hint at its future. He saw the hope of the future in the faces of a couple at city hall in Reno, Nevada, and the despair of the present in a grimy roofscape. He saw the roiling racial tension, glamour, and beauty, and, perhaps because Frank himself was on the road, he was particularly attuned to Americans' love for cars. Funeral-goers lean against a shiny sedan, lovers kiss on a beach blanket in front of their parked car, young boys perch in the back seat at a drive-in movie. A sports car under a drop cloth is framed by two California palm trees; on the next page, a blanket is draped over a car accident victim's body in Arizona.  - Quoted from publisher.

I knew this book from Tate Modern’s Storyline by Robert Frank.  That was quite a few years before my photography study.  I was bewildered by the images.  It is only until much later that I come to realize I really appreciate Robert Frank and this book.  I bought one only today...