Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Mystery of Chinese Contemporary Photography

Our ignorance about Chinese contemporary photography is a deep, dark, massive abyss. Truth be told, we hardly know anything about the artists, their work, their influences or their ideas. We lack even the simplest framework for making sense of what is going on. Perhaps we are just dumb Americans, but we like to think we know a little about the world of photography.

If you look in the auction records over the past decade, you will find a startling pattern. There are a few 19th century Chinese photographers who made mostly panoramic shots of large Chinese cities, and then almost nothing for over 100 years, until the arrival of the new group of young artists a few years ago (nearly 50 new Chinese photographers at auction in the past three years). Very few of these artists have any New York gallery representation.

This poses many questions for us. Where did these artists come from? Where were they trained? From whom did they learn? Where did all the photographers from the previous 100 years go, if there were any? Were they all suppressed during the Cultural Revolution? What is the context of this new movement? Who are the important figures to be watching?

In tomorrow's book reviews, we will try to wrestle with some of these questions (at the most basic level possible), with reviews of books on Wang Qingsong and Zhang Huan, two of the anointed stars of this Chinese invasion.

If you are a person out there listening who can add something to our education, whether it be in the form of broad background, a key book or article to read, or the narrow information of a single photographer who should be on our radar, please leave the information in the Comments or send us a direct email. Help us develop some perspective on a key trend in contemporary photography that has not, to our knowledge, been explained well to collectors at large.

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